The 7 Vintage Watches I Would Buy If They Were Affordable
As soon as you enter the world of mechanical watches, it seems like you enter an alternate reality at times. Especially when you have the privilege to write about luxury timepieces, watches that cost thousands and often tens of thousands of Euros are not uncommon to end up in your hands. While experiencing expensive timepieces from up close is absolutely amazing, there is always the reality that most of them will never be a permanent part of my life. But it’s time to dream a little and come up with a list of vintage watches I would buy if they were affordable.
When it comes to the question of what is affordable, it’s obviously very personal. It has as much to do with your spending power as much as your perception of the value of a watch. But next to the reality that not all watches I love will be part of my collection, I also like the compile lists of watches that nevertheless are my favorites.
Expensive Vintage watches
When it comes to vintage watches there is an increasing number of watches that have become part of the list of “never have and never will”. But still, I have a thought on why they would be the perfect addition to my watch collection. Call it the passion for thinking about what a (potential) collection should represent to you. So without further ado, here’s a glimpse into my world of unaffordable vintage watches that still mean a lot to me.
1. The original Gérald Genta trilogy
The magic Gérald Genta created with his three iconic sports watches is an absolute masterclass in design thinking and execution. He studied basic shapes that are possible to design a watch: circle, square, and octagon. It’s that basic idea that started his journey of creating a modern sports watch. I love all three watches equally because of this greater idea that Genta had. These are not just three watches he pitched to three different companies. These are three watches that show how the great mind of Genta worked. When I had a chance recently to wear the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 3700/1A I was once again blown away by its beauty and relevance. It was also a great eye-opener on what Genta had intended to do with the watch, all three of the watches. The sophistication found in their great simplicity is stunning.
I can perfectly understand Genta was unhappy with the Royal Oak Offshore. The chunky watch was far removed from Genta’s initial concept for the Royal Oak. For a designer, that feels like a knife through the heart. And IWC, unfortunately, squandered the legacy of his Ingenieur. It might come as no surprise that Patek Philippe was most faithful to the original Nautilus over all these years. The knowledge that they will stop the production of the 5711/1A hurts my heart as a fan of the watch. I understand the business reasons perfectly, but seeing the second of the three Genta icons go makes me want to return to the original trio of watches so I can enjoy all three of these vintage watches exactly like Genta intended them to be. That dream will not come true as it will cost me close to half a million Euros nowadays.
2. Rolex Chronograph ref. 6238
I am a massive fan of James Bond. Especially the early Connery era Bond films are among my favorite films ever. Nothing beats that ’60s style of the early Bond movies. When flying all over the world was still a great luxury, and where most of the exotic destinations were still out of reach for the majority of people. Additionally, the style of clothing, cars, and interiors is unmatched. It’s this world I love the most when it comes to Bond films. So in that context, it’s no surprise that for a long time, the Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 has been my favorite Bond watch and one of my favorite vintage watches. It also perfectly explains why it took the top spot in our article about Fratello’s seven favorite Bond watches.
But after writing about the Rolex Chronograph ref. 6238 in that specific article and featuring it in the article about the best Rolex watches from the 1960s, my love slowly shifted. Writing about it reminded me of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As Bond George Lazenby’s wears his own Submariner ref. 5513 and a special version of the Rolex Chronograph ref. 6238. Seeing it again was a great reminder that I love the style of the “pre-Daytona” over the old Submariner. This is a vintage watch I would definitely be wearing a lot if I had it in my collection. But with prices starting at roughly 35K and moving up to 200K for one in pristine condition, that’s not likely to happen. But in this fictional world, it’s a watch that I’d rather have than any Daytona.
3. Ikepod Hemipode Rose Gold Chronograph
The first time I saw an Ikepod Hemipode Chronograph from up close was around 2003–2004. Fratello team member Gerard used to own the blue and white Cunningham edition of the Hemipode Chronograph. I love the Ikepod story because it’s a great story of a product designer trying to implement his own philosophy into watches. I like designers that challenge the status quo, so I loved the Ikepod story greatly. On top of that, the Hemipode was and is a great-looking watch! The Hemipode Chronograph was introduced in 1998 and perfectly showed what Newson’s design philosophy was. The round 44mm monocoque case design, the integrated rubber bracelet, the symmetry in dial design it’s all Newsom at its best. The watch was bigger than the majority of watches out on the market then. But the integrated rubber bracelet was intended to balance out the case on the wrist perfectly.
The off-center window on the case back reveals the modified Valjoux 7750. Newson removed the day indicator and replaced it with a date dial to create symmetry for the dial. He further removed the 12-hour chronograph counter and replaced it with a 24-hour GMT hand. The result is stunning. The one version I always loved the most is the rose gold version with a dark grey or gold dial. On a dark grey strap, it’s a watch I would love to own. Unfortunately, Gerard also told me about the difficulties with servicing the watch. The tricky monocoque case construction, the modified movement, the lack of original parts like crowns and pushers make it hard to spend between 10K – 12K for one. Which is not much for a gold watch, don’t get me wrong. But the steel version is the more sensible option.
4. Omega Speedmaster Professional Alaska Project 2008
When all the writers could pick their favorites for our Speedmaster World Cup, this was my absolute number one pick. I have said it during the World Cup, and I will repeat it: this is the best conceptual Speedmaster that Omega has released that pays homage to the past. The visual impact of the Speedmaster Professional Alaska Project 2008 alone reveals this is something exceptional. The story behind the Speedmaster Professional Alaska Project 2008 reads like a spy novel. It is a story of the secret Alaska project, incredible technical innovation, and remarkable design. The Speedmaster Professional Alaska Project was presented at Baselworld 2008. A total of 1970 pieces were created of the watch that commemorates the unique prototypes of the Alaska Project.
