If you haven’t been watching, gold prices have been on a tear over the past year. Currently, the metal is trading at an all-time high. For lovers of vintage watches made from the precious metal, it’s time to wake up and take action. When bidding at auction on an old gold watch, there’s a good chance that a rival bidder isn’t interested in the watch. That person is interested in the gold!

Gold is currently trading at over US$2,300 per troy ounce. That’s the highest price ever, and many feel it will only continue to increase. Gold is a popular choice as a haven from fiat currencies. Even though it is priced in one of those currencies, many see it as the ultimate currency that could be used for barter. That sounds crazy, but the numbers state otherwise. And what does this mean for gold watches? It means that if you’re interested in a vintage gold watch at auction, you may not be competing against another watch lover. You may be battling someone looking to make money by scrapping the watch.

Image: Goldprice.org

Vintage gold watches are hot for the wrong reasons

It’s important to distinguish between modern and vintage gold watches when discussing today’s phenomenon. Modern gold timepieces sell for an incredible premium versus their steel counterparts. Many complain about this gap and mention that the amount of gold in a watch hardly justifies a price often multiples higher. We’ve discussed this on Fratello, and the reason for insanely high-priced precious-metal watches has less to do with their makeup and more with exclusivity. If we turn our attention to vintage gold, we find the situation is much different.

Most vintage gold watches, particularly, pocket watches and smaller pieces that range from 70 to 100 years old, have been out of fashion for a long time. Plus, many were purchased decades ago when prices were low. On top of this, many older watches show damage and signs of moisture ingress. The result is something that watch collectors know well; there are great deals to be had when it comes to old gold watches. The problem, though, is that gold buyers are watching and buying at an alarming rate. If there are few bidders and the price remains below its value in gold, it’s likely heading for the melting pot. The issue isn’t new, but it’s certainly more typical today due to the high price of gold.

Gruen Curvex vintage gold watches

Recent tales of woe and victory

Earlier this year, I picked up a gorgeous 1946 Gruen Curvex Lieutenant with a 14K rose gold case on eBay. The watch was in beautiful, as-new condition and came with a complete set of boxes and papers. The problem, however, was that it was not running. Still, the seller — a coin shop and gold buyer near Chicago — took decent pictures of the movement and dial. In other words, it was listed to attract watch collectors. On the other hand, the seller also removed the movement and dial and showed the weight of the gold case on a digital scale. Thankfully, my offer of $710 was enough to save it, and it only took a £60 service to get it back up and running.

vintage gold watches

Image: Roseberys London

However, for every save, there seems to be a counteracting loss. Last month, my buddy Lawrence and I forgot to bid on a lovely 14K Movado Curviplan with a dial signed by Alf Lie, a famous historic Norwegian jeweler. Lawrence called after the fact to see if there was any chance of connecting with the buyer to try and offer a greater sum. The auction house mentioned that the buyer was a well-known gold seller and that the watch had likely been melted. I reached out to a friend in the business of buying gold and asked if he’d keep his eyes peeled. Until now, there has been no news.

Gold watches with sad dials and movements without cases

If we look at this article’s header picture, it’s a sad reminder of the remnants of a once beautiful gold watch. This happens to be another Movado Curviplan dial, hands, and movement. This time, it carries a signature from H.W. Beattie & Sons, a historic jeweler from Cleveland, Ohio. At one point, there was probably a 14K case that would rival the previously mentioned Alf Lie variant. Yes, I’ll use this original dial to replace a refinished one, but I’d rather have the whole watch. A quick scan of eBay or any for-sale site shows many caseless watches.

vintage gold watches Benrus

The bottom line: don’t sleep on vintage gold watches

As I mentioned, buying a gold watch at a price below its scrap value isn’t new. It’s simply more popular now with gold nearing US$2,400 per troy ounce. With steel watches, we usually see a watch from an auction pop up again soon after its sale. Gold watches, however, if purchased cheaply enough, often don’t make it to market due to their high scrap rates. So the moral is that if you see a nice vintage gold watch at a fair price, make a move or risk losing it forever.