The last thing I need today is a new watch, or a new old watch. That, however, doesn’t stop me from gazing longingly at a procession of photographs of ‘mint condition’, ‘rare’, ‘all original’ watches that populate my Facebook feed.
At times, I’m afraid I might just buy one of these and end up with a lemon on my wrist. I’d like to think that watch enthusiasts across India who’re looking to acquire a good vintage watch share my sentiments.
How long can one resist the allure of a Zenith Respirator with a lovely unusual date window placement, or a late ‘60s Omega Geneve Automatic with a lustrous blue dial (Rs 33,499)? But what exactly is the vintage watch scene in India like?
What are the good entry-level brands that one can pick up? What’s a good price to pay for, say, a Croton chronograph? To find answers to such questions, I spoke to the people behind some of India’s most popular vintage-watch groups on social media. Here, then, is some crowd-sourced wisdom that could help you start collecting vintage watches, or, dissuade you from paying a lot more than you should for that 1960s Girard-Perregaux Alarm Watch.
If you are genuinely interested in vintage watches, start by picking up a hand-wound HMT, says watchmaker Aditya Sambhare, an architect and watchmaker who has been collecting English pocket watches, and wrist watches for the last 15 years.
“Something like an HMT is ideal if you are new to mechanical movements. The good thing is most of them are not expensive. So, even if things go wrong with your watch, you are not taking a financial hit,” says Sambhare.
Join collectors’ groups
“Being part of a collectors’ group, either online or offline, gives you a fair idea of what the scene is like. It also gives you an opportunity to interact with people who have collecting watches for years. If you come across a watch that you like and researched it on the internet, you can consult with them about its provenance and authenticity before committing to the purchase,” says Koustav Basu.
Basu, one of the administrators of the Vintage Watch Collectors India group on Facebook, is a seasoned collector who owns several pocket watches as well gems such as the Universal Geneve’s Polerouter Date and Triple Calendar Moonphase, and Jaeger le Coultre Master Mariner.
Find a niche…
Pruthu Mehta started collecting vintage watches in Hyderabad nearly two decades ago and went through a long line of watches before finding his niche. Today, he owns some 90 Omegas.
“In the early days, I would pick up all kinds of vintage watches, but over time, I found that I was most drawn to Omegas. That’s when I decided to learn more about them and get focused. There’s a certain joy in having a collection that, kind of, tells the story of a watch company through the decades,” says Mehta.
…And trusted dealers
The world of vintage watches is peopled with all kinds of dealers, from genuine folks to those who are looking to make a quick buck. The latter translates into repainted dials, unsigned movements, replaced parts, logos that don’t look right, and polished cases.
“Chances are that you’ll pick up some duds over the years, especially when you are new to the game,” says Mehta. “But that will teach you to keep away from the guys from whom you bought those watches from and, instead, stick to the ones who are genuine. Over time, you build trust and that helps you access great watches.”
Look for watches for tell a story
Sure, vintage watches look refreshingly different from contemporary timepieces, but looks are not everything. “A few years ago, I picked up this West End Multifort made in the 1940s. What attracted me to this one was the fact that it was a Mido watch with West End trademark and logos. And this particular one was among the first of the real automatic waterproof watches,” says Sambhare.Similarly, Basu is as proud of his little-known Angelus alarm watch. “Back in the day, Angelus supplied movements to Panerai, and that counts for something.”