The first result of this quest came in 1969 in the form of a big chunky titanium watch known as the Alaska I Prototype. In 1970 Omega came up with the Alaska II Prototype based on a regular Speedmaster with an Omega Caliber 861. The watch took the discussed characteristic elements from the first prototype to create an iconic second prototype. It’s this watch that is the inspiration for the Speedmaster Professional Alaska Project 2008. The bright white dial, the rocket hands, and the slightly changed red anodized aluminum outer case are all there. Put it on one of the two white velcro straps, and it’s simply stunning. But prices have skyrocketed over these past few years. To get one nowadays, expect to pay 20K and over. That is crazy, considering 3–4 years ago, they sold for less than half that price.
5. Zenith El Primero A384
From Zenith’s original El Primero trio of watches, this is my absolute favorite. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. As I explained in the article about the best Zenith watches from the 1960s, the A384 features a 37mm blocky case design that for a long time felt a bit too simple and stuck in that realm of late ’60s and early ’70s designs. But as time passed, I started loving the highly effective and rather simple lines. The case creates a great canvas for the dial, hands, and pushers to shine. Additionally, the radial finish of the case magnifies the impact of the dial. It’s such a cleverly designed and executed watch, and combined with the iconic Gay Frères ladder bracelet; it is one of my all-time favorite watch designs. Inside the case, there is obviously more brilliance in the form of the first generation El Primero movement.
The fully integrated 3019 PHC Calibre operates at 36,000vph, features 31 jewels and a 50-hour power reserve. This movement has always been my favorite out of the three automatic chronograph movements that were released back in 1969. It’s true watchmaking royalty in my book. Finding a vintage A384 is definitely possible. But you need to find an El Primero A384 in good condition to truly enjoy it. Often the ladder bracelets did not survive, and even if they did, they are often in bad shape. Plenty of the A384s have also been badly polished multiple times. And the original El Primero models often did not age nicely with discoloration making them look rather grubby. A piece in good condition will cost 15K–20K. I would therefore pick the current Chronomaster El Primero A384 Revival despite my love for the original version.
6. Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 is my favorite vintage Rolex. Is it practical? Absolutely not. But it looks so cool. It all starts with this quirky story about developing a watch aimed at speleologists or cave explorers. From the get-go, that story was never going to be a commercial success, of course. But as I explained in the article about the best Rolex watches from the 1970s, it did add the extra functionality of an additional central 24-hour hand and a 24-hour scale bezel. But the biggest attraction of the Explorer II ref. 1655 is, without a doubt, its funky appearance. The dial design is weird and rather impractical. The combination of a 12-hour scale and a 24-hour scale causes problems with legibility. But the effect of combining scales makes it look great. On top of that, the big orange 24-hour hand hard to be missed. And for once, the cyclops feels exactly in the right place in the right style instead of being an oversized nuisance.
But all the quirkiness does not overpower the perfectly sized 39mm case with the stainless steel 24-hour bezel and the Oyster bracelet. It creates a visual balance that works perfectly. It’s a combination of everything that makes a Rolex so recognizable and pushing the boundaries of quirky design within that realm. I love these designs as they show the funkier and more playful side of Rolex. Another perfect example is the Anniversary model Milgauss ref. 116400GV from 2007 with its green sapphire crystal. A watch that is also much more affordable than the first-generation Explorer II. Prices for an Exlorer II ref. 1655 start at roughly 25K and move up quickly for one in great condition. Sometimes reality becomes a dream, and that’s the case with my favorite vintage Rolex.
7. Omega Speedmaster CK2998-1
The last vintage watch I would definitely add to my collection if it weren’t so expensive is the Omega Speedmaster CK2998-1. As you probably know, most of the Fratello team members love the Speedmaster. My favorite vintage piece is the first generation Speedmaster that has all the trademarks of a Speedmaster as we still know it today. Some of the Speedmaster CK2915-3 executions already featured a black bezel, but the CK2998-1 was the first actual generation with the looks that we have come to love. Robert-Jan summed it up perfectly in his extensive article about the CK2998-1: “It represents the Speedmaster in its best form. The black bezel, leaf hands, straight-lug case, and caliber 321.” It basically says it all, really.
The Speedmaster CK2998-1 is a grail watch for many Speedmaster fans, myself included. But with prices starting at roughly 30K and moving up quickly depending on the condition, this is a seriously expensive watch. I found one auctioned by Philips this year for a little over 35K Swiss Francs, a price that surprised me in all honesty. Versions with a so-called “Tropical” dial tend to go for a lot more. One thing is clear, though, that I have set my sights on different Speedmasters to add to my collection. It starts with the brilliant current Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” and a Speedmaster Professional 145.022-76 from 1977, my year of birth. These two will give me as much fun as the CK2998-1 that is out of my league. But it can’t hurt to dream once in a while.
My story on vintage watches
There you have it, a list of my seven or rather ten favorite vintage watches that I will probably never own. Despite the fact that they are way too expensive, I still like them all for what they mean to me and the legacy they have in the world of watches. Let us know in the comment section what your favorite watches are that you will probably never own. We love to find out what some of your favorites are.