It’s one of my most closely guarded secrets: how to buy a great vintage watch on eBay. It’s the secret sauce of my weekly What’s Selling Where columns and today I am unveiling the recipe for you. Did I just overhype this? Probably, but here it goes anyways.
Wisdom for Buying a Vintage Watch on eBay
There is no question that eBay can be the best venue for finding fresh-to-market vintage pieces at good prices. I have gotten most of my best pick-ups on eBay and basically always am on the hunt for what is out there. Here is my advice for what to think about when looking to buy on eBay.
Buy what you like.
If I had to give one bit of advice to you, it is to buy watches that you like. Don’t try to suddenly become a dealer right after reading this article, as you could get burned by buying bad watches and take a loss when trying to sell them. I have gotten too many messages from people saying, “I don’t really like this watch, but it seems like such a good deal. Should I buy it?” My response generally is: "If you don’t like it, why would you buy it?" Someone recently sent me a yellow gold Vacheron triple calendar watch that was approximately $5,000, but, of course, the dial was crudely repainted and the case was heavily polished. Even at that price, how many people would buy it if you wanted to sell it? You would essentially be searching for another sucker.
Do your homework.
Part of buying what you know is first learning about a watch. What do the original components of the watch (including the dial, hands, movement, case, crown, and case back) look like? If you can’t answer that, you may have a problem. You can research many places – take a look at past eBay auctions (particularly sold items) to get an idea of value. You can also look on HODINKEE, in forums, and past sales at auction houses to see other examples and compare details.
Buy what you know.
Watches at the TAG Heuer headquarters during the 2013 Heuer Collectors Summit
Typically, collectors with the very best watches have a focus. They may focus on vintage Rolex or Patek or Heuer or Omega or whatever, but they are usually checking the appropriate forum(s) daily, getting to know other experts, and reading all available material about the watches they like. It is through this sort of deep dive that collectors begin to develop a perspective on what is special and rare, and develop the contacts and appreciation for what they really want. Usually, what they want also happens to be the type of thing that generally increases in value at a much higher rate than more pedestrian pieces.
I have found this to be true: the best vintage watches of any given brand are usually in the collections of those that are focused on them, rather than in the collection of someone who says “I want to have one of everything.” That scattered approach is certainly fine, but it usually leads to getting run-of-the-mill timepieces, and can lead to trouble. I have seen people with scattered interests show me their collections and all too frequently I see a few bad watches in the mix: perhaps a fake or franken (a hodge-podge of mis-matched components), or at least a badly redone dial. If these collectors had spent a bit more time researching, they may have avoided these troubles.
The dial is the key.
A $1.2+ million dial
No question that the dial is typically the most valuable part of a watch, contributing up to 99.9999% (or more) of the value of a watch – literally. Earlier this year, Christie’s sold a cloisonné enamel dial Rolex for approximately $1,242,040, but that watch with a normal dial would have been four or five figures depending on condition, so the dial literally added over $1.2 million to the value of the watch. Seriously.
So what should you look for when examining a dial? First, one must consider the originality of the dial. If, for instance, this is a vintage Rolex Explorer reference 6610 from the 1950s, it should not have “T’s” on the bottom of the dial (indicating tritium lume) and the coronet and Rolex text on the dial should be “gilt” or gold in color. The dial should also be glossy (although it can take a bit more expertise to distinguish glossy from matte dials). So, if I see a reference 6610 with a dial with white instead of gilt printing (and perhaps two “T’s” on the bottom edge of the dial), then I can tell you that the dial was not original.
An Omega with a refinished dial offered at Christie's in New York earlier this month. Notice the imperfect Omega logo and text, the poor quality of the printing overall, and the way the track does not uniformly touch the minute register.
You also need to look at the quality of the printing. Do the numbers and track(s) on the dial look crude and lack uniformity? If it is a chronograph, do the numbers bleed out of the registers onto the dial? Does the logo of the company look uneven and crooked? If yes to those questions, it may be refinished or replaced. It does take a little time to train your eye to identify a refinished dial. Pay attention to the numbering around the markers or in the chronograph registers, the style of printing, and the writing on the dial, among other details. At the very least, it is helpful to find other examples of the watch you are buying online and compare the dials – does the printing look blotchier, more off-center, and crude on the one for sale?
Does the lume on the dial glow in the dark?
An A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Lumen from 2013 that should definitely glow.
With regard to lume, usually you can tell whether a vintage watch has been refinished by the color of the lume. A dead tell on a watch is that the lume is usually this mint green color, which is not how most radium or tritium aged from the 1960s and earlier. The mint green color usually means it was redone. Likewise, for watches from say the beginning of the 1960s and earlier with radium lume, the lume should typically not glow in the dark. Vintage lume was not just pure radium or tritium, but a mixture with other materials that would also decay or degrade over time. Depending on the mixture, you may have a watch that still glows a little bit or a watch that should not glow at all. For example, I have seen that the “Bart Simpson” Rolex Submariners from circa 1966 frequently do glow for a few minutes in the dark, but Submariners just slightly newer on matte dials may not glow at all depending on when it was manufactured.
While experts may bring a UV light and Geiger counters with them to examine watches at auction previews (seriously), you don’t have that luxury on eBay, but you can typically just tell by looking at the lume color and the overall quality of the printing whether details have been relumed and / or refinished.
You can tell a lot about a watch by its dial.
Beyond the questions of whether a dial is authentic, you learn a lot about the life a watch has lived from the dial. While I have no problem with patina (particularly when it is uniform) I do find it concerning when there are straight-up water stains on a dial that would make you think that the dial had been partially placed under running water. I find that concerning for two reasons: 1. I generally don’t like patina when it is not uniform on a watch because I don’t like the asymmetry of it. 2. If there was direct water on the dial, that can often mean the movement was exposed to water and may now be rusty. The latter is particularly concerning when the seller does not have movement photos for whatever reason (they don’t know how to open the case back, are afraid to damage anything when they open the case back, or they simply don't want to show the movement because it is incomplete or in bad shape).
Try to determine whether a dial is damaged or whether the crystal is simply scratched.
A yellow gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic with scratched original crystal sold two years ago at Antiquroum.
Most vintage wristwatches have acrylic or mineral crystals that can be scratched fairly easily. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult determining whether only the crystal is scratched or whether the dial is damaged, and takes a little expertise to try to gauge that.
I can’t offer a simple guide, but looking at the photos of the watch from different angles can usually help you determine whether the dial is damaged (by looking at any distortion or marks on the dial.) If there are marks, and those marks basically stay in the same spot on the dial no matter the angle, then it could be a dial issue and not a crystal issue. If you can see that the marks move to different spots on the dial depending on the angle of the photo, then it's probably a crystal issue. For the Geophysic above, the dial appeared to be in excellent shape, while the original crystal (super rare to find), with radium lume on the underside, was original.
Originality, originality, originality.
All that said about patina, I would rather have a watch with some non-uniform wear on the original dial than a refinished or replaced dial any day of the week. To me, it is all about originality, originality, originality. While original dials are extremely important to values, we are seeing unpolished original cases have increasing importance to collectors, as well. I believe that those all-original unpolished watches are going to continue to appreciate at a much higher rate than their polished counterparts over time.
Examine the case.
Notice the original bevel on the edge of the lug.
It is hard to provide blanket advice on how to distinguish between polished and unpolished cases, but, in general, certain watches may have bevels on the edge of their lugs (such as vintage Rolex Submariners) that get worn down when polished. Rolex Submariners have been prized tool watches since they were new; I would estimate that basically only 1 (or less) out of every 100 Submariners from the 1950s through the 1970s remains unpolished, so it really is important to realize that your chances of finding an unpolished example are slim.
Likewise, some cases have an original brushed finish that can be polished away and never be restored in exactly the same way. The vintage automatic Heuer Autavias fall into this category. They have a beautiful brushed finish that interacts with light in a very interesting way. There are individuals who can create a similar finish, but it does not reflects light in the same way as the original cases do. Heuer collectors had not placed a significant premium on those watches with original cases until recently (too many people wanted NOS-looking watches and had their cases restored), but the market is moving toward originality and I expect that original cases will continue to be more valued with time.
