Since I had a couple of inquires about where and how to buy vintage watches:
I just got into vintage watches last year and in no way am considered an expert. I learned most of what I do know from the watchuseek forum. They have a whole section on vintage watches. In addition, people on that forum are not such smartasses like they are here and will take their time to answer questions and give you advice. Some of those guys are very knowledgeable and know all of the movements and can tell you what to stay away from. They ask newbies to post pictures of the watch that they are looking to buy and will give you opinions and advice.
I purchased mine on ebay, but you have to be very careful with that and do your research. A couple things that I have learned:
1.\tDo not buy anything from a former Soviet republic, Eastern Europe, or Asia. These guys create “frankenwatches” with pieces of various vintage watches—some of them are quite bad. No, you can’t buy a vintage Patek Philippe for $1,000. Those start at about $4,000 for a bad condition one and go up, up, up from there. That being said; be cautious with anything from overseas. There are some good dealers out there but plenty of bad ones.
2.\tThe dial of the watch is very important. Do not think that you can refurbish them. Most refurbish jobs look like crap or are missing logo or details so find one with a nice patina but no damage.
3.\tIf you ever wish to resell the watch, look for an original crown as replacement crowns are common an
4.\tCalculate the cost of service into the total price. My watch was running and keeping good time. However, biased on advice, I brought it in for complete service to check everything and oil and adjust everything that needed it. Here in Philly, that ran me $350. A Patek refurbish done at the Patek Philippe factory in Switzerland runs about $4,000 and takes about four months to complete (ask me how I know).
5.\tStay away from converted pocket watches. This brings down the value as a triple signed watch is more original (think a non-convertible vintage Ferrari converted into a convertible). In addition, the movements used in pocket watches were not designed for the shock that wrist usage will have.
6.\tStay away from polished cases. Many cases over the years have become scratched or dinged. Many people or even watch repair persons are tempted to polish them. This reduces the value and any watch aficionado will notice it which makes it harder to sell it if the need arrives.
7.\tBrands, don’t buy the brand unless you know the movement that you are buying. For example, some people are impressed by Breitling, Rolex, or Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger LeCoultre or even Omega. While there are good watches from these makers, there are many “lesser” movements used and each brand has certain years to watch out for (except Breitling, which according to my watch repair person is crap).
8.\tRemember, you are buying a vintage watch. Even if it was waterproof sixty years ago, don’t think that it will be waterproof today. Don’t beat the crap out of it.
9.\tChronographs and complications can get complicated. They are usually the first thing to break and are expensive to service. KISS (with maybe a date or something simple)!
These are general rules of thumb and are not gospel. Some aficionados will argue otherwise. The for sale section of the above mentioned forum also has some good deals and I have seen some nice vintage watches go for about $200.
Also, I must add a personal pet peeve of mine: When you dress up, wear a dress watch—not a divers/sports watch. Divers/sports watches are made for every day activities and are great for working on the car, racing through the canyon, diving, sky diving, hunting sharks, etc. Dress watches are slim and sleek and made to not be obnoxious and huge and will easily slide under a sleeve. Formal wear should not use a watch at all! To me, wearing a diving watch with a suit is the epitome of classlessness. If makes me think that the wearer only has one watch. I immediately look down for the square-toed shoes with rubber soles.