There are many different ways to get into watch collecting. Some people start with something like a Seiko 5, others save up and jump right into the deep end, while others still buy and sell rapidly to experience as much first hand as they can. One question we get all the time though is, “What should I buy as my first vintage watch?” That’s a complicated question, but the good thing is that there is a wealth of outstanding answers. The best answers however fit a number of key criteria. A first vintage watch should be affordable, it should be something with enough watch-nerd cred that you’ll be excited to tell everyone about it, and it should be something that you’ll be proud to wear as your collection expands and evolves. We tasked each of our editors with picking their ideal first vintage watch and they came up with some pretty outstanding options for you.
Cara Barrett – Rolex Datejust
Not surprisingly, I have picked a vintage Rolex Datejust for my first vintage watch. Why, you ask? Because there is nothing more wearable, universal, and long-lasting that a vintage Rolex Datejust. You can find fantastic examples from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s all with different dial colors and index configurations. My advice to you is a 1601 with Oyster bracelet – that way you get the added bonus of a white gold fluted bezel and indexes. This watch is also gender neutral and is my number one pick for the ladies because of the 36mm case size and design. It’s definitely on the pricier side (show me a vintage watch that’s not), but I say go on, treat yo’self.
Approximately $2,000-3,000, depending on quality and dial color.
Jon Bues – IWC Caliber 89
I’ve owned a gold IWC Caliber 89 for the last five years or so, and it’s a watch I continue to enjoy wearing. Named for the IWC Caliber 89 inside – one of the great democratic handwound movements of the 20th century – this model was an accessible, mass-produced wristwatch when it came out. Today it can be had for just over $1,000 in steel and less than $3,000 in 18-karat rose gold. While not a chronometer per se, these are simple watches with simple movements that can be tuned to keep time within fairly tight tolerances. Look for versions with a bit of extra flair thanks to the use of fancy lugs.
Approximately $3,000 in gold (less in stainless steel).
Jack Forster – Omega With 30mm Family Movement In Steel
These are some of the finest hand-wound, time-only movements ever made, and you don’t have to take my word for it – they’re a favorite of Roger Smith’s as well, who has said that from a watchmaker’s standpoint, they’re a dream to work on. I’m no Roger Smith nor ever will I be but once upon a time I did some hobbyist level watchmaking and the 30mm movements, including the 30T2RG, 30T2RGSC (center seconds) and caliber 266 really do seem to almost assemble themselves, and with regular care will last basically indefinitely. The only caveat is, it takes some hunting to find one in good, original condition (the cases were not especially moisture resistant and there are a lot of redials and over-polished cases out there) but your reward if you hunt a bit, will be one of the great, and still affordable, classics of modern watchmaking.
Approximately $1,000-2,000, depending on quality.
James Stacey – Skin Diver
Admittedly, this is less of a specific watch and more of a format, but bear with me nonetheless. “Skin Divers” were easy-wearing dive watches meant to be a cheaper and more casual alternative during the boom in SCUBA diving during the 60’s. Characterized by a thin and sloping ~38mm steel case with squared lugs and a flat front profile, these cases were produced by a handful of companies, including Squale and EPSA. Brands will vary widely, with less noteworthy options like my Silvanna (pictured) or more grail-ready fare like the incredible Aquastar Deepstar. Regardless, the skin diver case is the key feature, it’s a lesson in comfort, proportion, and casual sporty charm. Great on a NATO but possibly best on a vintage tropic rubber, a Skin Diver is a perfect intro to the world of vintage watches.
From approximately $600, depending on brand.
Stephen Pulvirent – Universal Genève Polerouter Date
This one’s personal. As I was finishing up graduate school, I knew I wanted to get myself a vintage watch to celebrate graduation. When I realized that I could get something from a special brand designed by none other than Gerald Genta for a relatively modest sum (yes, prices have gone up a bit since then), I was sold. Finding out that this watch was actually the first watch Genta designed when he finished school only made it better. Now, six years later, I still wear the watch weekly and love it even more than when I first bought it. It’s a watch that’s gotten plenty of compliments from well-respected collectors and one that encouraged me to learn as much as I could so as to live up to its provenance. I’d highly recommend one to anybody looking to get into the vintage game.
Approximately $2,000, depending on quality and execution.