Generally avoid chrome-plated, gold-plated and gold-filled watches.
Notice the wear and scratches on the chrome plated case.
When it comes to collectability and desirability, vintage watches that are stainless steel, solid gold (18k or 14k), and platinum are generally the most desirable. As a counterpart, watches that are gold-plated, gold-filled, or chrome-plated are generally the least desirable. Silver watches are generally much older (ca. 1930s or earlier).
So how do you tell what type of metal is used for the case? Stainless steel watches will generally say “STAINLESS STEEL” or “ACIER INOX” on the outside or inside of the case back. Solid 14k or 18k gold watches will have hallmarks on the outside or inside of the caseback and say "14k" or "18k" along with the associated percent of gold (“0.585” for 14k or “0.750” for 18k). You can also see 9k gold watches, which had cases made in the UK for tariff reasons and generally are less desirable. Platinum watches should say so somewhere on the case and may also have a hallmark (usually “0.950”).
Notice the "FOND ACIER INOX" engraving on the inside of this Longines case back.
The key signifier of a plated watch is that on the outside or inside of the case back it usually says “STAINLESS STEEL BACK” or “FOND ACIER INOX”. This is because the case back would be stainless steel (otherwise the case back would wear very quickly due to sweat and contact with the wrist). You may also see things like “G.F.” for gold-filled somewhere on the inside of the case back. In addition, you may see that a case back is steel, but the watch is gold. That is in most cases a sign that the watch is plated, although you will see the very occasional watch with a solid gold case and steel case back (a few solid gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovoxes were this way apparently).
Why should you generally avoid plated watches? Quite simply, they wear easily. The gold or chrome plating can come off and become an unsightly color. They were not meant to be watches to be worn forever given their cheaper construction.
That all being said, some chrome-plated watches are valuable, such as World War II military watches from Longines (such as the "Tuna Can") or Jaeger-LeCoultre, that made some chrome-plated watches for the U.K. military due to wartime commodity shortages.
Know your case backs.
In general, there are only a few different types of case backs on vintage watches: screw down case backs that are circular and twist off like a platic bottle cap, case backs secured by screws, and case backs that press into the watch. In general, the first two are called “weatherproof” or water-resistant, and generally those watches survive better over time (both movements and dials) because moisture and dust can be more easily kept out of the watch - particularly if the crystal and crown have remained in place over the years.
Those watches with case backs that press on may remain in great condition, but they also have a higher chance of having internal damage just by being less water-resistant.
See and know your movements.
If possible, it is always helpful to see photos of the movement. Some eBay sellers will include these photos, either by knowing how to remove a case back themselves or by going to a jeweler and asking them to remove the case back so that they can snap photos of the movement. Other sellers may not be able to remove the case back or may not want to, either out of fear of damaging the watch or because they are hiding something.
If you do see movement photos, check the condition of the movement.
Is it black, brown, and rusty? Is it missing basic pieces like a balance wheel or hairspring? If yes to those questions, you may either want to avoid it, or if it happens to be a watch you really want, you need to consider whether it would be easy to get the needed parts. (Potential sources for parts can include independent watchmakers, the company that made the watch or even another watch with the same movement that can be used as a “donor” for parts.) For some movements, you just won’t be able to get the parts and are out of luck from ever seeing it work again.
If you don't see photos of the movement, you should ask for them, but you also want to encourage the seller not to force the case back open. It is amazing how many case backs you will see with what appear to be key marks across them. I guess people think that taking a house key to a watch will help remove the movement in some way, but it just devalues the watch. In that case, it is better to tell someone just to leave the case back on the watch.
This goes back to the dial issue as mentioned above. If I don’t see movement photos, I take a look at the watch overall and can then make an educated guess as to the state of the movement. Is the case rusty, missing a crown and / or crystal? Does the dial appear to have been run under a faucet? If yes, then I would guess that the movement is in bad shape and rusty. If the watch appears to have the original crystal, the original crown pushed in (and pushers if a chronograph), the dial and case appear to be in good original condition, and the case back (preferably a case back that screws rather than pushes into place) does not look like someone was viciously scratching at it with a key, then I can generally make a correct guess that the movement is in good shape.
Pay attention to movement and case serial numbers.
Related to the movement and case, you should take note of the serial number(s) that may be on the watch. There are various tables of serial numbers online for different companies that can give you an idea of when a watch was made. Sometimes, you can get info on the case year and movement year. If there is a drastic difference between when the case and movement was made, it may indicate a problem, like a later movement being added, although sometimes the movement can be decades older than the case, such as with some vintage Patek Philippe watches. With those, you really want to obtain an extract from the company telling you that the case matches the dial. (Although with an eBay auction you probably won’t have enough time to get that information, so you just need to take your best shot.)
You can also search online for other watches with similar serial numbers in a given reference, which can help to determine authenticity and originality. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Antiquorum are good places to check on watches. Barnebys.com also offers a completed auctions search, as do other places like CollectorSquare.com. Of course, the eBay completed and sold auctions search is also extremely helpful and offers the last few months of results on a given search topic.
Inscriptions can tell a story.
While collectors generally prefer watches without inscriptions (unless it happens to have notable provenance), they really can tell you a lot about a watch and provide a better picture of the origin of the timepiece. For instance, I recently presented a Longines that had a name, initials, and a date engraved on the case back. A search revealed that the person was part of Operation Neptune (more popularly known as D-Day) during World War II. The engraved 1941 date happened to be the individual’s commissioning as an officer and in all likelihood the watch was on his wrist during that fateful day.
Likewise, inscriptions can provide other interesting information. A few years ago, I sent an eBay listing of black dial Heuer Carrera to Ben as I knew he was interested in getting one. The watch happened to have a 1963 date engraved on the case back and I knew based on the fact it did not have a “T” above the SWISS on the hour registers and the other indications that it was an early Carrera. Ben ended up winning the Carrera, and it happens to have the earliest serial number known for the model. This fact, along with original 1963 print advertisements I found, helped to prove that the Carrera was introduced in 1963 and not 1964 as many thought. This story was even mentioned in Jack Heuer’s autobiography.
Keep an eye on the bracelet or strap, and buckle.
Each time I see a vintage watch on an expandable vintage bracelet, it seems to sell for far less than it should. Maybe it is because people have bad memories of them pinching their wrists and arm hair, but when I see those bracelets, I usually am happy because frequently the watches are unpolished and are original. That was the case with the aforementioned Heuer Carrera – it came on a junky bracelet that was not original. Let’s just say the watch looks and wears a lot better on a strap.
Likewise, you may just find a watch on the original strap with the original buckle, which should also tell you a lot about the originality of the piece. Given that original buckles can be worth hundreds of dollars depending on the brand and type, finding one can be a big plus.
You can’t wear a box and papers.
Although there is no question that a box and original papers is nice to have, you can’t wear them. In my opinion, it is better to buy an original and good watch then a piece in mediocre condition with the original box and papers. Not only can the papers be fake, as mentioned, but sellers will also go out and buy original boxes and papers separately to then match with the watch. This is not an ethical issue as long as it is disclosed, in my opinion, and can be a sort of arbitrage opportunity, but it is just something to keep in mind.
Are you going to spend four or five figures more on a watch because it has the box and papers that may not be authentic or original to the watch? It is just something to consider, and from a collecting point of view, can certainly be justified depending on the watch.
One other concerning thing I have generally noticed with watches that have original boxes and papers: they often are heavily, heavily polished because if the owner was obsessive enough to keep those, they were usually obsessive enough to have the watch serviced every three years, (and polishing the case or reluming the dial and hands was common practice during servicing.) You can also notice that the inside of the case backs of these watches have tons and tons of service marks. It is a double-edged sword – while it is nice to have a watch that has been kept up mechanically over decades, the associated polishing and other work on the case and dial can be a killer.
Exercise caution with certain brands on eBay.
There are certain brands which are better than others to buy on eBay. As a picky collector, I see very, very few vintage Rolexes that are worth buying. So many vintage Submariners, for instance, have heavily polished cases, replacement dials, or other problems. You also need to be careful with Rolex papers. There have been a few sellers who buy Rolexes with one account, create fake papers to go with the watch, and then sell them from another account. Just as very few vintage sport Rolexes are unpolished, very few come with the original box and papers.
