In 1904 Cartier created the first men's wristwatch for pilot Albert Santos-Dumont, who wanted a timepiece he could read without taking his hands off the yoke. A century later, men lust after vintage watches not as objects of practicality (we have cell phones for that), but as wearable history. Going vintage can seem daunting at first – all the jargon and the ever-present worry of being ripped off – but if you go in knowing just what to expect, you'll come out with the watch you've always wanted.
What to ask.
Nathaniel Borgelt, horological coordinator at Patrizzi & Co. auction house, feeds you the questions you need to gauge a vintage watch's worthiness.
Is it signed?
The case, crown, dial, and movement should bear the company logo. Replacements lower the value, though a new crown is the least concerning.
Was the dial fixed?
Even if it's original, sellers may reapply the luminescent substance to the markers to make it look better. That drops the value.
Was the case polished?
Bad. Too much polishing removes and weakens metal.
Does the watch have provenance?
Engravings that hint at a watch's use (particularly military) or an interesting backstory make any watch more valuable.
Does it have any original accessories?
Credit: Courtesy Anitquorum Auctioneers
Ideally it comes with the box, papers, and service records – but it's rare to get all three.