Would You Buy A Vintage Watch As A Gift?

By Carl Scutt

For those who don’t write for a living it may come as something of a surprise to learn that it’s not always the case that words and formulated sentences spew out on to the page as well rounded articles without lots of planning, and on occasions, hours of sitting facing forward without a single idea coming to mind.

The idea of buying a vintage watch as a gift was something I wanted to write about in an effort to understand if it’s a smart idea or not. The writer’s block I just mentioned has kept me from forging forward for the past couple of hours until the realization hit me.

My question is “would you buy a vintage watch as a gift” and the answer is very simple in terms of its validity because I have already got my bases covered, it’s now just the case of finding the best way of doing it.

What is Vintage

Before we get into the business of tracking down the best vintage watch for your purposes we should really define what vintage really is. Vintage is a tricky one to nail down but the general rule of thumb is a minimum of 30 years old that can be differentiated from plain old, retro, or antique. The characteristics to differentiate a vintage from any other watch classic design, timeless appearance, fully functional, and a high quality build.

Cover the Bases

The first base to cover is understanding what you are looking for, and by that I mean you need to think about what style of watch you’re looking for, sports, dive, dress, casual? What about the materials, steel or gold, and what functions or complications would you like to see?

The good news is you already know what you’re looking for because you’re buying it as a gift for someone you know well. In my case, I am looking for a classic Omega piece from 1938. The reason for this is my Dad loves Omega and he was born in 1938, so my job is relatively simple, yours may be more difficult and you may need to ask a few discreet questions.

Second base is always buy something you like. This may be difficult if the gift is a surprise but you will always have a common sense understanding of how the receiver ‘s going to like it, so just trust your judgment.

Know What To Look For

A vintage watch needs to be treated slightly differently because there are a number of variables that can impact the price and the very collectability of a piece regardless of the brand.

Understand that the asking price is just that, so be prepared to negotiate, a vintage watch is only worth what the buyer is prepared to pay for it, but before that, you need to know what you’re looking for to make a realistic offer. So, let’s take a look at the areas of interest.

The first thing to look for is the overall condition, has the case been polished or is it in its original condition and what about the dial, is it faded, damaged or mistreated? The condition can tell you about the watches history whether the piece has been looked after or never used, either way, the value is in the eye of the beholder. Just consider a pristine vintage watch with original box, paper work, and service history, is this more valuable than a similar watch without paperwork and service history? Not necessarily.

Rolex ‘Tropical’

What if the patina on the dial has faded over time and exposure to sunlight, does this make the piece worth less? The interesting thing in the vintage market is a faded dial can be seen as a positive attribute and even has its own name, “tropical”. This term describes a black dial has faded from black to a coffee or mocha brown color.


With a 30+ year history, any watch that has been running day in day out will show signs of wear and probably has some replacement parts, regardless of this, any good watch should still look and feel like a top quality timepiece.

So, look to the hands, they should look balanced and proportionate, the luminous markers shouldn’t be too big or too small, the logo should be crisp and legible to the naked eye. The dial plays a major part of the value of the piece, an unaltered original dial being the most sort after.

Where to Buy

This is the age of the internet and a Google search will return a multitude of websites offering help and advice on buying a vintage timepiece. Some places to look for good piece could be coolvintagewatches.com, ebay.com, or chrono24.com but as I say, there are plenty of places to start your research.

Price: What Should I expect to Pay

$500 – $1000: Happily, I can report there are plenty of options to pick up a nice precision, high-quality vintage timepiece within the $500-$1k price range. In this price range, you can be looking at a Japanese vintage piece from Seiko for example, but you may also find nice Omega that I will show you in a second.

$1,500-$2000: Again there some good options in this range and amazingly it’s possible to find Rolex Territory in this range.

$2,500 – $3,500: Your choices really start to open up when you enter this ranges with brands like Rolex, Omega, Heuer, Breitling coming into view.

What Did I Find?

With very little effort I tracked down the perfect vintage Omega 1938 finding a lovely piece on eBay for the amazing price of £550.

Omega Military 1938

Omega Military 1938 Open Back

Men’s Omega 35mm mechanical manual, 15 Jewels, with second-hand subdial and green canvas strap.

The Take Away

So, would you buy a vintage watch for a gift? The simple answer is “Yes” without any worries in the world, it’s simply a case of knowing what you want and what to look for. The price points mean most of us can afford to treat a loved one to a vintage watch, and with lots of help and advice online it’s a painless process.

The old advice still stands though,  ask questions and don’t part with your money unless you’re 100% sure of the piece and the seller. Just do your due diligence and happy shopping.