Buying a vintage watch can be a bit of a minefield. First of all, you're going to need to educate yourself on models that haven't seen the light of day for 30 or 40 years. Then you're going to need to know about prices (no point in spending half your savings on a piece that's not worth more than a few bucks). And that's to say nothing about how the specs of yesterday often used a very different language to the specs of today. But that's not to say it's not worthwhile. Especially when the vintage watch you ‘re looking for comes from TAG Heuer. 1960-1985 were TAG Heuer's salad days. Over the course of 15 years, they produced some of the finest watches in the world, a good proportion of which have gone onto become modern classics. Many of the watches in the brand's current collection are based on these legendary pieces. Of course, you could go the easy route and simply buy a re-edition from their latest catalog, but for many people, nothing quite beats the feel, the design, and yes, the status, of an original.
Is it the right choice?
As leohamel.com recommends, before you start looking at vintage watches, think carefully if it's the right choice for you. You might think a watch is just a watch, but the difference between a pre-owned piece and a new one is vast... and not just in terms of the price. Many people are attracted to the lower price point of pre-owned pieces, but costs can quickly rack up when you look at restoration costs, specialist repairs, and rare parts. By contrast, new pieces are unlikely to need very much by way of upkeep or repairs, at least in the near future.
Sourcing a quality vintage piece can also be a lot more challenging than most people initially think. Buy a new watch from an authorized seller, and you know exactly what you'll be getting. Buy a used watch from eBay, and what arrives in the mail could be a very different thing to what you were expecting. Investing in a vintage piece that you can be proud of takes time, research, and just an ounce of good luck. It's not something to be undertaken lightly, and neither is it something that's always going to end well. But that's not to say it's not worthwhile. If you educate yourself on the buying process before starting, if you research the TAG Heuer back catalogues, if you take the time to find a reputable seller, then you're on track to finding a watch that will take pride of place in your collection.
Vintage or re-edition?
If the research involved in buying a vintage piece sounds too much like hard work, there's an alternative, an alternative that goes by the name 're-edition'. As vintagewatchadvisors.com notes, TAG Heuer, like many other watch companies, has a very profitable habit of raiding their back catalogue for inspiration, releasing new editions of past classics that come with all the design features of those older pieces, but without the accompanying problems. For some people, nothing beats the feel of a real period piece. But for others, a reedition makes a great substitute, combining the classic good looks and designs of the old pieces with the up-to-date parts and craftmanship of newer models. Whether or not it's the right choice for you is a decision you'll have to reach on your own, but it's certainly worthy of consideration.
Spot the fakes
Everyone knows about fake Rolex. But Rolex isn't the only brand that's become the target of counterfeiters. Name a watch manufacturer, and you can bet there's as many replicas bearing its name as there are originals. Fortunately, the vintage market is fairly immune to the attentions of the copy-cat merchants... but not to the point that you can afford to take your eye of the ball. Make sure to inspect the watch carefully - most of the time, there'll be a telltale sign or two to suggest it's not the real deal. It could be that the logo is a little 'off'. Maybe the finish isn't as refined as you'd expect. Whatever it is, there are usually enough clues for you to spot the difference. Just be sure to educate yourself on what the original TAG Heuer model should look like so you can recognize them.
It's about more than the watch
Crazy fact for you - the boxes that vintage TAG Heuer's come in can often be worth more than the watch itself. Of course, you can skip the added extras and just look for an unaccompanied watch. But there's something a little bit special about a vintage watch that comes with its original papers and packaging, something that for many collectors, more than justifies the extra cost. How much you end up spending for the additional accessories really depends on their age and what they are. As calibre11.com notes, a rare red box that housed some of the brand's earliest pieces can add a staggering $1000 onto the total. The blue boxes of the 1970s and 1980s are usually cheaper, but still significant enough to make you do a double take. Filled in original paperwork can also add to the watches value (especially if it comes in its plastic sleeve), but beware reprinted warranty booklets - a common problem on the 2nd hand market.
Research, research, research
If you want a vintage TAG Heuer, then get ready to do your research. Buying a vintage piece comes with certain risks. The best way to mitigate those risks is to know exactly what you're dealing with. And the only way you'll ever know what you're dealing with is by educating yourself. Scouring the back catalogs is a great place to start, and will give you a good understanding of the minutiae of each model.
Know the eras
As calibre11.com notes, the vintage TAG Heuer market can be broken down into four distinct eras.
Era 1: 1860- 1960
The first era is the longest. Covering the first century of Heuer's existence, there's some gems to be had from the period, certainly (the Mareograph, the Twin-Time and the Solunar to name a few), but typically, this is the least interesting era to vintage connoisseurs. Not only are the pieces incredibly thin on the ground (and for once, rarity doesn't equal desirability), the parts are as hard to find as hen's teeth. Unless you want to be saddled with a watch that's basically unserviceable, it's best to concentrate your search on the pieces produced after 1960.
