For as long as I can remember, I’ve worn a watch. It started off with a Casio F91-W, then I worked my way through a variety of Fossil, Boss and Timex monstrosities. For as long as I can remember I’ve also been a collector of things. Transformer toys, Panini stickers, CD albums and basketball player cards. Until about 5 years ago though I’d never put the 2 passions together. Turns out, it’s a wonderfully dangerous combination.
I was about one year into the obsession (for obsession, see daily forum and blog reading and hourly scrolling through Instagram) and did own a couple of “proper” watches; a Hamilton Jazzmaster Chrono, Seiko SKX007 and an Alpina Pilot when my 30th birthday was approaching.
I don’t know where the idea came from, but I decided I had to mark it with a birth year piece. I’d always admired my friend’s vintage Speedy (shout out @davebegbie), the history and story behind the watch, the chronographs and neat dial layout etc etc.
So off I went on the hunt for a 1985 Omega Speedmaster. My first foray into the vintage watch realm.
To be frank, I had no idea what I was looking for! I still cringe at my email exchange with Watches & Jewellery of Bond Street. Did I ask about box & papers, service history, the originality of the dial or hands, previous owner or the bracelet?
I did however ask them to confirm “that there are no serious dinks or scrapes on the glass” *facepalm*. After a flurry of emails between myself and the dealer one afternoon I plucked up the courage to lowball them an offer of £1,400. A full 24 hours of radio silence ensued before I returned with tail between legs and offered £1,600.
A deal was done. I think I got lucky with this beautiful example.
I was completely hooked now. Vintage watches were my thing and down the rabbit hole I slid.
Mr Begbie is to blame for this next one too; he had a beauty of a panda dial chronograph from a company called Tradition/Sears. I began to read everything I could find about these “Poor Man’s Heuer” chronographs, a raft of which were produced through the 1960s by manufacturers like Tradition, Clebar and Zodiac.
They had the same 36mm case size and an identical white and black panda dial configuration but traded at about a 10x deficit to the Heuer models.
Then I came across a Hamilton Chrono-Matic 11002-3 on Instagram listed by a dealer in the States. Thankfully I was now beginning to have an idea of what questions to ask the seller (and also wary of import tax!). This example was totally original with the classic black panda sub dials on the white face plus creamy patina hands and lume plots. Most importantly, especially given the location, the dealer was one who I knew people had dealt with before without issue.
Luckily I had a colleague coming over from Boston the next day. I had the dealer FedEx it to my their home address so he could deliver it to me in his luggage. A nervous 24 hours of refreshing the tracking page and exchanging frantic WhatsApp messages with my colleague just added to the excitement.
Sure, it wears a bit bulkier than the Zodiac and Clebar, but that’s because of the brilliant calibre 11 movement, and there is a bit of lume missing from the minute hand but I tell myself that’s all part of the charm. I’ve never seen one listed with a box or manual since and it the most complimented watch in my collection by far.
I’m by no means a Rolex fanboy but as cheesy as it sounds, there is an awesome feeling having one on your wrist. I’d owned a Datejust 1601 with champagne dial for about a year but was always hankering after a Pepsi bezel GMT.
I loved the bezel colourway and the sleek profile of the case (compared to the beefy modern ones). Vintage watches are a minefield, but vintage Rolex is a different ball game altogether.
I read as many articles and bent the ear of as many owners/dealers as I could. Dial text, hands, chamfers, end links, long-Es, matte, gloss, service dials.
All of these details can add or (more likely) detract from the value of a watch. I hunted for a good few months for a matte 16750 GMT-Master (quick-set date, I’m lazy like that) with a nice faded bezel. After requesting dozens of images of the lugs and case back, and movement, and bezel from a multitude of angles, I finally settled on this piece from somewhere in the north of England. It came without papers (I couldn’t stomach the premium for one with), but does have a box and the bonus of a crispy sharp service Pepsi bezel.
I’ve bought and sold a few pieces in the time since but there was something fun and memorable about the research about and hunt for these watches that probably means they’ll stay in my collection for some time to come.
Visit Chris on Instagram at @csinclair85 and check out his stunning photography of not only watches but slopes, sunsets and beaches too.
Thank you to @thewatchdude2 for some of the photographs above.