Frequently Asked Questions
It's official: thanks to the Internet and a robust world economy, collecting vintage and modern pre-owned wristwatches has become more popular than ever before. However you prefer to do your shopping, whether it be in person or on-line, vintage watches can be found everywhere it seems, from the pages of fashion magazines to your local neighborhood jewelry store.
Yes, vintage and pre-owned modern wristwatches have undoubtedly emerged as one of the hottest collectibles of the 21st Century, but this was not always the case. As early as 1982, in fact, wristwatches were not considered collectible at all. Many industry insiders point to the 1982 NAWCC (National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors) National Convention in Boston as the first time that wristwatches were actively bought and sold.
Prior to 1982, watch collectors focused mainly on pocket watches. American railroad watches and gold dress pocket watches were most avidly collected back then. However, as European collectors and dealers began snapping up wristwatches by high-end makers such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, prices skyrocketed and the vintage wristwatch hobby as we know it today, was born.
The Internet changed the rules of the game once again in the mid-late 1990's by allowing collectors and dealers to communicate more efficiently. With the advent of inexpensive scanners and sophisticated Web site design software, it became possible for dealers and collectors to post crisp, full-color digital images of vintage and modern wristwatches they had for sale. As a result, whereas a dealer might have once needed several weeks to find the right buyer for a watch, now that same watch could be sold in a matter of hours or days.
While collectors were growing more sophisticated than ever, a new breed of watch dealer entered the industry via the Internet. Although many of these dealers were qualified to deal in vintage watches, others proved themselves amateurish and unprofessional.
Now that some historical context has been provided, perhaps you will understand why finding a trustworthy, knowledgeable dealer has become so crucial for collectors. Even legitimate and well-intentioned dealers, however, lack extensive experience buying and selling watches. This should come as no surprise, given that collecting wristwatches is still in its infancy.
Unlike more established hobbies such as numismatics, there is no such thing as third-party grading or weekly price lists for watches, and information on a particular model is often hard to come by. Price guides do exist, but the values can be inaccurate and/or outdated. In short, becoming a top-notch dealer requires more than just a price guide, a scanner and a computer: it requires knowledge of the marketplace, a passion for watches, and many years of experience.
Vintage watches, like antique cars, are mechanical instruments that can wear down over time without proper maintenance. It is important to remember that back in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's, wristwatches were not considered collectible at all. Rather, they were everyday objects prone to all sorts of mishaps.
Although many vintage timepieces are found with pristine, surprisingly accurate movements, others have been damaged over the years by careless watchmakers as well as a lack of routine servicing. Without regular cleanings, the oils used to lubricate a watch's movement may harden and cause friction to occur between various parts of the mechanism. In these instances, when a major overhaul is required, restoring a vintage wristwatch can quickly become a costly endeavor.
Needless to say, every watch sold by Finer Times, unless otherwise noted, is completely overhauled by our in-house watchmakers and guaranteed for 60 days.
That having been said, we would like to point out that while most vintage mechanical wristwatches (with proper maintenance) tend to be accurate to within 30 seconds per day, no vintage watch, no matter how carefully regulated, can rival the precise accuracy of contemporary quartz watches. Returning to our car analogy, the cars of yesteryear, although stunning in their design, cannot hope to match the speed, performance and efficiency of today's automobiles. Quite simply, today's technology is far superior.
On the other hand, modern automobiles, although efficient and practical, lack the style, uniqueness, value and indeed character associated with vintage automobiles. The same is true of vintage watches. While there is no such thing as absolute accuracy when it comes to vintage wristwatches, these magnificent timekeepers of yesteryear still perform admirably enough to be worn in everyday life.
In sum, we can't promise that our vintage watches will tell the time down to the exact second, but we do guarantee that once you experience the pleasure of wearing a finely crafted, uniquely designed vintage timepiece, you'll never go back to quartz again.
In the same way that an auto mechanic tunes up an automobile, a watchmaker “adjusts” or regulates a fine mechanical wristwatch movement.
Regulating a watch consists of observing its daily deviation in various positions and temperatures and adjusting them accordingly. Depending on the quality and desired accuracy of a watch, varying regulating procedures are used. The usual regulation of a good quality watch consists of testing in dial-up (lying) and crown-up (hanging) positions. The deviations between these positions are usually 30 seconds a day at most. In officially prescribed precision regulation, watches are tested and adjusted in at least five (5) positions and at two different temperatures.
A requirement of effective regulation is an exactly balanced balance, since center-of-gravity error would otherwise occur. In most cases, correction of mechanical watches is done by carefully adjusting the regulator, which changes the effective length of the hairspring. The art of regulating mechanical watches consists in principle of keeping the number of swings of the balance or hairspring as constant as possible despite disturbance from external influences such as temperature and position changes. When the frequency changes, errors result. Fine regulation (i.e., to five positions and two temperatures) is usually indicative of a high-quality timepiece.
Box & Papers
Virtually all vintage timepieces, when originally sold, were accompanied by presentation boxes, warranties, owner's manuals (“papers”) and other such accessories. Furthermore, most watches were sold with a leather band and buckle designed to compliment the timepiece. Needless to say, most people either discarded or lost these items over time – and today, a vintage watch with its original box and papers (and/or original buckle and band) commands a significant premium over similar examples missing these items.
Although we at Finer Times are excited when we can offer our valued customers a vintage timepiece with its original box and papers, we are not able to do so very often due to the rarity of these watches. Thus, unless otherwise noted, our watches do not come with original boxes, papers, accessories, bands or buckles. We do, however, pride ourselves on selecting bands and buckles which not only compliment the vintage timepiece in question, but also are appropriate to the era during which the watch was produced.
Bumper automatic vs. full rotor automatic
Movements of the hand move a swinging weight (rotor or pendulum). An apparatus makes the winding drive always turn in the same direction to wind the mainspring. A sliding coupling (drag spring) prevents overwinding the mainspring. Automatic watches usually are more precise than watches with hand winding, because they usually run at full spring strength.
Bumper movements tend to be older self-winding movements in which the rotor can only turn 180 degrees, as there are springs or “bumpers” which restrict the rotor's movement within the case. Full rotor automatic movements, on the other hand, were developed in the early 1950's and feature rotors mounted in such a way that they can revolve a full 360 degrees within the case. Such movements are generally more desirable and expensive, in addition to being more accurate. Full rotor automatic movements were generally offered in more expensive wristwatches.
With respect to a wristwatch movement, caliber designation refers to its manufacturer, reference number, size and complications (if any). The term “ebauche” refers to the raw movement itself prior to finishing and adjusting; it is the heart of a watch. Even as far as the early 1920's, watch manufacturers did not make their own raw movements. Instead, they would buy the raw movements from ebauche producers in Switzerland.
The components of a raw movement (plates, bridges, blocks, wheel trains, hands, etc) could be purchased in various grades of preparation – for example, with or without jewels. Because of the work and facilities involved, raw movements were (and still are) made by only a few specialized producers. However, the value and desirability of a vintage wristwatch movement is usually determined by how finely it is finished, not which ebauche it was based on.
Dial Refinishing (see: WATERPROOF and ORIGINALITY)
Many vintage wristwatches, at some point or another, have had their dials refinished. Dial refinishing refers to the process of restoring a watch dial to its original appearance. Over time, when exposed to sunlight or moisture, watch dials (which are made of silver or silver-plated brass) tend to fade and oxidize, causing the dial to become unattractive or even unreadable. Without going into a lengthy technical explanation of how dial refinishing works (essentially, it's a chemical process in which a watch dial's original finish is removed, then reapplied), the most important concept to understand is that not all refinished dials are created equal.
Like any watch restoration process, dial refinishing is an art and a science, and there are not many companies left which can duplicate the look and quality of an original dial.
At Finer Times, our 15 years of experience allows us to determine when refinishing makes sense and when it does not. Moreover, we have access to the finest dial refinishers in the industry. Whenever a dial restoration is decided upon, we always take into account the original appearance of the dial, the correct size and font of the lettering, and so on. In fact, our restored dials are so beautifully refinished that many collectors mistake them for originals.
Whether you are a discriminating collector seeking absolute originality, or simply want a vintage watch that looks great and can be worn casually, Finer Times has the right timepiece for you.
Originality (see: TRIPLE-SIGNED and DIAL REFINISHING)
Every single watch offered for sale by Finer Times is guaranteed to be 100% genuine and in as close to its original condition, both mechanically and cosmetically, as possible. Obviously, when dealing with a fifty year old timepiece, there is no way to guarantee that every single component in the movement is completely original, but we will not sell any vintage timepieces which have been improperly tampered with or modified.
From their own experience as collectors, Don and Zaf realize that certain watches lend themselves to restoration, while others are best left original. Finer Times will not sacrifice cosmetic appearance for the sake of originality, however. With this in mind, Finer Times offers watches for both the discriminating collector seeking absolute originality, as well as watches that can be worn casually and have been restored to look like new.
As far as restoration goes, Finer Times replates cases and refinishes dials only when necessary, and with an eye toward maintaining the watch's original appearance. Either way, you can be rest assured that every watch sold by Finer Times is a vintage timepiece you can be proud to wear.
Triple-Signed (see: ORIGINALITY)
When we write in our descriptions that a watch is “triple signed”, we are describing a watch that has been “signed” (i.e., stamped with the name or trademark of its manufacturer) on its movement, case and dial. Triple signed watches are much more desirable and collectible than watches signed only on the movement and dial, because triple signed watches are considered to be more complete and original than their “double signed” or “single signed” counterparts.
It should be noted that while certain watches may not be triple signed, they are nonetheless original. Especially during the first half of the 20th Century, Swiss watch manufacturers were unable to import fully completed wristwatches and pocket watches into the United States, due to extremely high tariffs on solid gold cases. The solution was to export the movements and dials separately, and case them up in American-made gold cases. Today, we find many early watches, such as those by Vacheron & Constantin, housed in American “contract cases”. Although these watches are not worth as much as triple-signed watches, they are no less beautiful and offer great values for the budget-minded collector.
Conversely, there are also watches that are not triple signed, but not necessarily original. During the Great Depression, as well as the early 1980's when gold was worth $850 per ounce, millions of solid gold watch cases were melted down. Years later, when vintage watches became a hot collectible, many of these orphaned movements and dials were placed in less expensive (and sometimes laughably inappropriate) cases by watch dealers and collectors.
In more nefarious instances, a dial from one watch would be matched up with a movement from another, then re-cased. Needless to say, such “put together” watches are not very desirable and Finer Times generally does not deal in them. Our customers should also be forewarned that many vintage timepieces being offered in Internet auctions have been improperly tampered with or modified. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There are no absolutely waterproof watches. Watches called “waterproof” must be able to withstand the water pressure of a one-meter depth for one hour. Divers' watches must be able withstand much higher water pressure at even greater depths. In the 1950's, a series of quick testing methods – employing a device in which the watch case is immersed in water – were developed for use by watch repair facilities.
Unfortunately, it is impossible for Finer Times to guarantee that any vintage watch we sell (even sports watches originally intended for diving) is still waterproof. The fact of the matter is that the rubber gaskets which provide water-resistance must be replaced and the watch extensively re-tested before exposing the timepiece to water for any length of time. Because such a repair is generally cost prohibitive, we do not undertake such repairs. Nor do we recommend swimming, showering or diving with any vintage watch. Doing so will automatically void our 60 day guarantee.
Although most vintage watches will not be harmed by casual moisture (for example, rain), they are by no means waterproof and should be cared for appropriately. Finally, we are unable to modify vintage watches so as to guarantee that they will be waterproof or water-resistant.
Be assured that every timepiece we sell has been fully cleaned, authenticated and if appropriate, correctly restored. Finer Times is one of the only companies on the Internet with its own in-house service department – two full-time watchmakers on staff – and they stand by every watch sold. Finer Times also offers one of the most liberal return policies in the industry. If you are not completely satisfied with your purchase, simply return the watch for a full refund.
Combined, Zaf and Don have over 25 years experience in the field of buying and selling vintage wristwatches, and are members of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, as well as the International Watch & Jewelry Guild.
Collecting wristwatches doesn't have to be difficult anymore. Whether you are a veteran collector or completely new to the hobby, please contact Don or Zaf today and find out why Finer Times has been voted one of the Best Websites by Forbes Magazine three times in a row. They are always available to answer your questions, some of which we have hopefully answered here, and look forward to hearing from you soon!