What’s The Difference Between Pre-owned and Vintage Watches?

Shopping for a pre-owned watch and unsure what the differences are in the pre-owned and vintage world? Here we demystify it for you.

Drawing the lines between what is pre-owned and vintage can be difficult sometimes. After all, everything that is vintage is naturally pre-owned. However, there are some simple guidelines to follow when shopping this realm of the watch market. Generally, watches older than 100 years are considered antique. There aren’t a lot of those on the market except via auction houses.

When it comes to defining vintage and pre-owned, there are several schools of thinking. Some say the 1980s are the cutoff point between vintage and pre-owned and that anything from the 1980s on is pre-owned.  That may have been true in the early 2000s, but now we are in an all-new millennium. As time moves forward, the 1980s become farther and farther away. So that today, a 1980 watch is 40 years old. Definitely vintage more so than pre-owned.

Patek Philippe Ref 1518 in steel, five most expensive watches sold at auction
Patek Philippe Ref 1518 in steel sold for USD 11 Million at auction

When is a Watch Vintage?

Another way to think about it, and the way more and more online watch sellers are viewing it today, is to consider the age of the watch. Generally, a watch is considered vintage if it is older than 20 or 25 years. Experts disagree on the exact number of years, though, so a ballpark number has to suffice. The one thing everyone agrees on is that if a watch is younger than 20 years old, it is simply referred to as pre-owned.

If you are thinking about buying a watch because it falls into a vintage or pre-owned category, keep in mind that certain factors influence the price of both of these types of watches. Those factors include the condition of the watch, whether or not it has the original packaging or papers. If it boasts a new strap, does it still have the original buckle? Have any parts like the hands, or dials been replaced? These are all items that could change the value of these watches.

What are the Most Sought After Vintage watches?

Vintage and pre-owned watches can be found at top online watch retailers, as well as at auctions and even in some retail jewelry brick-and-mortar stores. Many collectors of these watches typically follow the auction houses and generally have an idea of what they feel is their Holy Grail timepiece. Some are harder to find than others.

For instance, the most sought-after vintage watches are exactly what you would expect: 1950’s Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe chronographs from the 1950s and ’60s, Omega Seamasters, and even Speedmasters from the 1960s, and naturally anything Rolex from the same period.

Rolex Daytona ref 6265 The Unicorn, 5 most expensive watches sold at auction
Rolex Daytona ref 6265, The Unicorn which sold for USD 5.9 million at auction

Then you have the collectors who define their must-have watches by movie stars that made the watch famous. Such is the case with the James Bond lovers or the Steve McQueen or Paul Newman lovers. Steve McQueen, for instance, wore the TAG Heuer Monaco watch in the movie LeMans, leaving an indelible mark in history and on the brand. The Steve McQueen Monaco watch has been a sought-after piece ever since then, especially amongst racecar drivers.

Steve Mcqueen wearing his Tag Heuer
Steve McQueen wearing his TAG Heuer Monaco

Similarly, Paul Newman wore a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona on the big screen and in his personal life, even when racing, and the watch has become a definite holy grail piece. In fact, when Paul Newman’s own Paul Newman Daytona came up on the Phillips auction block four years ago, it made history with a massive $17 million record-setting sale.

Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, 5 most expensive watches sold at auction
Paul Newman wearing his Rolex Daytona
Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, 5 most expensive watches sold at auction 17.8 million
The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona which sold at auction for USD 17.8 million

For 007 fans, a host of watches become grails. Throughout the series of movies, the different actors that played the beloved secret agent wore different watches. In the newest flick, James Bond, No Time to Die, actor Daniel Craig wears an all-new Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition watch. For 25 years, Omega has been the watch of choice for the Bond movies, but there have been others. In 1987, Timothy Dalton wore a TAG Heuer 200 meter professional dive watch in The Living Daylights, and Rolex was the preferred watch in 1963 From Russia With Love movie starring Sean Connery. He also wore a Rolex Submariner in  1964’s Goldfinger. A year later, Connery wore a Breitling Top Time watch in Thunderball.

Daniel Craig The Seamaster Diver 300M Limited Edition Set is limited to 257 sets. 
Daniel Craig wearing the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Limited Edition

The list goes on, but these watches always make for good bidding wars. Find one of these watches once owned by a celebrity or worn in a movie, and the provenance drives the price sky-high. But look-alike watches can sometimes be found if you regularly scour the internet.

About the Author

Roberta Naas - Watch Journalist
Roberta Naas

Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.

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