If you were born before the era of the cell phone, than most likely, you’ve owned at least one wristwatch in your life. Not only were they the preferred device for telling time for most of the 20th century, but they also provided their wearers a chance to express a bit of personality with the mere flash of the wrist.
Wristwatches started to become popular towards end of the 19th century, when fashionable ladies wore them as jewelry. In 1904, a pioneering aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont lamented to his good friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of viewing his pocket watch while flying. He asked Cartier to develop a watch that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls while flying. “The Santos”, as it became known, became a signature achievement for Cartier and helped to make wristwatches popular among men because of their practicality.
Common versions sell between $500-$1500, with rare pieces selling upwards of $10,000 or more.
Early wristwatches were made with manual movements, which required the wearer to periodically wind the watch in order to keep time. Beginning in the early 1930s, Rolex helped to usher in the era of automatic wristwatches that used the wearer’s movement to keep the watch running. Nicknamed “Bubblebacks”, these early automatic Rolexes regularly sell for $3,000 to $8,000, with the most desirable versions worth greater than $20,000.
Not all vintage watches need to be wildly expensive to be collectible. One such example is from the iconic Hamilton Watch Company, which introduced the first electric watch in 1957. One of Hamilton’s most famous customers was Elvis Presley, who liked their electric Ventura watches so much that he often gave them away as gifts. Years later, the Ventura gained a new following after being reproduced for the “Men in Black” movie series. Vintage editions can be purchased for as little as $300-$500, with near mint editions valued up to $2,000.
Currently, eBay is one of the best venues to buy and sell collectible watches for great prices. If you want to buy a watch, find a reputable seller with a policy that allows for returns if the watch is defective. If you have an expensive watch (or collection of watches) to sell, provide as much detail about the item(s) as possible and be sure to take clear, high quality pictures for prospective buyers. Who knows – maybe that old watch in the drawer is now worth enough to pay for your next vacation!
The original article can be found in the December 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com/upload/Jan13web.pdf