Historical Horology

Home Continuing Series Historical Horology

Historical Horology: Father’s Day Edition



That’s right – here in the States, it’s a day known as Father’s Day.

Watch Video Rewind for August 30, 2015

history-featuredThanks for popping in to our regular Sunday feature, the Watch Video Rewind, where we point out watch related videos we come across that we think are of interest.  Today, I am going to combine the Watch Video Rewind with a bit of Historical Horology, and point out some museums and museum exhibits related to the watch world.

Historical Horology: The Watches of Jacques Cousteau


It has been some time since we have had a Historical Horology post, so I would say we are long overdue.  For whatever reason, I was just not running across a lot of interesting material about watches of the past.  That is, until I came across a recent three-part series that dug into the watches that Cousteau and his Calypso team wore.

Historical Horology: A Rolex That Survived a WWII POW Camp


Most likely, you’re at least passingly familiar with the fact that Rolex made a practice of selling watches to British officers held in German POW camps during World War II, with payment not expected until after the war’s conclusion. The Brits were singled out as it was generally believed that their word was bond, and Hans Wilsdorf had a soft spot for England, as he had originally started up his business there.

How to buy a vintage watch

I buy old cars, cameras and watches. I buy these things for the aesthetics, often for the value, and occasionally for the story behind them. Sometimes all three criteria converge like the time I bought Faith Hill’s 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser for a good price. At least I was told it was Faith’s.

Those who read about recent watch auctions and still don’t wear a watch, will not understand this story. That’s because buying vintage watches is not a spectator sport. You have to wear one. You have to love its age, its imperfections and you occasionally you have to get fooled.

Because of this, I will try to give you some of my general guidelines I use to browse and buy.

Know what you like.

This really is the most important point when you first start looking at old watches.  Don’t let someone tell you what you should buy or like. Don’t be the person who buys a watch because you think you should have that brand and model.

I couldn’t stop looking at WW2 military watches when I first discovered the world of vintage. The military watches had incredible stories that were partially revealed by the engravings from previous owners.

What do you like? Consider the dial color, the case size, the case material and color or even the functions. Know what you like and your search becomes more productive.

Narrow your hunt to a specific area.

I’m not saying collect only one watch, but consider categories of interest to help you deepen your knowledge of watches.  For instance, some enthusiasts only buy Seiko’s like the founder of WatchRecon.

Another approach would be to collect only watches with specific movements.  Chronographs offer this options. The Valjoux movements are prolific and can be found in many brands, cases and dial designs. This collector has an incredible collection of jump hour watches from the 70s. Narrowing your approach allows your knowledge to grown deeper and not as wide.  This will give you some anchor points to build onto your own research and shopping skills.

Know the market for what you like.

So, what is the market for vintage watches anyway and when does a watch become vintage?  This is the fun part. Looking at the sold watches on eBay is a good place to start. Auction houses can also show you the very high end of what the market can tolerate. I can learn a lot about the retail prices of vintage watches by finding online retailers too.  When you see what an online retailer is asking for a watch, just know that they didn’t pay that much for it.  Use this information to help you know how to approach private sellers.

Know who will fix it when you need it repaired.

If you are trying to buy vintage watches, then consider knowing where you’ll take it to be repaired. A way to get a little more time out of your watch before a service is to buy one in the very best condition you can find and afford.

I remember taking two vintage watches into a jewelry store and wanting them fixed. One was a yard-sale-find and the other one was my dad’s watch he wore when I was a kid.  Both watches could be repaired for more than they were both worth.

So, here’s a story I did a story about watchmakers. If you don’t want to use a certified watchmaker, consider sending a watch back to the manufacturer for a repair estimate.  Swatch has a repair facility in the States for its brands like Hamilton, Longines, Omega, Rado, etc.  Ultimately, one of the best resources would be a trusted friend referral based on their experience.

Learn, look, buy, sell and repeat.

Some of us have trusted retailers and friends who have vintage watches.  This is great.  Learn as much as you can from your friends by putting your hands on as many watches as you can.  This tactile understanding will give you more confidence to buy online where case condition, weight and quality are only as good as the photograph.

eBay is the obvious place to look, but be cautious. Consider only buying from those you’ve interacted with and don’t be afraid to scrutinize their feedback.  My kids have made fun of me and my early eBay watch buys.  I’ve had the watches fall apart as I unwrap the package. This is the less desirable way to learn.

Here are some places to look and learn.  Buy at your own risk and make sure you understand the return policy.

There’s no perfect way to buy vintage watches. Let us know what you learn and please be willing to add other ideas in the comment section below.

A Historical Horology Roundup for August 23, 2015


The Historical Horology series has one that has become a good bit more infrequent, and I have played around with some different ways of approaching it in the more recent appearances. Today is another experiment, one that I hope you will find a bit easier to consume. It’s a bit more of a roundup (rather like our Saturday posts), and gives you some bite-size summaries into some deeper topics. Today, we have articles covering watches that Elvis Presley owned, an editorial about the earliest form of chronograph, and then an article about the very first watch created by Giulio Papi.

Historical Horology – The Mechanical Oscillator


When it comes to mechanical time keeping, the oscillator is truly what allows the measurement of time. Take, for instance, a grandfather clock – it is the frequency of that pendulum swinging back and forth, at a constant rate, that allows the internal gearing to tell us the time. While things are on a much smaller scale, the same sort of principle applies to watches, be they mechanical or quartz watches. The humble oscillator has some really rather interesting developments recently, and that is what we will talk about in today’s edition of Historical Horology.

Historical Horology: What Is a Mil-Spec Watch?



Well, there’s a simple answer, and a more thorough one. The simple answer is that a mil-spec watch is a watch that was made for a national government – precisely, for some part of a military force. As with anything watch-related (at least, for aspects that have been around for awhile), there are plenty of details and minutiae hiding in that answer.

Historical Horology: Setting Time By The Radio


If you take a look back at where watches came from, you might stop and find yourself amazed that anything ran on time. Sure, we can have atomic-level precision when it comes to watches today, but back in the “good ol’ days”, accuracy wasn’t measured in milliseconds, that’s for sure. So how did they do it?

Historical Horology – ETA and Their Movements


This week’s edition of Historical Horology is going to continue the trend we have had with the series as of late, where we get into some history, but also share some information that is useful to the collector of modern (or semi-modern) watches.  When it comes to Swiss movements, ETA is probably the most well-known and widely-distributed name.  Given that, it makes sense to dive into the history of the brand a little bit, as well as get an overview of some of their movements.