Era 2: 1960s
Brief though it is, the 2nd era is one of the most interesting to collectors, not least because it represents the period in which TAG Heuer's creativity was at its peak (something that as dmarge.com (https://www.dmarge.com/TAG-heuer-carrera) notes, can be attributed in no small part to the forward-thinking and innovative Jack Heuer taking over the reins of the family business). Jack's arrival coincided with a string of interesting pieces, including the angular “Pre-Carrera" beauties, the hugely coveted Autovias, the iconic Carreras, and the slightly overlooked but no less attention worthy Camaros, a line that shares many of the same characteristics of the first-generation Carrera, but without the corresponding price tag. Unlike watches from the earlier period, most parts that went into watches from this era are still commonly available, meaning it shouldn't be too hard to restore a broken piece or deal with future repair issues.
Era 3: The 1970s
The 1970s may have represented a period of turmoil for the Swiss watchmaking industry (hello, Quartz crisis!) but for collectors, few periods in history are quite so interesting. At TAG Heuer, the 1970s was a period of change. In the first few years, the Monaco, Second-generation Carrera and Autavia ruled the roost. The mid-seventies saw the brand expand its collection with pieces such as the Silverstone, Montreal, Calculator and the revolutionary Chronosplit, while the last few years bought us the Daytona, Jarama, Cortina, and the Kentucky. If you want a watch that's going to accrue in value, look for ones from the early 1970s - although the watches produced during the late 70s have their merits, the earlier pieces have kept their value to a greater extent.
Era 4: 1980s
The 1980s produced several very nice pieces (the Heuer 2000 and 844/ 1000 dive watches are unquestionably classic pieces) but from the perspective of the collector, it's one of the less interesting periods in TAG Heuer's history. If you can find an Autavia, Calculato, or one of the Lemania-powered pieces like the Silverstone, Cortina, or Carrera, you're in business. Otherwise, few pieces from this era stand out as 'collector's pieces'.
Pick a seller
Whether you're in the market for a vintage Rolex, a TAG Heuer, or Patek Philippe, you're going to face the same question. Who should you buy from? Do you stick with a dealer, or go the private route? Both options come with their advantages, but they also come with their risks. Ultimately, neither one is better than the other - for every dodgy private seller, there's a dodgy dealer, and for every reputable dealer, there's a reputable individual. Regardless of which way you go, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. Swisswatches-magazine.com offers some great suggestions to keep you (and your money) safe, including:
Make phone contact. You can tell a lot about a seller by simply having a conversation with them. Request high resolution pictures via email, and if it's viable, arrange to meet the seller in person - nothing beats looking someone directly in the eye to get an idea of how trustworthy they are. When you buy a vintage watch, you're not just buying into the watch, you're buying into the seller. Ask yourself if they're someone you can trust. And never forget to listen to your gut. If something about the seller seems 'off', go a different way.
Check the pictures of the watch the seller sends against pictures of the model online. Check out forums, watch platforms, and back catalogues. If you can, try and source a collector's book with high resolution pictures. Comparing the pictures side by side will give you a good idea of whether you're being sold a duff or not. Once you receive the watch, take it to a watchmaker for them to open it up and check the condition of the movement and verify authenticity. If anything isn't as it should be, flag it to the seller asap. If the seller can't offer an invoice or contract to go with the sale, don't buy from them.
Know when to restore... and when not to bother
Restoring a watch is often a viable option... viable enough that you shouldn't automatically discount that slightly doddery 1970s Carrera with the great look but the sluggish movement. But it's not something you can make assumptions about. Unless you have a secret stash of vintage parts in your attic, that 1950s Mareograph you've got your eye on is never going to keep better time than it is already. Regardless of how many well wishes you send it, if it's broke, it's staying broke.
Before you spend a heap of money on a watch that's going to need some serious TLC before it's up and running, work out if restoration is an actual possibility. Watches made prior to 1960 are a nightmare to restore - not only is hard to find a watchmaker with an understanding of how these older timepieces work, it's an often-impossible task to find parts, functioning or otherwise, that fit the bill.
But if your interest lies in a post 1960's TAG Heuer, you're in luck. The parts are generally easy enough to source, while the manufacturing process that went into their creation is similar enough to today's standards for watchmakers to know their way around. Cases and movements tend to be the easiest parts to restore, with even badly roughed up cases coming up a treat under the right treatment. Dials are trickier - a damaged crystal is easy enough to fix, but a faded or oxidized dial is never going to be restored to its former glory. Depending on the watch, bezels can also pose a problem, with the bezels used on the Autavia in particular so thin on the ground, your changes of finding a replacement are next to none. The lesson here is don't discount a watch because it needs a bit of restoration work, but don't bank on it either. Some restorations are possible, some aren't. Do your research before you invest to avoid an expensive mistake.
Not all TAG Heuer pieces are going to appreciate in value. If you're thinking of buying a vintage Heuer or TAG Heuer because you think you'll make a fortune when you sell it down the line, you might need to adjust your expectations. While some watches will accrue in value over time, most won't. At best, the value will hold. At worst, you'll end up spending more on initial outlay and restoration costs than you can ever hope to recoup.
But none of that is to say buying a vintage TAG Heuer is a fool's errand. TAG Heuer's back catalog is bursting with classic pieces that could make a grown man go weak at the knees (providing that man knows a thing or two about decent watches, that is). If you love a watch and have the money to spend, don't let your concerns about its future value stop you making it a part of your collection.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker