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Buying a vintage watch - All you need to know about vintage watches

Posted by Lavinia Bejan on

Buying your first vintage watch

Just bought your first vintage watch, or looking to make your first purchase? Have a look at our guide to buying a vintage watch. In this article we tell you all you need to know about vintage watches, and we prepare you for your first vintage watch experience. If you're a beginner when it comes to vintage watches, this guide might be just what you need!

All you need to know about vintage watches: a guide for beginners

1. Vintage vs. new watches: why choose vintage?

1.1. Why opt for a vintage watch?

There are two main reasons why we prefer vintage watches and why we encourage people to buy them: 1) they are unique, and 2) they are a sustainable purchase.

A vintage watch comes with its unique story and it's a watch like no other. There are particular models that will present specific signs of age, or a special patina on the dial, which is often appreciated by collectors. There are people who search for a watch that is as old as they are - a birthyear watch. And there are watch models that are limited edition and no longer in production, which cannot be bought as new.

When it comes to sustainablity, buying a vintage watch is a great thing to do. Just think about all the watches that are already out there in the world, still in great working condition. When we started Vintage Radar, that was our main goal: To do restoration work on vintage watches, and highlight their unique beauty, as well as the fact that these items are still fully functional, reliable time-tellers.

1.2. Watch classifications: new, pre-owned,vintage, or antique

Besides new watches that don't need explaining, you should know that there are a few watch categories that can be differentiated as follows:

- pre-owned watches are watches that have been owned by someone before being resold to you. These may come in NOS condition (new old stock), which means they have not been worn before, and that they may come with their original box and papers. Or they come in very good or good condition, as specified by the seller.

- vintage watches: a watch is considered vintage when it is at least 20 years old. Watches that are between 20 and 100 years old are commonly classified as vintage. 

Antique watch

- antique watches: an item is considered an antique when it is older than 100 years. But some classifications state that items older than 50 years can also be included in this category. As a general rule, antique watches are older than vintage watches, but their classification may depend on the seller/website. 


2. The most common watch movements and how to wind your watch

2.1. The most common watch movements are: quartz, mechanical and automatic.

Simply put, a quartz watch is a watch that will function with a battery-powered movement. Quartz watches are timepieces that use an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time. Japan quartz movements are renowened for their superior time-keeping accuracy. But nowadays, most quartz movements are highly accurate, so you don't need to worry about that when it comes to this type of movement.

mechanical movement uses energy from the wound mainspring to power a watch, rather than a battery. A mechanical watch needs to be hand-wound in order to keep time accurately. 

2.2. How to hand wind a mechanical watch?

First of all, carefully pull the crown outwards slightly and set the correct time on your watch. Then, press the crown back in and wind it upwards as much as the watch allows you to. When the watch is fully-wound, you will know, as you may encounter some resistance to winding it further. Don't force it. Vintage watches may be more fragile than new ones.

This is a technique that will work on most watches. However, there are some models that require a special winding technique, such as particular diver watch models. If you're unsure, it's best to look it up using the watch reference.

Winding a mechanical watch

2.3. How often do I have to wind my mechanical watch?

Mechanical watches have a power reserve. Once you wind the watch completely, it will keep time accurately for the duration of its power reserve. Remember that the older the watch, the smaller its power reserve may be. 

For example, we have vintage watches on sale with a 48-hour power reserve, and we have antique pocket watches with 9-hour power reserves. The watch will keep time correctly for this time period, once fully wound, and then you will have to wind it again, for it to keep working accurately.

Some of the most expensive watches are powered by automatic movements.

2.4. What is the difference between a mechanical/hand-winding movement and an automatic movement?

An automatic watch, or a self-winding watch, is a mechanical watch that collects kinetic energy from the natural motion of the wearer's wrist. The advantage of this type of movement is that you don't need to wind the watch manually on a regular basis for it to keep time with accuracy.

Whereas for some hand-winding a watch is a pleasant ritual, some may not enjoy this repetitive task. For the latter, we recommend automatic movements.

Automatic watches will keep time correctly as long as they are on your wrist. If you stop wearing the watch for some time, it will stop ticking, given the lack of motion. So when you decide to start wearing it again after a few days/weeks, make sure to set the time correctly, wind the crown of the watch a few times and start moving it a little bit, so it will restart harnessing the kinetic energy from your wrist's movements. 

2.5. Finally, we would like to introduce you to solar-powered watches

Solar watches are powered by solar cells. The most popular solar watch models were introduced by Citizen, and you will find them under the Citizen Eco-drive range. But we also carry some Casio solar-powered watches in our vintage collection, and there are many other brands that have introduced this concept over the years. 

