Are you interested in collecting vintage watches but are experiencing sticker shock? One can find many resources online for the budget-conscious buyer, but the target audience assumes that you can spend $700+. In this article, I am focusing on finding a good vintage watch for around $200.
One route is to search eBay for a reasonably priced good quality watch and have the watch serviced/refurbished. While it can be a daunting task, I’ve outlined one example of acquiring and restoring a nice vintage 50’s style watch that is practical. Remember that these watches averaged around 32mm in diameter, much smaller than the current trend in fashionable timepieces, so sporting such a watch is bucking the current trend 🙂
Since I can evaluate many watches that come through my shop for service, I have found many “average” watches that are housed in a quality stylish case, and sport an excellent quality Swiss movement. One such maker is the American brand Benrus (for more information see The History of Benrus Watch ). These watches were made in America and sourced the movements from high-quality Swiss makers (ETA and A. Schild or AS). I narrowed my search to watches that were running, with solid metal or 10k gold-filled (RGP), and with a dial and hands in good vintage condition. I avoided gold plating, as these tend to flake easily and look cheap, in my opinion. I initially set on a cost cap of $30, including shipping.
As shown in these pictures, the watch I settled on was not in bad shape. The crystal had cracks. The lume on the hands and dial was brittle and missing in some places. The dial, however, had just the right amount of “patina,” in my opinion. The gold-filled case did have some pitting and was quite scratched, but should polish up nicely.
I completely disassembled the watch and found a movement that was quite dirty, but otherwise did not show much wear. Most of the corrosion damage was at the split stem, a weak point for moisture intrusion on this type of case.
The movement cleaned up very nicely, and I brushed the loose corrosion on the male and female stem. The plates, pivots, and jewels were in excellent condition.
As the watch was reassembled and oiled, all the wheels ran as smooth as silk. This AS 1201 movement includes upgrades such as end cap jewels on the escape wheel, a temperature compensating hairspring, and shock-resistant balance wheel jewels, a state-of-the-art movement of its day. I replaced the mainspring with a new white alloy spring. The plates did not exhibit the usual scratches inflicted by past services, and the manufacturer finished plates with an appealing brushed finish.
I installed a new crystal, polished the case like new. I did remove the old lume and replaced it with a bit lighter off white color, which I thought complimented the dial and hands nicely. I installed a white stitched leather band.
After some minor hairspring adjustment and balance poising, the watch exhibited a beat error of 1.6 ms. It timed at +/- 3 seconds/day and no more than a 15-second variation between common positions. In day to day use, the timing is never quite as good as the machine indicates but still does not vary more than a respectable 5 seconds/day while on the wrist.
The Final Cost: I purchased in on eBay for $20. The cost would be ~$145 for a service, $10 for a new crystal, $28 for the mainspring, and $15 for the band. Total Cost +/- $218 + shipping. Now, the watch’s street value probably does not equal the money put into it. But if you are looking for an authentic vintage good quality watch, then it is not a bad price.