Unparalleled Design and Horological Excellence: Value That Exists in Vintage Dress Watches

Unparalleled Design and Horological Excellence: Value That Exists in Vintage Dress Watches

Examining an overlooked, yet emerging market as we discuss three incredible examples offered by our friends at Collectors Corner NY

I feel like mentioning the popularity of steel sport watches is so cliché. I mean, it’s something we’re all familiar with, and honestly, I think most of us are sick of hearing about.

But recently, there’s been a sign of relief. More and more Cartier, Vacheron, Piaget, JLC have been popping up on my Insta feed.

Now, it used to just be a small circle of enthusiasts like myself who couldn’t get enough of this high horological design. But let me say this - it was during a conversation with one of the biggest vintage dealers in the game (who shall remain nameless in this article) where I realized that one of the emerging markets in this ever growing space is in what most of us would call dress watches.

Personally, the term dress watch irks me. I know it’s just a colloquialism, but it carries this connotation that it’s the watch you buy just for that special occasion here and there, and that’s just not true. Some of these ‘dress’ pieces can handle the daily knocks of life with ease, and in some instances, their versatility is unmatched.

Take the 1950s Seamaster for example. Most collectors nowadays would call it dressy, yet I wear mine like a modern OP - knocking it around on the daily, and through every rainstorm it’s never failed me once.

Today, we make a case for the ‘dress watch’ and explain why they’re quickly carving a corner for themselves in this crazy market, both vintage and modern. We look at three distinct examples that represents this emerging market offered by our friends at Collectors Corner NY and examine not only their value, but importance in design.

An Attainable Icon

Usually the most iconic watches are the most expensive. Cartier’s pricing structure has been highly criticized, and the Submariner carries an insane premium. In short, there’s really no bang for your buck with these pieces.

Yet when we look to the past, watches like the Seamaster I mentioned earlier make a case for themselves.

Incredibly versatile, tough as nails, timeless in design, and most importantly, available in seemingly endless configurations. This makes not only for a fantastic daily wear option, but for a class of watch that is nothing short of fun to collect.

Omega Seamaster Caliber 501. circa 1950s

Available through our shop here:

I’m noticing less and less prime examples pop up on the market. This is in stark contrast to the state of the watch market just a few years ago. Omega Seamasters, once available in troves under 1k are now selling for almost double. Even so, I believe they are still very undervalued and overlooked.

From a Mile High to Under the Cuff

Value doesn’t stop at Omega. All it takes is for a glance at IWC where the Cal. 89 has yet to garner mainstream popularity.

Developed as the brainchild of Albert Pellaton (who was at Vacheron before becoming technical director at IWC), these pieces represent an important part of watchmaking history.

The Caliber 89 was a take on the older Caliber 83 - a movement typically found in W.W.W. watches from WWII. Military watches with the Cal. 83 inside were found not only on the front lines, but in the skies. It was a caliber directly responsible for helping shape IWC’s ties to aviation - a heritage they proudly display with much of their modern offerings.

The Cal. 89 is arguably a more refined, refinished, civilian upgrade to a military movement crafted at the highest standards by a horological savant.

IWC caliber 89 circa 1950s

Full listing here:

While the price of these beauts represent an entry level vintage piece, their craftsmanship is akin to something from a much more prestigious Swiss house.

It’s in these vintage dress pieces where you get a deal on mechanics and design. While the movement is a sight to behold, it’s hidden inside a perfectly minimalist case. Shark lugs adorn this artfully crafted hunk of gold. It’s truly a piece that impresses a certain crowd, one that’s the mark of a true enthusiast of vintage design.

Watchmaker’s Watchmaking

What does Patek, AP, Vacheron, and Cartier have in common? They’ve all used JLC movements at one point in their history.

With these brands reaching new heights daily, vintage JLC remains an untapped market.

Take this Cal. 895 for example. Provenance aside, its objectively beautiful. From a sharp 18k case, silver sunburst dial, and minimalist markers akin to a 1970s Patek Calatrava, you can’t overlook its appeal.

Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 895 w/box/papers circa 1970s

Read about where this watch came from here:

On the outside it’s a gem, but on the inside, it’s a powerhouse. Again, we can’t unsee the value represented through pieces of this quality and price - examples that have a place in any enthusiasts collection.

The Potential I See With This Genre of Timepiece

This market, these watches, they’re fundamental to my beliefs as a collector. I’ve always gravitated to the world of vintage ‘dress’ watches, hell, they started this journey for me.

Take a quick scroll through the article archives, and you’ll find I’ve been on this soap box for a while. One day, collectors and dealers alike will look back and realize how significantly undervalued these types of watches once were.

I believe it’s in watches like these where you can really pinpoint your tastes as a collector, and truly discover a piece few others have. Therein lies a fundamental part of this hobby - the enthusiasm and fun behind the hunt.

Jacob Heffner is a writer and founder of pinaplwtchs. When he’s not diving deeper into watch collecting, he enjoys cooking, seeing friends, and spending time anywhere outdoors.

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