Much to my amazement, 2024 marks my 10th year of writing for Fratello. Wow, how time has flown by! During this time, I’ve covered all sorts of topics, but my primary focus has always been on vintage watches. I have an undying love for older timepieces, and I’m thankful that Robert-Jan allowed me to kick off #TBT years ago. Aside from reviewing vintage pieces, I’ve also dabbled in discussions about the market, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing again today.

If you listen to some of the pundits, they’ll remark that the market for vintage watches is dead. Well, that’s an absolute overstatement in my opinion, but there’s no doubt that the bull run over the past decade has quieted to some degree. Previously, condition wasn’t always king, and a wider swath of models was in focus. Now buyers have become more choosy. Still, there are notable bright spots and glaring weaknesses in the market. I’ll get into some of those topics while talking about what will likely be hot in 2024. To shake things up, I’ll mention what deserves to be hot this year.

CK2915 from November 1957 — Image: Phillips

Vintage watches in 2023 — tomfoolery at auction houses

Unless you’re a grassroots vintage nerd like me, auction results in Geneva, New York, and Hong Kong tend to serve as a barometer for how most look at the market. Looking back on auctions last year, the word for that comes to mind, quite simply, is “mess.” Whether it’s the topic of the “Franken” Omega Speedmaster CK2915 that broke last year or the last-minute changing of reserves at Christie’s, it wasn’t a confidence-building year for auction houses. Aside from that, I also found many of the lots to be, well, boring. It seems to me that, in a year when many were expecting a full-blown recession, those with great pieces who didn’t need to sell kept their wares on the sidelines.

While I have a general disdain for the term “neo-vintage,” (seriously, we know what it means, but it’s kind of dumb) there has been serious effort by the powers that be to push these pieces on the market. Who are those powers? Brands, dealers with dusty stock, and other so-called tastemakers. My favorite example of this from 2023 was Daniel Roth. Seeing a piece at a Phillips auction soon after the brand announced its comeback felt very scripted. Whether or not these tactics have staying power remains to be seen, but I think we can expect more of it going forward.

Vintage watches Rolex GMT-Master 1675

Vintage steel sports Rolex is still the foundation

We know that there are many different types of watch buyers — speculators, collectors, those who only like modern, those who like all types of watches, and so on. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s the fact that many more are in the watch environment than ever before. Blame sites like ours and even mainstream newspapers for bringing watches into the households of millions of people. The result of the wider publicity and greater notice being given to watches overall is that some folks eventually turn their attention to vintage watches.

I had a conversation with Eric Wind and Charlie Dunne of Wind Vintage during a recent trip to Florida. Between the never-ending flurry of phone calls and emails from potential buyers, I asked them about the current marketplace. They mentioned the fact that watches are reaching a much wider audience than even five years ago. Plus, even some of the folks who jumped into the hype-watch game are now looking at vintage watches. What’s their typical entry into the arena? Unsurprisingly, vintage steel Rolex sports models are the most popular, with the GMT-Master ref. 1675 and a variety of Submariner models leading the charge.

Vintage watches Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust

Yet, people are picky

Eric and Charlie did reflect on the fact that buyers are more picky than ever, though. In the past, amassing watches was first and foremost. Now, and likely because of a slower or more cautious outlook, buyers walk away for reasons that were unheard of a year ago. Eric refers to it as “finding a reason not to buy.” Still, when a watch is in excellent condition, there’s certainly a healthy market.

Vintage watches Cartier Tank Normale

Image: Wind Vintage

Cartier remains hot

I already mentioned that great-quality vintage steel Rolex sports models are hot, but what else is leading the way? Cartier has been a real standout over the past several years and vintage models are incredibly popular. Pieces like the Tank Normale and the Tank Cintrée have risen sharply in price to the point where they’re no longer easily affordable. The knock-on effects of attention to Cartier have spread in two distinct directions.

Watches from other high-end jewelry brands

Cartier may be the most famous name when it comes to high-end jewelry, but there are plenty of others who made or continue to make watches. Like Cartier, many used high-end movements from brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre or Universal Genève. These watches, while not necessarily in the same realm price-wise as Cartier, are no longer ignored. Brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Piaget, and Dunhill are just some of the names that are now in vogue.

