A new Patek Philippe is exquisite. A vintage Patek Philippe? Well, that's in a class of its own. Buying a vintage Patek Philippe doesn't just offer you the chance to score a world-class watch at a great price, it opens you up to a whole new world of watch possibilities. The current Patek Philippe catalog might be great, but imagine having every watch from every catalog in its history at your fingertips? Venturing into the vintage and pre-owned market lets you do exactly that.
Which isn't to say it's something to go into lightly. Buying a new watch is, by and large, a risk-free experience. Providing you buy from an authorized dealer, you'll know exactly what you're getting and exactly what to do if anything ever goes wrong. Warranty, easy access to parts... a new watch comes with assurances. Vintage watches, on the other hand, often come with little more than a prayer and a promise. Replacing a part on a watch that went out of production 60 years ago is no walk in the park. Neither is finding one that's guaranteed to give you at least a decade of service before needing any work done to it. But providing you know the risks, a vintage watch can be one of the best buys of your life. Here's exactly what you need to know about making that purchase an experience you won't regret.
Buy the Seller
Whether you're being a vintage Patek Philippe, a Cartier, a Rolex, or anything else, the number one rule to remember is 'buy the seller'. Not all sellers are created equal. Some may seem pleasant enough, but underneath their smiles might lurk some very ill intentions. Others might be fully above board, but know too little about what they're selling to be in any position to guide you. When it comes to sellers, you're looking at one of two options: a dealer or a private individual. Both come with their good points and their bad points, and unless you're happy to come out the rough side of a bad deal, both need to be watched like a hawk. Regardless of which one you go with, make sure to follow swisswatches-magazine.com's advice and do the following:
- Request high-resolution photos if you're buying online. Once you have them, scour Patek Philippe's back catalog and compare the image from the seller against the image in the catalog. If you notice any differences, no matter how small, it's likely you're looking at a fake.
- If possible, always ask to see the watch in person - not only will it give you the opportunity to take a good look at the watch, it'll also give you the chance to check out the dealer.
- Go with your gut. Pay attention to how the seller communicates with you. If something seems 'off', move on.
- Don't rely on certificates of authenticity. Think about it - if people manage to make imitation watches that could pass for the real deal, do you really think they're going to have too much trouble forging a certificate?
- Always request an invoice. This is your proof that you bought the watch in good faith and your protection against certain problems. If the seller seems reluctant to provide a proof of sale, ask yourself why.
- Check the seller's reputation. If you find someone that claims to be a registered or 'big time' dealer that doesn't have a web presence, it suggests something's afoot. Equally, run a mile if you find a seller with more negative reviews than positive ones.
Know Your Stuff
Keeping an open mind is generally a good thing. But when it comes to buying a vintage watch, especially one as expensive as a Patek Philippe, it pays to have a very good idea of what you're looking for from the get-go. The vintage watch market is vast, and when a brand has been around for as long as Patek Philippe has, the number of options can get mind-boggling. Going into the process with a good idea of what you want not only helps to educate you on boring things like budget, it also stops you from falling into the trap of flinging a fortune at a watch on a whim. As gearpatrol.com writes, the main Patek Philippe collections to be aware of include:
- Nautilus: The Nautilus is about as luxurious as sports watches are capable of getting. Characterized by a rounded octagonal bezel, a porthole style case, and an embossed dial, it's considered one of the finest sports watches of all time.
- Aquanaut: Despite only emerging in the mid-1990s, the Aquanaut is remarkably hard to come by. If you do find one, the first thing you'll notice is its remarkable similarity to the Nautilus - not surprising, really, considering it was introduced in 1997 as the affordable alternative to that exact piece.
- Calatrava: The Calatrava is a classic example of a 1920's dress watch. Slim, elegant, and uncomplicated, this is a rare but exquisite series.
- Complications: Complications can range from the simple to the highly elaborate. Their one unifying factor is that all have either 2 or three complications (in other words, functions that do more than keep the time).
- Grand Complications: A Grand Complication houses three or more complications. Like Complications, the style of Grand Complications can range from the clean and simple to the wonderfully ornate.
- Golden Ellipse: Originally released in 1968 but later re-issued in several different versions, the Golden Ellipse is a masterpiece in refined elegance. Ultra-thin and with a uniquely oblong design, they're one of the most sought-after pieces in the collection.
- Twenty~4: Measuring up to a maximum of 36mm, the Twenty~4 is a series of dress watches made for women. They can come in both mechanical and quartz variations, while the style can be either round or square.
Decide a Budget
Don't think that buying vintage means you're automatically going to spend less than you would on a new watch. While some watches decrease in value the second they go from new to pre-owned, others just keep adding to their value the older they get. As an example, oracleoftime.com notes that a plain steel Nautilus will cost in the region of 60k, while gold perpetual calendars might fetch up to 30k. Bottom line: Patek Philippe watches are expensive. Whether they're new or old, they're going to make a substantial hole in your savings account. Before you get too deep in the process, work out exactly how much you're willing to spend. While you're at it, check some auction sites to get an idea of the average cost of the model you're considering. If the two don't match, you may have to make some compromises. That doesn't mean you won't still get a great watch at the end of it. It just might not be the exact watch you're imagining now.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker