The best vintage watches under €10.000,-
In a bid to uncover the sweetest buys in the vintage market at different price levels, we have already looked at the sub € 2.000,- and the € 2.000,- to € 5.000,- price brackets. Today, we look at the very best vintage watches you can buy on a 10k budget.
By AWCo on January 26, 2023
These are not affordable vintage watches by any stretch of the imagination, so we will set the bar high. If you are going to spend a five-figure number on a vintage watch, you should get something absolutely amazing. And we think we have got three pretty amazing options lined up for you!
Of course, a watch is an emotional purchase. It is an object of beauty and craftsmanship you wear on your body, potentially for decades. Especially in our segment of the market, you might even consider some of these watches’ wearable art. This means that technically, any watch that puts a massive smile on your face is worthwhile. And that is something only you can feel. Still, at any price point, there are watches that represent specifically good value in terms of features, specs, history or investment. And those are the kinds of watches we are after in this article.
Let’s kick things off with one of our absolute favourite watches:
Early 1970s Omega Speedmaster Professional
Hold on! Did we not feature the Moonwatch in our article on the best vintage watches under € 5.000,-? We sure did. But since we are on a bigger budget today, we can afford to go for an earlier model. Rather than the ’80s/90’s variants we discussed before, today we travel back to the early 1970s.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional is arguably the most historically significant watch you can buy. From being selected, on merit, by NASA as their watch of choice for their astronauts, to actually saving lives when the Apollo 13 mission suffered critical failure. The Speedy is a watch that has taken on mythical status. We cannot go into all the nitty gritty here, but if you need a little more convincing, have a look at this article:
The vintage Moonwatch is divided in pre-moon and post-moon variants. The line is not drawn in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, but in 1970/71 when the first case backs with “Flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions – The first watch worn on the moon” start to emerge.
While there are transitional models, when speaking of a pre-moon Speedmaster, we generally mean models with the older 321 caliber, applied logo and dot-over-ninety/diagonal-70 bezel. These have become extremely collectible and are not available under 10k.
It is those transitional models and the early post-moon examples that have our focus today. Even though these came with the much more common calibre 861, there are still extremely collectable and desirable examples to be found in this segment. And since a good one can be had for under € 10.000,-, they represent another sweet spot in the Speedmaster universe.
The star of the show here is the dial. Up until 1975, Speedmasters came with a stepped dial. The outer perimeter of these dials was lowered, creating a beautiful sense of depth. From 1975 onwards, the dials became much flatter, losing a lot of charm. Omega obviously agrees since they re-introduced the stepped dial in their 2021 update of the Moonwatch. Interestingly, in 1978 Rolex did the same with their Datejust, flattening their pie-pan dial for the updated model. Change is not always an improvement. This is why we would recommend opting for a pre-1975 Speedmaster if you have 10k to spend. These come with all the vintage charm, at several thousand euros less than pre-moon examples.
Between the moon landing and 1975, there are some extra rare and collectible variants to be found as well. If you can get your hands on an example with a straight-writing case back or a 220-bezel, you have a real winner under 10k. Particularly coveted are the Tropical models. Their originally black dials have turned a warm dark brown over time. Unfortunately, these break the 10k mark quite easily.
1950’s and 1960’s time-only Patek Philippe
Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe make up what is commonly referred to as the holy trinity of watchmaking. They operate in the elevated circles of haute horlogerie. It is the realm of no-expenses-spared. This is beautifully illustrated by the fact that the beveling of movement plates is done by hand because this leads to cleaner corners as compared to a CNC machine. Even if it takes a highly skilled craftsman days to finish the edges of a single movement, it is considered worth the effort. Even if that movement is then covered by a solid case back. A breath of fresh air in a world of quick consumption and single-use goods.
Complicated vintage Patek’s such as their chronograph and calendar watches are fetching astronomical amounts at auction. These are truly for the lucky few. Most of us pay off a similar amount in 30 years, in the form of our mortgages. But if you are willing to ditch the complications, you can get all that craftsmanship and borderline perfection under 10k. Seriously? Yes!
When the Patek Philippe house was acquired by the Stern brothers in 1932, they introduced a line called Calatrava, after the knight’s order. You may have recognized the logo of the house, which is a Calatrava cross. The first of Calatravas was Ref. 96. These are, unfortunately, out of reach for our budget here.
A Calatrava watch has taken on meaning beyond Patek Philippe. The term is now used to describe a minimalist dress watch with a sub-dial for the seconds. The design language is inspired by the Bauhaus movement, but a little more classical in its execution. It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable to run into watches labelled “Calatrava” from houses like IWC, AP, Vacheron or Jaeger-LeCoultre.
These time-only watches have been made ever since their inception in the 1930s. They are watches for connoisseurs. Small, often 18k gold dress watches. Thin and elegant. Understated. These are not watches used for flaunting wealth and success. They do not shout for attention. At the most, they discretely clear their throat and you will know: this is serious stuff. Note that there are non-Calatrava variants to be found as well. Such as the minimalist Ref. 2422.
Because of their modest size and classical appearance, they have evaded the mass attention that steel sports watches have garnered. And that is a good thing because it means you can enjoy the finest of haute horology under 10k. You may have to hunt one down though. You will not have a table full of them to take your pick from. These are watches you run into and when you do, you have to act quickly. But then you will have an heirloom that will be in your family for generations.
Rolex Submariner ref. 14060(M)
Now if a rare, small, gold Calatrava is a bit too old money for you, we will end with the polar opposite: The Rolex Submariner. Probably the most iconic and popular steel sports watch ever made. Much like the Speedmaster, it is a watch you might overlook simply because of its popularity. It may feel a bit cliché and, granted, not every Submariner owner actually knows anything about watches. But the Sub has earned this status and success. It has technical prowess, heritage and one of the most iconic designs.
You could argue whether the Ref. 14060 is actually a vintage watch. Granted, if you ask vintage lovers like ourselves, we would prefer a Ref. 5513 with its domed acrylic crystal and preferably some nicely yellowed lume. But the 5513 has appreciated so much that it easily breaks the 10k mark and for many of us, that just puts it out of reach. The 14060 is still a lot more attainable, but not in the last place because it is less rare. Introduced in 1989 it might technically be more of a young timer, but we are sure you will excuse us for including it in this list of best vintage watches under 10k. And since it is built like a tank, if you buy one now, you can wear it easily until it is considered truly vintage.
So why Ref. 14060 in particular? Well, much like an early 70’s Speedy, it represents a sweet spot in the market. It is a lot more affordable than its older and younger sister references. But its attraction goes beyond the price. It also represents a technical sweet spot. It is a lot more solidly built than the older variants, giving you the practicality of a modern watch. The sapphire crystal and more solid bracelet are attractive to a large audience. At the same time, it still has the modest vintage vibe of the older references, thanks to its aluminium bezel and slender case. The later ceramic Subs with their shiny bezels and broad shoulders really amp up the bling factor and wrist presence, which is certainly not for everyone.
Note: If you prefer a Sub with a date and cyclops, you can opt for Ref. 14060’s brother: Ref. 16610.
Within the no-date Sub reference, you have a choice of the 14060 (1989-1999) and the 14060M (1999-2009). The latter is an updated version of the former. It includes an engraved rehaut with the unique case number of the watch and a calibre update (from cal. 3000 to 3130) bringing a full balance bridge and larger balance wheel to the table.
Around about 1998/99, but not perfectly in sync with the model update, Rolex switched from Tritium lume to LumiNova. Most of the older 14060’s feature Tritium, where all of the M’s feature LumiNova. If you ask us, a Tritium variant is more attractive, as its lume has a tendency to turn vanilla or even yellow over time, adding warmth and character. At the same time, if you prefer a clean and perfect watch over some patina, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the LumiNova variants. A matter of taste. If you cannot spot the lume type from its color, the dial is a good indication. Tritium models say “Swiss – T<25” below the six o’clock marker. LumiNova models feature a “Swiss Made” designation.
The Ref. 14060(M) and its brother Ref. 16610 are absolutely amazing everyday watches. An iconic, timeless design and super rugged build. And since they are the last of the aluminium Subs, they are surely future classics. You may have to hurry though, since prices are quickly rising. If you read this article a couple years beyond its launch date, you may not be able to find one within budget anymore.
Something for everyone
There you have it. Three of the best vintage watches under € 10.000,-. From the old-world elegance of a 50’s Patek, via the space-venturing 70’s Speedmaster to the adventurous spirit of a young timer Submariner. Come to think of it, this could very well be the perfect three-watch collection!