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How to shop for a vintage watch. Essential advice for avoiding the hype and finding something you love

As many options as there are for new watches on the market, the selection of vintage timepieces is even bigger. The vintage watch market has exploded in recent years, with prices for specific pieces from the 1960s and 1970s in particular hitting astronomical highs. With an endless well of information online, getting into vintage watches can be a lot of fun, but as with any high-profile market, “buyer beware” is very much the name of the game. Here are a few tips for finding the vintage watch of your dreams while avoiding shady dealers and scams.

Shop the seller

Not unlike shopping for fine art or a classic car, the biggest rule of vintage watch buying is to shop the seller. That means trusting your gut, asking the right questions and not being afraid to walk away if something seems fishy. The easiest way to avoid these potential pitfalls is to buy from a reputable pre-owned watch dealer. 

Do your research

Part of the reason vintage watches are so popular now is the internet, which allows collectors to share information about their collections, compare notes, and delve deep into the history of their favourite watches. Indeed, part of the fun of buying a vintage watch is diving down as many rabbit holes as you can find in search of something that sparks joy. Some people gravitate towards watches with military history, while others try to find pieces they remember being worn by parents or grandparents. Birth year watches are also a popular choice, particularly as milestone birthday gifts. Doing your research, talking to other collectors, and spending time on watch message boards are all important parts of the process, and will ultimately help you find the piece that’s right for you. Don’t be surprised, however, if your list of grails gets longer by the day.

Get the right fit

Watches come in a wide array of sizes, and like anything you wear, finding one that’s a good fit for your wrist is an important part of finding the right watch. While the only real rule of watch collecting is to buy what you love, buying a piece that looks too big on you is a mistake many first-time buyers make. If you have smaller, more slender wrists, something in the range of 36-40mm will probably look best on you, while bigger arms can accommodate pieces in the 42mm-plus range.

Follow your heart

There’s a lot of hype in the watch world, and it’s easy to get sucked into the popularity of certain pieces worn by celebrities and influencers. While there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like, it’s important to get something that you’ll treasure for many years, and that may or may not be a watch that happens to be trending at the moment. Likewise, while some watches do appreciate over the years, try not to let that influence your decision too much. After all, with any luck, you’ll be passing the watch along to your children or grandchildren someday.

Featured watch IWC Vintage Portugieser 1939

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