In one example, flags were raised when people began seeing that every Rolex watch being offered by certain sellers came with original papers. Some sleuthing revealed other accounts (most likely associated with the sellers) buying the watches, along with vintage paper and vintage typewriters. When a friend happened to visit a particular seller’s home, he found the place was packed to the gills with vintage typewriters and old paper. Fancy that!
As iron sharpens iron, watch collectors sharpen watch collectors.
No good watch collector is an island. It is worth learning from others and developing friendships is an enriching part of watch collecting. Maybe it starts on a forum or Instagram with a few messages being exchanged. Next thing you know, you are Facebook friends and then texting. And before you know it, your families are vacationing together. Well, maybe you won't get to third base that quickly, but developing friendships with others with similar interests can be extremely helpful. Those very friends can offer a realistic check before buying a watch and act as great resources for learning more about watches.
If you are interested in deals, focus on eBay auctions rather than those pieces listed as a Buy It Now.
I usually steer clear of Buy It Now listings when I am looking for watches. Why? They are generally overpriced. I prefer “barn finds” – those watches that may be coming from an estate. I actually prefer buying watches from someone with a whole bunch of random stuff listed for sale than a seller who just sells watches. Why? Originality.
Often, the seller with tons of different stuff listed is either cleaning out an estate or is an estate picker, who may generally have some ideas about watches, but may not be an expert. These estate-find pieces are often just the way I like them – with all original pieces. The nice feature eBay offers is that you can filter for just auctions or just Buy It Now listings if you like at the top of the search results.
That being said, there can be some Buy It Now deals.
Usually, the most incredible Buy It Now deals are snatched up shortly after listing – I am talking less than 60 seconds. I swear that there are probably over 100 people refreshing the Rolex Buy It Now searches every second hoping that some unknowing person will list a Rolex Milsub for $5,000, or something like that. (I know people that do it throughout the day with basically every brand from Heuer to Universal Geneve. And sometimes, you can get lucky.)
There is no question that there have been some unwitting people who have listed rare watches with a Buy It Now listing that is a fraction of what it should be. But generally, the longer a Buy It Now listing stays up, the lower the odds are that you are finding a good deal, unless you are going to bargain via the Best Offer function (if the seller offers that option).
Check if the watch has been relisted.
If it has been relisted, there probably is a good reason it did not sell. Perhaps it is a refinished dial, the movement is missing pieces or in bad shape, or it is simply overpriced. I am not saying that you shouldn’t bid, particularly if the seller has been reducing the price each time it is relisted, but you should exercise caution. If no one else is bidding, are you missing something?
Examine the seller’s feedback.
Does the seller have a lot of negative reviews and a rating far below 100%? If yes, that may be a person worth avoiding. Is it a seller with a "0" rating, or perhaps an account only recently opened, with a bunch of low-value transactions in a short period of time? Those are also causes for concern.
I remember reading about someone buying from a watch from a seller with a "115" rating, but then it turned out to be a scam and upon further review, the past transactions were all extremely low value transactions of odd things (such as feminine products) that had clearly been faked. Possibly, it may have been a bunch of accounts started by the same person in order to build feedback in order to do a higher-level scam sale of an expensive watch.
In any event, when I am examining a seller, I like to see a mix of items for sale (sort of along the lines of the seller being someone just listing things for sale from an estate) and a history of positive feedback going back many years (the seller doesn’t need to have tons of transactions over time, it can be sporadic feedback that may be realistic of an average eBay user).
Look at the bidding history.
Shill bidding is a problem, and it is important to know the signs of shill bidding. Are there tons of bids back and forth between two low- or no-feedback accounts? That is usually an attempt to drive up the price and should be a cause for concern about the seller and watch.
Avoid off-eBay deals.
It is worth nothing that just about any time someone lists a nice watch on eBay, they are hit with a flood of messages asking how much money they would want for the watch – if they would accept [insert lowball offer] and/or if they would remove the listing and do the transaction off-eBay (under the guise of saving eBay fees). This is a very dangerous game because usually the offers are far less than the watch should get if the auction ran its full course and because there really are a lot of scammers out there. If you do the transaction off eBay, you don’t have the protection that eBay offers.
