Escaping time is virtually impossible in today’s world. Glowing numbers stare back from smartphones, laptops, dashboards and all the other screens in our lives. Digital alarms startle us into obedience with anxiety-inducing chimes and marimba timers. In the past several years, the pervasiveness of impersonal modern clocks has given way to a resurgence of older, more nostalgic forms of keeping time. And like clockwork, the market for men’s vintage luxury watches is exploding.
“When people think of wristwatches, they might first think of something utilitarian like a smartwatch,” explains Dustin Reed, vintage watch expert at Wixon Jewelers. “Recently, we’ve seen the floodgates of interest open when it comes to vintage wristwatches with classic designs and historic backgrounds. A vintage watch has lived its own life, with a real history embedded in its patina or hand-wound spring. That unique personality brings the wearer a kind of joy that extends beyond simply carrying something to keep time.”
The craze for vintage timepieces — which Reed defines as 30 years or older — has soared as of late, culminating in the most successful spring auction season New York City has ever seen. New generations of celebrity, from Timothée Chalamet to Henry Golding, are popularizing classic styles à la Paul Newman and Gordon Gekko in the pages of GQ and Vanity Fair. Sure, collectors still crave iconic 40- to 41-millimeter military- and diver-inspired timepieces, but demand is also high for dressy 32- to 36-millimeter models that evoke the golden era of mid-20th century design.
For seasoned collectors and newcomers alike, buying and selling in such a sizzling market requires knowledge to complement that enthusiasm. “More options exist than ever before, from eBay to vintage watch websites to consumer marketplaces,” explains Reed. To avoid falling victim to fakes or so-called Frankenwatches — timepieces cobbled together using both original and inauthentic parts — he recommends consulting a trained expert.
“Our in-house watchmakers assess the authenticity of every vintage watch in our collection,” he says. “Everything from the mechanical and cosmetic condition of the parts and movements to the maintenance history to the originality of accessories is verified to put buyers at ease.” Especially for fragile vintage watches without more modern resistance features, an educated eye helps mitigate the risk of miscalculating wear-and-tear.
The appeal of partnering with highly educated, non-commissioned experts at a brick-and-mortar retailer extends beyond just fraud protection. As an official Rolex jeweler and an authorized Patek Philippe retailer, Wixon Jewelers capitalizes upon close relationships with elite brands for the benefit of their clients. “Receiving the most coveted pieces and having access to genuinely rare or uncommon watches helps our clients assemble exclusive collections,” Reed shares. For collectors interested in the long-term value of their acquisitions, that can directly impact financial investment: “Vintage timepieces from major watchmakers like Rolex or Patek Philippe have increased in value over time, trading almost like blue-chip stocks,” he adds. As an alternative asset class akin to antique art or fine wine, luxury watches have even outperformed the stock market amidst economic uncertainty.
Although financial value is certainly a factor, for most collectors, it’s rarely the only consideration. “At Wixon Jewelers, we match clients with pieces that they genuinely love and are passionate about,” Reed says. “Collections are shaped based on what an individual is drawn to, whether that’s a specific vintage chronograph movement or an iconic brand design.” Once an aficionado has established a focus and started to seek out variations, the thrill of the chase is on. And when it comes to getting started, there’s no time like the present.