How To Start a Vintage Watch Collection | Collecting Watches with $3000

Most beginners consider watch collecting a hobby for the wealthy, however, the vintage watch market opens up many opportunities to start a collection from $3000.

It is a common misconception that watch collecting is reserved for the wealthy, it may have been the case in the past where information was harder to obtain, but with the internet, the wealthier are chasing after the “unicorns” like this vintage rolex day date, causing prices to soar while turning a blind eye to the more common but unique vintage watches, providing space for novice players who have taken an interest in horology to come out to play without breaking bank. While many of you are probably skeptical of getting a single good Swiss made mechanical watch for under $3000, much less build a collection, there are some conditions I would like to clarify before diving deeper into the watch brands to consider, the price range they can be had for as well as what makes them so special.

Considerations (all prices in SGD):

  • We are talking strictly about the vintage watches, not pre-owned or brand new
  • In vintage, condition is everything, a NOS (New old stock) watch with full box and papers compared to a badly beaten up watch that is not keeping time could have a price difference ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. So for the sake of the article, we will be discussing the "average" condition watches (not mint, but also not beat to shit)
  • There are some amazing Swiss watch brands that are recognized by people in the watch collecting community but not to the layman, and owning these pieces will not boost your “street cred”, but these brands will be our primary focus
  • A collection would be comprised of 4 to 5 watches with versatility in mind, allowing you to have a watch to wear for every occasion or event
  • The look, condition and choice of watch is subjective and depends on individual taste. In no way am i trying to provide a hard and fast rule on how to build a collection since opinions may differ. The purpose of this article is simply to show that watch collecting can be affordable and to give beginners an idea of where to look.
Before we delve deeper, I would also like to clarify that $3000 is not just an arbitrary number pulled out of thin air. I chose this amount primarily because most fresh grads would like to commemorate a new stage in their lives by acquiring a timepiece using their first paycheck. Furthermore, it is a more realistic amount that allows me to build a collection with. So if your budget is smaller, you may want to choose a watch or two that I will be discussing.


The Daily Beater:
Omega Seamaster - $5XX-$1XXX
Vintage Omega Seamasters represent tremendous value. Reputable brand, good movement, well built and thoughtful design, what more can you ask for? These watches are extremely versatile and can be worn on a daily basis without you having to worry about it getting banged around or being a mismatch with your outfit. The wide variety of styles such as date/no date, gold capped/stainless steel, sub second/center second, the colour and texture of the dial, will leave you spoiled for choice.


The Dress Watch:
Gold Capped King Seiko - $5XX-$8XX

A dress watch should be a minimal, time only piece which is slim enough such that it fits under a cuff perfectly. A gold watch worn on a black leather strap is a great for complementing a formal outfit without looking overly ostentatious. In the case of this King Seiko, it checks off every requirement, and not to mention, the movement is incredible with a high beat of 36,000bph. You could spend hours watching the buttery flow of the seconds hand across the dial, and still be mesmerized every time. Of course, at this price point, you will not be able to afford a solid gold watch (like Kim Kardashian's new Cartier Tank), but the next best thing is a gold capped one where you can expect little to no degradation over the years as the layer of gold used is extremely thick and capped on top of a stainless steel case. The King Seiko can be had for a fraction of the price of a Grand Seiko, but offers practically the same built and quality as it's more high-end counterpart minus the chronometer certification, so it is perfect fit for our requirement and budget.


The Dive Watch:
Zodiac Seawolf - $5XX-$8XX
While the Zodiac brand is probably not synonymous with most people, avid watch collectors would probably know of these watches, in particular the Zodiac Seawolf. They come in two dial colour variations, black or white, and could be fitted with either a metal or Bakelite bezel. These watches have great military provenance, being used in the Vietnam war, and was also featured on the wrist of the main suspect in “Zodiac”, a film based off of the actual Zodiac killer. Being a very hardy tool watch with a presence in Hollywood, it is no wonder the Zodiac Seawolf is a favorite among dive watch collectors. The black dial Seawolf with a Bakelite bezel speaks more to me as it is more unique look, and is reminiscent of the Rolex GMT ref.6542 which also sports a Bakelite bezel. By my books, this is a must have dive watch in any novice collection.


The Sporty Chronograph Watch:
Sekonda Strela - $7XX-$9XX
The Omega Speedmaster (the first watch worn on the moon) is possibly one of the most iconic and well known chronographs out there. Due to it's collectability, prices have reached astronomical heights and is no longer a viable option for beginners. A more affordable alternative which has a similar provenance to the Speedy is this vintage Strela Sekonda. It is a Russian made watch that was used by Russian cosmonaut, Aleksei Leonov during the first space walk in 1965. How’s that for space history? While it may not be the exact model used for the space mission, this watch was made by the same company, Poljot, and distributed under the name Sekonda, keeping most of the design elements used in the actual watch, except for the dial and paddle hands. This variation looks a whole lot better than the original in my opinion. The price point of this watch certainly gives the Moonwatch a run for its money.


Total Cost: Approx $22XX - $35XX

With these 4 reasonably priced vintage watches, you are on your way to a solid, versatile vintage watch collection. While it is generally not advised that you buy watches with the intention of it being an investment, it is always good to know that your money is probably safe and your timepiece has a chance of appreciating in value over time, provided you do your due diligence, lest you overpay for a watch. It is important to research the pieces before you buy them, but when you see an opportunity, you have to be ready to take the risk in order to reap the rewards. One of our collector friends recently bought this vintage Breitling top time for a steal, and he wrote all about it!