The Appeal Of Great Patina in The World of Vintage Rolex

posted on 26 Apr 2013 09:32 by xhxbreitling
Editor's Note: From time to time, I am going to be signing in to give readers my personal thoughts on the world of watches. I'm often asked by people what I look for in vintage watches, and today, I'll be telling you. - BC
I love vintage watches, that much is clear. But, I am often confronted with watches from friends, dealers, readers, and the occasional stranger that, despite claims to be many decades old, look as if they came off the factory line just yesterday.
I don't understand the appeal. What is the point of wearing a vintage watch that doesn't look vintage? When I am buying a vintage watch, a Rolex for example, I want PATINA on my dial.
What is patina exactly? It's basically when the lume of the dial becomes a darker, richer color based on exposure to light. The markers on the dial should match the color of the hands exactly, so you know they're both original. Also, if you can find a watch with a nice faded bezel with dark pearl, that's even better. People tend to think watches should look as if they're brand new, but that's not what real vintage collectors want at all. We want something that is old and looks old. After all, these watches are about history, provenance, and heritage.
A while back, I was in the market for a great Red Submariner, and despite being able to find literally hundreds of them for sale at a time, I couldn't find one that had even an ounce of fade on it. I ended up buying a "Steve McQueen" 5512 instead. The Red Sub is one model that people love, it's also one model you see many fakes of, and many "Franken-watches" of.
This is why when I came across the Red Submariner you see here, I got so excited. Look at the color of those markers and hands! Look at the grey color of the bezel insert! This thing is absolutely beautiful, and it's one of the nicest Red Submariners I've come across in a long, long time.
If I hadn't bought my 5512, you can bet this Red Sub never would've made it onto Hodinkee and instead would be on my wrist right now. This is the type of color people dream of in a vintage Submariner. etc. etc
Anybody that buys a cancer eaten watch is a fool.
I think that patina is very important. Unlike a car or art, patina on a watch rarely has anything to do with how well preserved the movement is. Therefore a watch with 'excellent' patina may very well be running to chronometre specs. The movement has been serviced as it should be and any damage to the case, crystal etc. rectified. dials, hands and the case.)
"Heavy patina" on the other hand is something to watch out for and is more likely a result of abusive handling or not following servicing guidelines. In cases like that you will find damage inside the watch. It's one thing to get nicks and dings, but something totally different to get any sort of actual rusting inside of a watch or obvious signs of 'case rot' near where a seal needs to be maintained.
As for the fading of the lume, I've always heard of it called exactly that - fading. If the lume isn;t evenly faded, it is quite obviuosly not all original - which is telltale sign that perhaps not everything is correct on the watch (such as incorrect style of hands used during a refurbish.)
The only thing I like to switch out is the crystal. I like a nice clear view of the dial. But I always keep the crystal so that I have all the original parts.
You got it right. I appreciate new old stock, for the styles that make them unique in the present context, but a vintage piece should look like a vintage piece. Having the same reference number watch as someone who did something great is a nice story, but having a watch that has lived with you, and with pervious owners, and has a look that can tell the story of its life, is more meaningful to me.
The pride of my collection is my great-grandfather's 1948 gold Longines. It is a simple watch that has been serviced and keeps good time, the acrylic crystal is not original, and the gold is well polished, but the case is scratched and the face is has this amazing patina that says that this is a watch that has been places and been part of men's lives.
Seems to me that "collectors" like Dean Grant Baker are the cancer ("collectors" whose only purpose is to blindly spend money), with the assumption that all collectibles should be restored. There are many times that restoration increases the value of anything collectible, be it cars, books, furniture or watches. But just as often restoration can destroy the value and integrity of a piece. After 20 years of collecting, my favorite pieces are the pieces that haven't been restored, and they are also my most valuable. And in vintage and antique cars the magic phrase is "all original", meaning nothing has been replaced including the paint. Check out the Pebble Beach Concours, some of the most beautiful and expensive automobiles entered are unrestored.