It's hard not to love vintage watches. You can spend $200,000 on a hyper-rare Paul Newman Daytona or $200 on a Vietnam-era Benrus and still get a great vintage piece. But every once in a while, your exciting find may end up costing more than you bargained for.
Fairly recently, a reader, who shares my passion for collecting vintage wristwatches, contacted me with the following:
"I have been collecting for a bit now and it hurts when I find a watch that is just what I'm looking for and when I send it in for servicing, I find myself looking at a huge bill that is sometimes more than what I bought it for.
This happened when I found a great polerouter and it needed service after about a year. The parts for the microtor movement are very hard to to come by and acquiring spare parts for maintenance can be a nightmare. I think companies to look towards when purchasing "investment grade" pieces are ones that have a long standing in servicing their watches into the future. Even Rolex is known to turn away vintage pieces but Patek will always take a vintage piece in. As a Rolex owner that concerns me for the future of servicing my watch with them. Any advice?"
First off, I'm so sorry about the troubles you've encountered with your Universal Polerouter; that's tough and it happens to the best of us. There are multiple ways to try to avoid running into these problems, the most significant I will explain here today.
Looking At Condition
Awareness of condition is crucial. For example, if a 5513 Submariner is in worse than its expected, slightly-worn/distressed condition, don't even consider purchasing it--that is, unless you can get it for less than the cost of servicing, which is highly unlikely. If it's not a sports watch, only go for something with near-perfect case and free from any modifications.
Brand (Accessibility To Parts)
Pictured above is one of Patek Philippe's rarest watches: A white gold, cushion shaped, mono-pusher chronograph circa 1929. Yes, this is an exceptional, one-of-a-kind wristwatch, but is it easy to find parts? No. As for Universal Geneve, parts hardly come onto the market, and when they do, they're bought up quickly. Always do research on this matter prior to making a purchase. Also, don't worry about Rolex denying you a service. You don't even have to bother contacting Rolex in the first place. Just go to any major authorized Rolex dealer (Tourneau, Wempe, etc.) and they will happily do the job just as well as Rolex could.
FYI: You can always count on Omega for parts; if they can't fix something at their New Jersey service center, they're definitely going to have the right part in Geneva. I know this firsthand.
As a final piece of advice, always trust your gut. You wouldn't believe how many times I have come so close to buying a watch, but I didn't in the end because I did not trust my gut. If you find a watch like this on eBay (yep, the awesome GMT in the photo) and it's a few thousand bucks, just buy it. Otherwise, remember what I have taught you and it will go a long way. Cheers!