Your phone might tell you the exact time, but it won’t tell who you are. A new watch can do that, but for a growing number of people in their early twenties, vintage or neo-vintage is the way to go. They feel that a carefully selected pre-owned watch fits them better, and in all kinds of ways. The thumb-and-screen generation, or Generation Z, craves affordable vintage watches because they fit their style and budget, for instance, but also because pre-owned watches fit into their ideas about sustainability. And on top of that, a vintage watch is safer to wear than a new one when they’re out and about in town. The “Vintage Youth” is streetwise and stylish.

When we speak of the vintage market here on Fratello, we often have higher-end watches in our sights. Watches with a long pedigree, exclusive timepieces, and rare creations from the most prestigious brands. And, as you know, prices for vintage watches that are unique, have provenance, and come from a revered brand have risen considerably in the last few years. But it’s not just brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe — the two brands that are most sought after, with astronomical prices as a result — that are in the spotlight of those in search of something not new. The majority of Gen Z, for instance, doesn’t have the means to score a vintage Calatrava at an auction. But that doesn’t stop them from buying vintage and neo-vintage timepieces.

Affordable Vintage Watches

Rolex Submariner 6536.028

Generation Z craves affordable vintage watches — here’s why

When you’re young, you define and deal with priorities differently than when you’re a settled adult. I’m speaking from my own experience that when I was a student, I somehow managed to buy luxury watches. It required some sacrifices and creative thinking and acting — nothing criminal, I assure you — but since I didn’t have all the (financial) responsibilities I now have, it helped me acquire some pretty nice watches that you wouldn’t expect to see on the wrist of a “poor” student.

Vintage Watches

Maybe not a grail watch, but this yellow gold Pasha de Cartier from around 1990 does have a grill — Picture courtesy of Christie’s

I recognize kind of the same behavior with my Gen Z son. This 21-year-old loves fashion and recently developed a taste for watches. His dream watch is the Cartier Crash, a grail watch that he knows is out of reach. He wears a Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 with a black dial because it reminds him of his other grail, the Royal Oak “Jumbo”. But he now craves a vintage dress watch.

Vintage Watches

A solid 18K gold Vacheron Constantin “Disco Volante” from 1968 — Picture courtesy of Worth Point

A watch tells you more than James Joyce’s Ulysses

Zoomers grew up with access to the Internet and portable digital technology from a young age. These “digital natives” spend more time on electronic devices and less time reading books than the generations before them. Mechanical watches are a lot like books. Books have been under the pressure of e-readers, and reading itself is threatened by streaming services and social media. And although the mobile device on which a Netflix series can be binged displays the time with absolute accuracy, a watch can still be a desirable object. Yes, carrying a classic edition of James Joyce’s 732-page novel Ulysses around will say something about who you are, but wearing a carefully selected watch will do that a lot more comfortably. The added bonus is that the watch will uplift whatever its wearer is wearing.

Mido Radiotime

Secondhand success

Watches and fashion have a lot in common — with Gen Z, at least. While buying vintage or preowned designer clothes is something that might be frowned upon by Gen X, their kids have fully embraced the idea of wearing secondhand clothes because doing so allows them to express themselves. And the market for preowned clothes is on a steady rise. According to Future Marketing Insights, the global secondhand apparel market is estimated at US$ 71,225.6 million in 2022. And according to the Dubai-based provider of market intelligence and consulting services, that value could reach US$ 282,748.6 million by 2032.

The company’s 301-page Secondhand Apparel Market Outlook (2022-2032) informs us that the “…growing popularity of secondhand apparel among general masses due to their less expensive nature and better quality is a key factor driving demand for secondhand apparel in the market.”

Affordable vintage watches

Digital benefits analog

The seemingly oxymoronic thing is that the thumb-and-screen generation uses all the advantages of the World Wide Web to acquire their desired preowned, analog items. And the internet is especially beneficial when vintage watches are involved. The Web is full of valuable information, kindred spirits willing to share experiences, and, of course, a plethora of preowned watches for sale. Finding the right watch may take some time and effort, but once the orientation phase is done and the deal has been made, the newly acquired timepiece starts to do what it’s best at — displaying the wearer’s style and personality that differs from the mainstream.