Now, when I see a watch I want, I message the seller imploring that he or she does not accept any off-eBay deals because the price will likely be lower than if the auction ran its course.
eBay favors buyers.
Over the past few years, eBay has become much more buyer-friendly. This includes the fact that sellers can now only leave positive feedback for buyers and that eBay will work to refund purchases that do not arrive. It is important to review the return policies of a seller – it is, of course, preferable to have a seller that is willing to take the item back for a refund within a certain amount of time.
Honestly, I have had such good luck with eBay that I have recently only needed to request eBay’s help on one occasion: when some ultra-rare vintage watch tools never arrived from a South American country. I bought the item and then saw that the seller had shipped it and provided a tracking number. About a month passed when I realized the item had not arrived yet, so I went to the country’s postal service site and tracked the package. It had apparently been delivered, but within the country. I wrote the seller asking about the issue and he was initially responsive, then stopped responding to my messages and e-mails, so it became clear it was a scam. I believe the seller had intentionally shipped it to another address in the country in the hopes that I would not notice and time would run out before I could request a refund. Just something for you to keep in mind when buying items online (of any nature, for that matter.)
Check the location and country of the seller.
There is no question that certain countries have a better reputation than others when it comes to buying vintage watches on eBay. A lot of outright fake watches (such as Jaeger-LeCoultre Vietnam War military watches that were never made) come from sellers in Vietnam. Uruguay also has a lot of fake vintage watches and refinished dials. A seller in Turkey seems to be making a lot of fake vintage watch bracelets and buckles. Argentina generally has a bad reputation for fakes, but I have had good experiences with sellers based there, other than the fact that the watches happened to have movements that were pretty worn and required servicing. And I don’t have a lot to base it on, but a friend had a very bad experience buying a watch on eBay from Pakistan, but fortunately eBay worked it out in his favor so he didn’t lose any money on it.
In the US, I have found that a lot of good “barn find” watches come from Florida, presumably from the estates of retired individuals who have recently passed away. Jaeger-LeCoultre was historically a huge brand in France, so I have seen many great vintage JLC watches come from there. And Tudor was originally a brand focused on the UK market, so I see most great early Tudors (which are extremely undervalued) there.
Ask questions. The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask.
eBay offers a great opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more about the watch before buying it.
Questions for eBay Sellers Crib Sheet:
- Is it running? If yes, is it keeping time?
- How long does it run if fully wound (if a manual-wind mechanical watch)?
- Where did you get the watch?
- Why are you selling it?
- Do you know when it was last serviced?
- Can you provide additional photos of the inner case back / outer case back / crown / serial number(s) / lugs / strap / buckle, etc.?
- Do you know if the dial has been refinished or replaced?
- Do you know if the dial has been re-lumed? Does the lume glow in the dark for a long period of time?
- What is the length (in millimeters) of the watch from the left side of the case to the right side of the case excluding the crown?
- Does it come with the original box and / or papers such as the directions and receipt?
(Please feel free to suggest other good questions in the comments. We will consider adding them here.)
Examples of Sub-$200 eBay Watches
Now, what about some examples of what you can find on eBay? Rather than just throw thousands of words at you, I also wanted to give you a sense of watches you can get, particularly in the more value-oriented category. The watches below were all under $200 that I have picked up and wanted to briefly show you to prove that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great watch on eBay.
Omega Seamaster reference 135.011
This was a great little buy at about $170. It came from Eastern Europe. What attracted me about it was the originality of it. Everything from the crystal to the crown is original. You can even see the small Omega symbol in the center of the acrylic crystal.
My wife enjoys wearing it on a Suigeneric waxed canvas strap.
I really like the simple dial with no date and the fact that the only two words on the dial are Omega and Seamaster.
The pink gold-plated movement is a work of art and very hard to beat in the sub-$200 price range.
This circa 1947 steel Cricket is a beauty and I got it for about $180. The watch was all original and came out of Florida. I love the thick lugs on these earliest ones.
