How should I store my vintage watches?
Let us start by saying that a vintage watch is designed to be worn, shared and enjoyed, so our best advice is to rotate and wear each of your vintage watches (with the care and respect they deserve) as much as possible. If you must store them for a prolonged period of time, find a safe, dark and dry location and wind them fully at regular intervals, at least once a month. This will help keep the parts well lubricated and allow the watch to function reliably for years. We also suggest that you have your watch serviced by a quality watchmaker (not the jeweler in the mall) every three to five years. Service should include cleaning, lubricating, regulating and gasket inspection.
Does a higher number of jewels in a watch indicate increased value and better quality?
No. First it should be noted that the jewels used in a watch movement to reduce friction are made of synthetic material of precious or semi-precious stones, usually a very inexpensive form of synthetic ruby. These jewels do not add any monetary value to a watch. Also, more jewels does not necessarily make a better watch. While too few can certainly be a problem, the exact number needed for optimal performance depends on the specific design and features of the movement. Overall, 17 jewels is the lowest number needed for most standard mechanical watch movements. Others movements that implement different designs, or complications such a chronographs, may use more or less. But a novice cannot derive useful basis of evaluation or comparison from the fact that a watch has 15, 17, 21, 25 or more jewels.
What is the difference between Rose Gold, Pink Gold, Yellow Gold or White Gold, and does it affect the value of the watch?
The only natural form of gold is Yellow Gold. But since gold is too soft in its pure form to make jewelry, it is normally made into an alloy by mixing it with other metals. The portion of pure gold to other metals determines the Karat rating. 24K is pure gold. The exact nature of the other metals used determines the color. A moderate amount of copper in the alloy creates Rose Gold (also known as Pink Gold). A moderate amount of palladium and nickel creates White Gold, by literally washing out the yellow color of the metal. The coloration of the gold is also a matter of taste, tradition and custom. Rose Gold (typically 18K, or .750 purity) is a popular color in Europe while lighter colored Yellow Gold (typically 14K, or .583 purity) is more prevalent in the United States. So although an 18K gold watch has more intrinsic value (gold content) and would cost more than a similar 14K gold watch, most collectors have no plans to melt down their watches. So equally important to value is the rarity of the watch, the overall beauty of the design and many other less quantifiable traits leading to the desirability of the watch among watch lovers and collectors.
Why do gold Swiss (and American) watches fabricated for the US market tend to be 14K while Swiss watches destined for the rest of the world tend to be 18K?
It is true that 14K gold is seldom used for fine jewelry outside the US. To explain this, we need to understand a law past by the US Congress around the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1974, United States citizens were not allowed to own 18K or 24K in bullion form because of laws put in place in 1933 to prevent hoarding of precious metals when the US went off the gold standard for its monetary system. Further, the US placed high import taxes on many permissible forms of gold 18K and higher, particularly jewelry and watches. These two factors discouraged the sale of solid and higher carat gold jewelry and watches in the US for many years. It was not until 1974 that these laws were repealed and US citizens could again purchase and own 18K and finer gold in bullion form. At the same time, the additional import taxes on many forms of gold were repealed. So many of the 14K gold Swiss watches made for sale in the United States during those years were made of genuine Swiss movements that were assembled in the US into US made gold casings.
Should I refinish the dial of my vintage watch?
Any answer we give is sure to create a lively debate. Certain purists want to see an original dial on a vintage watch, sometimes even though it looks really bad. As a result, original dials in mint condition can fetch substantially higher prices than similar watches with refinished dials. Our philosophy is more pragmatic. While we also love a nicely evenly toned patina on an original dial, when the dial finish is flaking or contains noticeable splotches and other blemishes, we would advocate refinishing the dial. Done with care, refinishing a dial brings new life, beauty and wearability to a classic vintage watch. Unfortunately not all dial refinishers are the same, and we’ve seen results that leave the watch sadly worse with a heavy, uneven or plastic look. Make sure you get a sample of their past results, ask for references, and begin with one of your less expensive watches, to make sure the results are what you expect.
How do I know if a vintage watch I want to purchase is an original or a fake?
This is a difficult question to answer. In the past, you purchased your watch from a local jeweler with a certain reputation. If this jeweler knowingly sold you a fake, it would be the disastrous to his reputation and livelihood. Today, with the proliferation of online businesses and online auctions, you are increasingly challenged to weed out the good versus the bad. Whereas in the past, fakes were typically limited to new watches, as counterfeiters profited from selling knockoffs of name brands for half the price. However, over the last few years, we have been amazed at the lengths people have gone to make a vintage watch appear like something it is not, making it more and more difficult for buyers to discern the fakes. Hiding lesser movements below a signed plate, adding prominent signatures to dials of lesser watches and replacing crowns to match. Ultimately, the same age-old truisms come to play. Do your research and know with whom you’re dealing. Deal with people who have reputations to uphold. If the price of a watch is “too good to be true”, it probably is. We personally service every watch we sell, often fully disassembling the movement to clean and check for consistency and authenticity. We stand behind the authenticity of all the watches we sell. This doesn’t mean that there will never be a non-original part in our watches, but we strive to use original parts whenever possible, even trying to locate an original crown when the original crown has been replaced years ago.
