Would you describe an old-looking timepiece as being “vintage”?
In the very first place, what does “vintage” mean?
Having consulted our trusted Oxford English Dictionary, we discovered that contrary to what many may perceive, “vintage” does not only mean “old”.
Two main definitions are listed if used as a noun: firstly, “vintage” refers to “the year or place in which wine, especially wine of high quality, was produced”, and secondly, “the time that something was produced”.
If used as an adjective, “vintage” will be “referring to high quality wine” or “… something from the past of high quality”.
Why is the word “vintage” in particular associated with wine?
Well, according to etymonline.com, “vintage” is derived from the Latin word vindemia which means “a gathering of grapes” which is more like a “yield of grapes”. Vindemia originates from the word vinum for “wine” and demere which is “to take off”.
This Vindemia is taken from the old French word vendage which means “vine harvest” or the “yield from a vineyard”. This led to the Anglo-French word vintage in the mid-fourteenth century.
It therefore explains why viniculture is “the cultivation of grapevines for winemaking” and a vintner is a wine merchant.
By the early 15th century, vintage (as a noun) referred to the “harvest of grapes” or “yield of wine from a vineyard”.
In 1746, “vintage” was used for the “age or year of a particular wine”.
The “general adjectival” meaning of “being of an earlier time” came about in 1883. Vintage has also been used for cars since 1928, according to etymonline.com.
Today, while one synonym for “vintage” is old, other synonyms include “classic”, “prime” or “rare”.
“The great thing about the word ‘vintage’ is that it can mean almost anything,” notes Richard Lopez, director, Wholesale Preowned Jewelry and Watch Show at Betteridge, an American jewellery and watch business that deals in both new and vintage pieces.
“In the watch industry, we define a watch over 25 years old as being vintage, without regard for brand or condition,” Lopez continues. “I personally consider anything from mid-1980s to be vintage.”
The folks at Betteridge were present at the inaugural Jeweluxe Singapore retail exhibition held from 6 to 15 October 2017 at Ngee Ann City in Orchard Road, Singapore. The event organisers hope to realise more than SGD9 million in sales with their very first showing.
Among them, a Tiffany & Co watch necklace with its movement from Patek Philippe from the 1920s priced at US$33,000, a Patek Philippe pocket watch featuring the minute repeater offered at US$16,500 and a 1980s Vacheron Constantin perpetual calendar with moon phase from the 1980s priced at US$25,000.
The Patek Philippe pocket watch with minute repeater does not have a reference number because the brand’s use of reference numbers only began in 1932 with the Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 96, notes the affable Michael Manjos of Betteridge.
[Editor’s note: More on this Patek Philippe minute repeater can be found in the article: “Chimes from the early 19th century“.]
What are the main factors to consider when acquiring or selling vintage timepieces?
Lopez highlights five main points: condition, source, packaging, certification and the product’s price relative to the market.
The condition refers to the aesthetics of the watch. “Check for dents and scratches that may be hard to re-finish or touch-up,” says Lopez, adding that the functions of the watch should be checked and its timing verified.
The “source” is where the vintage timepiece was acquired from. “If you work with a trusted retailer who is also an authorised distributor, this helps as it gives you the confidence that whatever offered are verifiable goods. You will also have someone to fall back on if you have any issues,” Lopez explains.
Even when you acquire a new and collectible timepiece today, don’t toss out the box. “If a [vintage] watch comes with its original box, its value increases as savvy collectors prefer to have the original packaging as well,” he notes. [Editor’s comment: your new watch of today will be a “vintage” one in 25 years’ time.]
The “certification” is the original warranty or certificate of authenticity of the timepieces. With this, collectors will deem it as being a complete set.
Finally, one also has to consider the price of the vintage timepiece relative to others offered in the market.
For more contemporary pre-owned, sometimes termed “pre-loved” timepieces, Lopez advises paying attention to the same factors when considering vintage watches, with “particular emphasis on price comparison to [the same model offered by existing] retail”.
“Depending on market trends, pre-owned pieces can be anywhere between 20% and 30% cheaper than retail,” he reckons.
At the Jeweluxe Singapore exhibition, Betteridge also offered timepieces from recent times such as the Patek Philippe Reference 5960P, the Lange 31 in platinum and the Patek Philippe Reference 5131 World Time with an enamel dial featuring the map of the world.
In terms of warranty, pre-owned watches sold by Betteridge come with a one-year warranty on top of any existing warranties still in force.
Being in a business that offers new, pre-owned and vintage timepieces, what watch brands should collectors, those starting out in particular, pay attention to?
“Patek Philippe, Rolex, A. Lange & Söhne and vintage steel chronographs,” highlights Lopez.
“Through [horological] history, Patek and Rolex have been held with high regard for their innovation in horology. Their earlier timepieces are grail watches chased by collectors worldwide.
“Their new models have also generated attention from newbie watch aficionados, creating more demand and a resultant supply shortfall for these two brands,” says Lopez.