The majority of vintage watch collectors always look for a nice bargain. It doesn’t matter how much money we have in our pockets, we always dream of finding that special vintage watch at a flea market or car boot sale. But also in the drawer of our grandparents or distant uncle or even on eBay (which is getting more difficult by the way).
Let’s be honest though; the chances of finding a truly valuable vintage watch for pennies are pretty much zero. As far as I’m concerned, I do not really believe in a “barn find”. Collecting vintage watches wisely and buying a few sleepers. But what is a sleeper watch and where and how can we find it? The answer is probably much more simple as one would think it is.
A Sleeper Watch
A sleeper is a watch that has no significantly high price tag in current times but is likely to gain value or become more sought-after in a few (or more) years time. This could be because of historical significance, because it was produced in a smaller number or maybe because – like everything in life – fashion change. Five years ago nobody would care about a 1980s Casio or Seiko quartz watch, nowadays thousands of trendy teenagers rummaging throughout their dad’s drawers in hope of a working example that they can wear with their skinny jeans, knitted hats and flannel shirts.
A sleeper watch can be of any brand. Obviously the better the brand the higher the price, the bigger the profit will be if the watch indeed turns out to be a sleeper and you want to sell it.
One great example is the Omega Speedmaster 125. This vintage watch was produced in a very limited number of 2000 examples more than 40 years ago (1973). It also houses a movement Omega has never used in any other model except the Speedmaster 125. Yet, prices for a decent example are not exceptionally high and you might be able to find a used, honest example even cheaper. All you need is a great watchmaker and you have a wonderful time piece in excellent condition from one of the top brands.
In 1973, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the brand, Omega introduced a very special watch. They used the Lemania based caliber 1040 to become the first automatic chronometer certified chronograph movement and gave it the 1041 caliber number. They only made 2000 pieces of this caliber 1041 movement especially for the new bulky square shaped case that had a thick bracelet and a beautiful raised ‘125’ applied on the dial under ‘Omega Speedmaster’.
Another Omega I could put money on becoming a sought after model in the long run is the Seamaster 300M Chronometer worn by the 007 portrayed by Pierce Brosnan.
So what would the ideal sleeper watch be that once will turn into a sought-after or at least appreciated vintage watch? The ideal sleeper watch is mechanical. There are a few quartz examples but I don’t see them still functioning in another 50-70 years. A mechanical watch on the other hand will still bring you joy for many years to come.
As said before, originality is King. Imagine you find a vintage watch like a 1960s Rolex Datejust or Omega Speedmaster. That won’t be too hard, right? Now picture that watch with its box, papers, hand tags, extra bracelet links and the rest. It changes the whole game.
For decades from now, or for the next generation, you can source a sleeper watch like the aforementioned Seamaster 300 2531.80 with boxes and papers – everything complete – for a relatively small amount of money. Now all you need to do is store the watch safely, only take it out every 5 – 7 years for a quick change and seal swap and you might have yourself a little treasure there for your grand kids 😉 They will be thrilled and thankful when they find it when they are rummaging through your drawers one day.