Non-round watches

I feel like it’s been the better part of 30 years since non-round vintage watches were given any due. Yes, Cartier models were always an option, but with their rise in popularity, it has become easier to sell rectangular watches new and old. Head back to the golden age of American wristwatch making in the ’20s and ’30s, and there are tons of these watches for sale from Gruen, Hamilton, Benrus, and others. Swiss brands were also competing, and, again, there are loads of options from Movado, Cyma, Eterna, and more. Of course, many of these watches are small or use undesirable case materials. Furthermore, after nearly a century, most have been refinished or are in terrible condition. Nevertheless, gems exist, and the movements tend to be robust after a service. Best of all, it’s possible to find models with large lug-to-lug dimensions that wear very well.

Vintage watches Universal Genève Polerouter

Simple, dressy watches — hot but with a limited appeal?

The other dominant themes in vintage watches are around smaller, dressy, or simple watches. Notably, a lot of watches from the ’40s and ’50s fall into this category. These watches take me back to my roots. They were the types of pieces that my dad collected in the ’90s, and it seems like they’re having their day again. While I have witnessed more interest in these watches (I’ve participated too), I think the upside is somewhat limited for most models. That’s a good thing for buyers! I say that because there were so many different variants made by each company during this period that it’s hard for any one model to gain serious traction. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.

Watches like the Universal Genève Polerouter are a household name, and I think they will continue to do well. On the other hand, take the lovely Eterna 852 that I purchased last year. Yes, it’s a trendier watch today than two years ago, but it’s challenging to classify this piece. The same goes for any number of Longines, Tissot, or even Omega watches that meet this description. Still, as mentioned, this can make hunting and buying these watches even more fun. Would I overpay for one, though? Not a chance.

Heuer Autavia 2446 on the wrist

Returning to our roots — big-time chronographs

The market for key ‘50s and ‘60s vintage chronographs has been dreadfully quiet over the past several years. “Nina Rindt” Universal Genève Compax models, Breitling pieces, and, most glaringly, vintage Heuer have been off collectors’ radars. However, signs are starting to emerge that these watches are poised for a comeback. Perhaps prices have fallen to a level where both patient longtime collectors and new entrants to the market are starting to take notice.

Hang out on Instagram long enough, and you’ll see seminal pieces like the Heuer Carrera 2447 or its rare Abercrombie & Fitch stablemates popping up more and more frequently. Is this forced or desired? I think we’ll find out more in 2024.

Image: @mostlymovado

What should return to prominence?

There’s no good reason for pocket watches to make a triumphant return from the standpoint of practicality. However, I reckon it’s worth anyone’s time to handle a great pocket watch to soak in the sheer amount of finishing on some of these pieces. Best of all, great examples from brands like Longines, IWC, and the like can still be had for under the magic €1,000 mark. Does anyone need a pile of these? Maybe not, but considering the time that most of us spend at the desk in front of the computer for work or whatever else, why not add a bit of inspirational analog?

As my tastes in vintage watches continue to evolve, I’ve come to realize that I love a deeply satisfying piece. What I mean is that I desire a well-finished watch with a beautiful case and oodles of thought behind it. This has and will continue to lead me to the one-hit wonders. It’s more likely, though, that I will seek out fantastic examples of under-the-radar or high-value quotient pieces from great brands. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed collecting vintage King Seiko and Grand Seiko watches for their exquisite detailing and relatively low cost of entry. On the other end, I recently picked up a more expensive vintage Audemars Piguet piece that feels like an insane amount of watch for the money.

More to discover

There’s so much to choose from when it comes to vintage watches, and despite the increase in publicity around them, there’s still tons to discover. Contrary to the belief of some, there’s so much more to learn. This topic also came up in my discussion with Charlie and Eric where they mentioned that some collectors feel there aren’t any more areas to unlock. Charlie, an admirable researcher, discovers new information all the time. It’s this type of work that sheds new light on watches that were either ignored or previously misunderstood. Call it “hype” or “making something out of nothing” at your peril. The reality is that, unlike with art or cars, there’s still so much to uncover in vintage watches, and I expect that will continue to drive interest.

Zenith 143-6

While 2024 won’t be a blockbuster, it will be fun

Do I expect 2024 to be a banner year in vintage watches? I’m not sure if there will be a true standout topic or theme, but the market is far from dead. I still expect a high level of interest, and watches in great condition will continue to earn it. Honesty from sellers will likely take precedence, and I think you’ll see more publicity around dodgy behaviors. Is it a good time to get into vintage? Absolutely! I don’t mean that from an investment perspective, but I think that grassroots enthusiasm is incredibly strong. If you’re a vintage collector, where are you focusing this year, and what do you see happening in the marketplace?