How to Profit Collecting Vintage Watches by E.J. Kelly

This book will help you to make good decisions. This guide is portable and concise. It will be useful for new collectors out there. It is easier to profit from mechanical watches than other types of watches. They are inventive and are alive. These watches also have a high value and are scarce in production.

There are roughly five types of mechanical watches: hand-wound, automatic, chronographs, alarm watches and chronometers. The mainspring was invented in 1511. By 1571, the wristwatch was invented. Blaise Pascal wore his wristwatch in 1623. By 1770, the automatic watch was underway. Breguet was one of the first brands to use the mechanical watch. Women treated watches as a form of jewellery. Men’s watches were typically made for military personnel. In 1909, the first chronograph was made. The first waterproof case and screw-down crown was invented by Rolex in 1926. In 1948, Eterna produced an automatic watch with a ball-bearing rotor. In 1969, the first Omega moon watch went into space. By 1970, quartz watches hit the market. Mechanical watch production was hit but some of these watches continued to fetch astronomical prices at auctions.

There are examples of Americans making quality timepieces. One of them was Daniel Burnap. He helped to design brass clocks. Pre-1850, there were more clocks than wrist-watches. These clocks can be considered as collectibles now. Aaron Denilson and his partner, Edward Howard founded Waltham Watch Company. They had a monopoly for nearly 20 years. The American Railroad Pocket Watch was invented due to the poor timekeeping on trains. Some brands like Hamilton, Elgin, Hampden began to become more popular. After WWII, many watch makers were badly hit and some had to close. The watches manufactured before this time can be considered really collectible. Some US brands managed to emerge again, but they bought Swiss components. Nowadays, more US brands do not produce their watches in-house anymore.

The Mechanics of a Good Watch. It depends on the materials used and process/production. The overall styling is important. A watch should be judged based on its performance and quality. Some can be made from expensive material. Gold filled watches are usually of better quality. Stainless steel was more popular over recent years as it was an anti-magnetic material. Engraving, etching makes the watch more valuable. The finishing and polishing on the bezel matters. The dial can be made of enamel or other materials. Markers can be carved, plated, applied, hand painted etc. Dials can be sunken or not. Quality movements are durable and reliable. Jewel bearings increases serviceability. Quality can be judged based on the number of jewels, its setting and the number of screws to hold them down. Some screws can be highly polished and bevelled to become smooth. Brass or nickel plating for movements are common. The co-axial escapement for Omega watches helps to avoid the need for lubrication. Quartz watches are accurate as they do not require lubricants. Always buy within your means.

Understand terms like repeater watch, tourbillion etc. The heart of the watch is the ‘balance spring’. The escapement is a device in the watch that checks the motion of the train and the amount of energy sent to the balance. Mainspring is a coiled spring that supplies power to the watch.

Learn to Identify, Inspect and Grade a Watch. Start with vintage hand-wound mechanicals. Some of their price points are okay, but always start small. Self-winding mechanicals fetch good prices too. Be wary that some watches are simply frauds and should be avoided. Please do your due diligence before buying. Be wary when a vintage watch is re-cased. Sometimes, the original movement number can be replaced. Please look out for discolouration on the dial. Make mental models in your mind when you inspect a watch. Pull out the crown and set the watch. Listen to the ticking of the movement. Take out the loupe and check for dents, scratches etc. Open the case-back and look out for rust, dirt etc on the movement. Look and record down the serial number if possible. Determine which year and period was the watch manufactured. Understand the following terms: (Pristine Mint; Mint+; MINT; Near Mint; Extra Fine; Fine; Average; Fair; Poor; Scrap. Learn and memorize the grading system.

You can buy broken luxury watches, fix them, and then sell them at a profit. There is a great demand for high end ladies vintage mechanical watches. Do not enter the ladies market straightaway unless you know you can get the watches at a cheap price. Family functions or social gatherings could be a place to start to purchase watches. Pawnshops are a good place too. Some people are willing to let go their items on the cheap. Some of the pawnshops have vintage watches. You might even be able to find a Blancpain sometimes. Goodwill stores are another good option. Before you travel, go scout out and hunt the vintage watch stores overseas. Make it a point to visit them. Set some time aside to visit these stores. You can combine your passion and also learn about their culture. Advertise garage sales if you want to sell your watches. However, in this case, if you want to buy, advertise that you want to buy. This method is also relatively inexpensive. Flea markets are good too. However, you should bring a loupe. Give a ‘frown’ when you hear the seller quote a price. Bring cash and stay disciplined.

How to Buy ‘In Real Time’. There are no barcodes for vintage watches. Learn to find good deals on the internet. Use eBay’s red laser to alert yourself of deals and auctions that are ending soon. However, not all sites’ search functions will produce good results. Take advantage of the descriptions on these websites. Learn about the auction process and how it works. Sniping is where you withhold any bidding until the last minute on a desired item. Bid during the auction’s off-season. Look for misspelled words or poor quality photos of watches on sites and then question the owner about them. Bookmark different sites and visit public forums etc. Use the internet like a library.

Selling: ‘Profit from your Passion’. The market will tell you what should be the ‘right’ price. Niche products do command higher prices. I have never lost a penny on a watch. When there is increased demand, the prices tend to rise. Always let it be known to others that you are a watch collector. Auction sites are great too. Create a title for your auction. Check out the sites from other countries. Make sure you are doing business with credible dealers. Always be honest when you deal with others. The mediums to use are the same as when buying a watch. Mechanical watches should be serviced once every 3 to 5 years. Keep your watch in a cool and dry place in order to prevent rust.

The Gray Market, ‘Don’t Get the Blues’. It is an irregular way of distributing/selling merchandise. They might be fake. However, they are not illegal to own, sell, or buy. This might happen when dealers or distributors sell outside their territory. This is driven by demand. There are usually no tariffs. Usually, you will buy watches without serial numbers and there is usually no warranty. It is difficult to sell a watch without serial numbers. Stick to the basics outlined in the guide.

Your Watch Business. Approach your friends and relatives. Find guidebooks and a few watch books. Establish business cards to make yourself look authentic. Find a proper digital camera and set aside money for advertising and your budget. Slowly learn to build your inventory. Choose a business name related to your watches. Wear a watch that you are willing to sell. Always tell the truth about where you found the watch. Take photo with natural lighting only. Keep the watches in a cool and dry place. Use bubble wrap when shipping. All transactions should be recorded using accounting software. Keep track of your expenses. There is no need for a real business plan. For collectible and vintage pieces, it makes sense to head in this direction and not open a watch shop per se. Women are getting more interested in watches and you can potentially target them. One can always sell watches to dealers. Put some system in place to make your life comfortable.

Hot Watches or ‘Time Honored Classics’. The entry price for mechanicals is between $100 to $1,000. Learn to specialize for watches in a particular period or in a particular type of mechanical watch. There are many factors that will affect the price. Some of the famous European brands are: Baume & Mercier (owned by Cartier); Blancpain; Breitling; Corum; Ebel; Eterna; Excelsior Park; Glashutte; Tag Heuer; IWC; JLC; Junghans; Le Phare; Longines; Minerva; Movado; Omega; Tissot; Ulysse Nardin; Universal Geneve; Zenith. American watches: American Waltham Watch Company; Bulova; Benrus; Elgin Watch Company; Gruen Watch Company; Hamilton; Timex.

The watch is a personal “billboard”. It also displays an understanding of aesthetics. It is a miniature piece of art worn on your wrist. When you buy a distinctive timepiece, you are sharing a common interest. Art and beauty! – E.J. Kelly



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