What is very cool about it is the engraving on the caseback. The original owner was Colonel Robert H. Morse, the CEO of Fairbanks-Morse, a Chicago company that was an innovator in diesel engines. His father was Charles Hosmer Morse, who was the biggest Louis Comfort Tiffany collector and whose collection is now a museum (the Morse Museum) in Orlando. This is an early Cricket, when everyone wanted one after it was introduced at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1947. It was the Apple Watch of its day - I have heard that people were even ditching Pateks to wear a Cricket. Morse himself certainly could have afforded something much more valuable at the time.
The address on the caseback (for the "Fairbanks-Morse building") is now part of Columbia College in Chicago.
Longines Tre Tacche
This Longine Tre Tacche (Italian for "three notch" - there are three notches milled into the back of the caseback for screwing it down) is from 1941 and was originally delivered to Peru. It is unpolished and 32mm.
It is a solid watch with definite wear on the dial, but great charisma.
Okay, it was just over $200, but I still wanted to include it.
Longines from the 1940s
This is another 1940s Longines. This one originally went to the US and possibly was marketed toward those US servicemen heading off to war that may not have been issued a watch.
It has a plated case, so you can see the wear.
But it still has a great movement. It was about $100.
LIP circa 1950s
LIP has a very interesting history and many important political figures over the years have owned an LIP watch, from Winston Churchill to Bill Clinton. I saw this one on eBay and found the dial very funky and interesting.
It even has an in-house movement, for those of you obsessed with that.
I paid about $50 for this watch.
Hamilton "Steeldon" CLD
Vintage Hamiltons still offer some of the best bang for the buck you can find on eBay.
This one was about $100 and I really like the dial and the bent pipe lugs on the case. The "CLD" series (supposed to be pronounced as "sealed" apparently) was designed to be more water-resistant than your average Hamilton and also had one extra jewel in the movement.
Above is the movement on my first Hamilton watch, a "Neil" model that was given to my grandfather by my grandmother for their wedding in 1947. This calibre 747 is close to what is in the Steeldon, except the Steeldon has an extra jewel in the movement.
I absolutely love this manual wind Tudor. It just has such a clean look to it.
It was only $170 on eBay UK.
The movement is simple, but it does the trick.
These vintage automatic Seiko chronographs remain highly undervalued and unappreciated in my opinion.
I particularly love that this one comes with the original rally bracelet. I also really like the silver, blue, and orange colors on the dial.
Marathon US Military Watch
Okay, so this is the only quartz watch on the list, but I really think it is a neat little knockaround piece.
It is from 1997 and was $60 including a new battery on eBay. I think it looks great on a grey NATO strap.
Junghans circa 1950s
This is another chrome-plated piece, but is in the Max Bill style with the distinctive upside-down chair-like "4" on the dial. I have purchased a few of these all around $50.
This particular watch may not be an original Max Bill design, but it certainly drew from his watch and clock designs at the time.
The Final Lesson: Fortune favors the bold.
I told this story for the first time on last Friday’s 10PastTen.com Horological Minute, but thought it would be worth including here as a fun war story. A couple years ago, I purchased an original 1961 Vulcain Cricket Nautical on eBay from the State of Massachusetts. It was listed simply as a "Vulcain watch" with a terrible photo, no description, and no ability for them to tell me if it was working given their policy of not winding and testing watches. It sat preserved on the original early Tropic strap with the original steel Vulcain buckle in an unpaid safety deposit box for years. I about died when I saw a large envelope in the mail and could see what appeared to be a bulging watch taped to cardboard inside, but I was so thankful nothing bad had happened to it en route. I had been searching for one for years and I was beyond thrilled I had found it and pursued it. Even if the watch had not been working or had a rusty movement, the movement was the same as in other Crickets from that time and I knew I could get a donor movement for parts if needed, but fortunately the whole watch was in excellent condition.
There is no question that eBay remains one of the best places to buy watches on earth. I honestly have as much or more confidence buying watches on eBay than from many dealers because of my experience and knowledge, my approach, and the fact that eBay offers strong buyer protection. I hope that you find this guide helpful now and in the future, and I hope I don’t end up bidding against you on any watches that I want now that I have revealed the recipe for the secret sauce.