What is the difference between a chronograph and a chronometer?
The simple answer is that a chronometer is a certified accurate timepiece, a chronograph is a timepiece with stopwatch functions. So for any watch, one, both, or neither terms may apply. Most chronographs have two or three subdials, or minidials, for measuring minutes and hours. When used in conjunction with specialized scales on the watch dial it can perform many different functions, such as determining speed or distance. Some can time more than one event at a time. As far as a chronometer, it is a timepiece that has met certain high standards of accuracy set by an official watch institute of Switzerland, called C.O.S.C. These watches are provided with a chronometer certificate detailing specific test results conducted by the C.O.S.C. Only a watch whose movement has been certified by C.O.S.C. can be called a chronometer. For a typical men's-sized mechanical watch movement, it must have stayed within -4 to +6 seconds of variation per day during the COSC measurement at various temperatures and positions.
What is a “bumper” automatic movement?
A bumper is a type of watch movement found only in vintage watches. It is similar to the rotor automatic which winds the watch based on the wearer's movements. The difference with the bumper automatic is the weight may have only a 180 degree or less path of movement rather than a full 360 degree rotation. This results in the rotor hitting a small bumper at each end of its path of travel, providing a slight but distinct “bumping” feeling on the wrist when the wearer makes certain arm movements.
What is the difference between a Waterproof and a Water Resistant watch?
Waterproof describes the ability to completely exclude the possibility of water entering into any working portion of a watch. According to the Federal Trade Commission, no watch is fully 100 percent waterproof and no manufacturer that sells watches in the U.S. may label any of their watches "waterproof." The FTC demands that watches only be referred to as "water resistant." As a result, the term "waterproof" was discontinued starting in the late 1960's. "Waterproof" was considered to have misrepresented the products as more capable of preventing the entry of water under normal use circumstances than they were actually capable of. Specifically, diving-type watches never have been completely 'proof' of water entry under normal use and within the stated depth ratings. The seals that keep water out are not completely impervious and their effectiveness can be reduced over time with age, deterioration, and exposure to chemicals. Water Resistance describes the level of protection a watch has from water damage. So there are no technical differences between a waterproof watch and a water resistant watch. They use the exact same methods and technologies to keep water out. The difference is only in what term was considered to appropriate to describe it at the time it was made.
How do I open my watch case in order to see the movement?
The best advice is not to open your watchcase unless you have a compelling reason to do so. If you must open it, stop if the case lid seems stuck after normal amounts of effort has been expended, and take it to a watchmaker. Before attempting to take off the back, make sure you are seated at a table with an ample and reasonably cushioned surface area in front of you. A mouse pad works well. Most watches have either screw-on or snap-on cases. Screw-on cases are of more recent vintage and typically have a number of groves around the back edge of the case. There are special tools to remove these types of cases, and you should not try without these tools. Either buy yourself the right tool or take it to a watchmaker. However, the vast majority of vintage watches have snap-on case lids. First thing is to examine all the way around the back lid to try to understand the construction and to see if there is a “natural” place (i.e. a little grove or slight gap) to focus your efforts. It is worth trying the fingernail approach first as we’ve found that this works about half the time or so. In any case, it’s worth a try since fingernails are soft and is unlikely to damage the case, or worse, the movement inside. If this doesn’t work, there are tools specifically made to be case openers. If a case opener isn't available, we recommend something not too sharp but with a good thin edge. Most Swiss pocket knifes have a good small blade well suited for this purpose. But be careful and do not use excessive force for knives are sharp and are known to slip and cut. Set the watch face down on your mouse pad and use a low stool so that you can look closely at what you're doing without bending over too much. If you're right-handed, hold the knife, in your right hand, with the sharp edge in the slot. Then, use your left thumb against the back edge of the knife to hold the knife in the slot. Using moderate force only, rotate the knife handle a little in each direction to "pop" the back off. Only wrist action should be used. Keep your elbows tight to your body. Using wrist action only will avoid potential knife slippage and scratching or damage to the case and movement. Keep the knife parallel to the tabletop and to the watch. If this doesn't work, it’s time to visit your watchmaker. If this proves successful, we suggest you take some good close up pictures of the movement to record it for future use and reference. If you don’t have a camera, write down all serial numbers and other markings on the movement.
What do the markings on the movement mean?
Many earlier watches were not cased at the factory. With only a few exceptions, the watch movements were made to industry standard sizes and cases were made to those same sizes. Only a few of the companies that made the watch movements also made the cases, and when they did, they would frequently be sold separately. A person would go to the jewelry store, select the make and grade (quality) of the movement they desired, and then pick out a case, or perhaps they would choose a certain quality of case and then use the balance of their budget on the movement. The jeweler would then assemble the two in a matter of moments. Even when watches were cased at the watch factory, the same model case might be fitted onto any variety of movements, or the same model/grade of movement would be put in a variety of cases. Whichever set of circumstances occurred, the best documentation available is for the movements, not the cases. Thus it is through the movement that a watch's identification can be made. The serial number on the movement can also date the watch. Most watch manufacturers have a code to decipher the serial number into the year of manufacturer.