Citizen Eco-drive Solar Watch

What is great about solar watches is that they have a huge power reserve and that they are more sustainable and eco-friendly. You will need to expose them to natural or articial light once, and they can keep time accurately for as long as 6 months (e.g. Citizen Eco-drive watches in power-saving mode). With these watches, you don't need to worry much about changing their batteries, since they are made to last for years, which is always a bonus for the environment.

2.6. Modern days vs. vintage mechanical movements

When purchasing a vintage watch, you must always consider the time period when the watch was manufactured. Our living conditions have changed drastically since a few decades ago. Not only have watches become increasingly more accurate, but they are also more resistant to magnetization. 

A vintage mechanical watch can get magnetized by increased expore to technological devices - such as phones, laptops, planes & airport devices, etc. If you notice that your vintage mechanical watch is losing its time-keeping accuracy after a few minutes or hours since it's been wound, this can be one of the factors. It doesn't happen often, but it's a situation that may occur for very old watches. A watchmaker should be able to fix it with a demagnetizer. 

3. The condition and preservation of a vintage watch

When it comes to vintage watches, their condition is something you need to consider. Since the watch is not new, it may present signs of age, or it may have sustained damage over the time. 

3.1. Ordinarily, the seller will indicate the condition of the watch:

- mint condition or NOS (new old stock) - this means that the watch comes in perfect condition, as good as new.

- near-mint condition - the watch looks almost perfect, having very tiny signs of age.

- very good condition - the watch has very small signs of age, maybe a bit of wearing.

- good condition - the watch looks good, with some visible signs of age or previous wearing.

- poor condition - the watch presents some very noticeable signs of age.

Ideally, you should have a close look at the photos to get an idea of the watch's condition. The better a watch is preserved, the higher its value will be.

3.2. When buying a vintage watch, you should also check to see if the watch is functional, partly functional, or not functional.

There are many watches you may find on eBay for a tiny price and think they are a bargain, when in fact these timepieces are not functional. Some buyers will look for these watches to use them for parts. 

All of the watches we sell on Vintage Radar are in working condition, unless specified otherwise.

4. Affordable vintage watches vs. estate/high-end timepieces

If you're not a watch expert and you're looking to purchase your first vintage watch, it would probably be best to opt for an affordable timepiece. On Vintage Radar, we carry a huge selection of thousands of affordable luxury vintage pieces. Brands such as Seiko, Swatch, Citizen, Bulova, Benrus, Timex or Zentra are a good place to start.

Patek Philippe Watch

But if you're looking for a high-end watch, in the neighbourhood of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, Zenith, and others, we recommend you do your research, or get some advice from an expert. A lot of passion, as well as research, goes into finding the perfect vintage timepiece. And some of the most expensive watch models out there are made to last well over a lifetime.

Vintage watches are often passed on from one generation to the next. They can act as estate pieces, or even be turned into a thriving business. So if you have a big budget for your vintage watch, invest wisely.

5. Buying a watch from Vintage Radar

Vintage Radar is a platform that focuses primarily on affordable luxury watches. The majority of our vintage timepieces range between $50-$300. We carry a large selection of vintage watch brands - Swiss, American, German, French, Russian/Soviet, and Japanese watches. Read more about our story and our team of young watch enthusiasts here

Vintage Watches by Vintage Radar

Our process consists in locating vintage watches - we work with local watch collectors, enthusiasts and watchmakers. Next, we do restoration work on these pieces in colaboration with local watchmakers, we thoroughly clean the watches, change watch straps, watch crystals and do any other further embelishments, as needed. All of the watch parts we use in our restoration process are vintage or second-hand, from watchmakers in Romania or other countries in Europe. 

Vintage Radar

All of the watches are extensively tested once again by our watchmakers before shipping, for a period of 24-48 hours. We offer free international shipping, and we are always available for further information and questions about our watches at 

When giving a second chance to a vintage watch, you take a tiny step to a more sustainable future. And you also help us in our mission to save more vintage timepieces. 

Do you already own a vintage watch? What is your favorite vintage timepiece? Let us know in the comments!


  • 1930s Ingersoll Mickey mouse watch .

    Brenda Fuller on

  • would always choose vintage over new watches. the quality and design are priceless!

    constant1956 on

  • Thank you for this information! it’s my first time wearing a mechanical watch so this was very helpful actually.

    ALMA on

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