Still, having a recognizable brand name on the dial is important. Those who buy preowned Yves Saint Laurent do so because of the fashion designer. And what matches a preowned YSL blazer better than a vintage Cartier Tank?


The 1950s Tissot that Nacho bought for €180

Treasure hunt

Knowledge is power —buying power, in a sense. Indeed, research helps one find many more gems than merely upper-echelon watches from Omega, Audemars Piguet, and Rolex. Doing the homework will reveal that vintage watches aren’t just for the 1%. Nice timepieces can be found for hundreds, not thousands — the gorgeous 1950s Tissot Calatrava above is Nacho’s €180 treasure. Sure, these watches aren’t the auction showstoppers that you read about in the news, but every passion has to start somewhere, right?

And that’s what Gen Z seems to understand quite well. They appreciate that a vintage watch has lived a life of its own. They picked it because they feel the vibe of the watch with its particular patina. That it’s a unique personality that, once on the wrist, becomes part of the personality of the wearer. The watch isn’t merely a watch. It isn’t the same smartphone that everybody carries around. Rather, it defines the wearer’s taste and style and will also bring joy — plus a story or two to tell during a night on the town.

Vintage Watches

Longines Chronograph 7413-6 — Picture courtesy of Shuck The Oyster

Affordable vintage watches are timeless and safe to boot

And that leads me to another reason why Gen Z buys vintage. My son tells me that by wearing preowned Issey Miyake and not brand-new Palm Angels, he can be unique and different. Wearing a watch that is no longer in production does the same thing. One of the pleasures of vintage stuff is treasure-hunting for obscure pieces — watches or clothes that are far from mainstream and generic. And since fashion and trends are cyclical (this applies to clothes) and true style is timeless (this applies to classic watches), buying vintage guarantees a firm dose of class and style too.

Omega Constellation Manhattan

He also likes to wear something smaller and on a strap because he likes the tone-downed look as a counterweight to his big and sporty — he actually said “bulky” — Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 on a bracelet. He also used the word “shiny” to describe his PRX, and that leads to the safety aspect of vintage watches. Because they’re smaller and not as easy to spot and recognize, he prefers wearing something “old” over something new when going out.

Vintage Watches

1960s King Seiko 44-9990

Sustainable in more than one way

Gen Z has discovered vintage and preowned watches because such timepieces express their individual tastes in an affordable way, tie their outfits together, and are safer to wear for a night on the town. Furthermore, because of their timeless style, classic mechanical watches are sustainable in more than one way. And sustainability is, after all, an important topic with zoomers. It all makes sense — to me, at least. I wore the boldly printed African shirts that my dad wore in Liberia when I was in high school because I didn’t think that having a crocodile on my polo shirt fit my personality. Later, I tried to find the right raincoat in a thrift shop because I saw it in an old movie and liked it, but it was nowhere to be found in a normal store.

Lémania ref. 174

Stand out, don’t blend in

I wasn’t into watches yet back then, but I do understand that finding stuff that’s off the beaten track helps people develop and express themselves. A zoomer dressed sharply and thoughtfully and with a carefully selected, small, vintage dress watch on the wrist is a curated look that’s timeless and speaks of taste and a strong personality. Individuality is most often the sign of an open-minded, thoughtful, and confident person. Expressing passion and a personal vision of style through fashion and a matching watch allows that person to stand out rather than blend in, and feel good as a result.

Vintage Watches

In many respects, a vintage watch uplifts the streetwise and stylish “Vintage Youth”. And it also bodes well for the future. After all, once you’re wearing a luxury timepiece, you’ll most probably be doing that for the rest of your life. For Gen Z, the future looks and feels good because of the past.

For those who want to take a deep dive into watches, I have a tip. Just type in “vintage” in the search bar on the top right of the page. Next thing you know, you will find lots of stories by very well-informed Fratelli. Enjoy.

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