The three best vintage watches under 5k
In one of our previous articles we looked at the three best affordable watches under 2,5k within the vintage world. We have seen that there are some very capable and very cool vintage watches to be had under 2500 euros. Now in case you have been saving up a little more, today we will look at the best vintage watches under 5.000 euros. A very popular segment with plenty of great watches to explore.
By Thomas van Straaten on 18 October 2021
The rules are quite simple. We are looking for watches with a rich history, great technology and a design that has survived the decades that have passed since their conception. And since we have already covered the sub 2500 euro category, they must be available between 2500 and 5000 euros. The three prime candidates might be obvious, but perhaps for some not-so-obvious reasons. And we will finish with a few dark horses in case you prefer to go off the beaten tracks.
Ok, let’s dive in!
Rolex Date & Air-King
While the mighty Datejust has appreciated largely past the 5k mark, if you are willing to look at a 2mm smaller case, you can come out as a winner on the vintage market.
For starters, a Rolex Date is quite simply put the same as a Datejust, just a tad smaller. It would have made a lot of sense for Rolex to just call it a Datejust 34. It features the same case shape, same calibers and many of the same dial styles
It is simply market dynamics that make the Date quite a lot more affordable than the Datejust. The 2mm size difference turns off a chunk of the potential buyers, which leaves you with a big opportunity. Those two millimetres look substantial when you hold the watches side by side, but once you have worn a Date exclusively for a couple of days, it will really grow on you (excusez le mot). The majority of worries about watch size are a simple matter of getting used to something.
This makes the Rolex Date (or even the Oysterdate) a real sweet spot in the vintage market below 5k. Often over-looked, but for the wrong reasons.
The same applies to the Air-King. It comes in the same 34mm case as the Rolex Date, and houses a variant of the same movement family. There is even an Air-King Date, which is pretty much just a Date with a more fancy logo on the dial.
"This makes the Rolex Date a real sweet spot in the vintage market below 5k. Often over-looked, but for the wrong reasons."
This immediately brings us to the highlight of the Air-King: its name. It provides the watch with a story of its own. A story of WWII fighter pilots upgrading their issued watches to the Air-King’s predecessors: The Air-Tiger, Air-Lion and Air-Giant. It adds some tool-watch street credibility to an otherwise kind of dressy watch. And the dynamic Air-King logo printed on the dial adds some soul to the watch. In short: it is very attractive indeed!
Again, we can be thankful that a chunk of the world’s watch community has gotten used to the oversized watch trend of the last two decades. It means that a 34mm gem like the Air-King remains available at much more attainable prices than its larger brothers and sisters.
The Cartier Tank is one of the oldest watch designs still in production today. Louis Cartier came up with the shape in 1917, when wrist watches for men were still an emerging phenomenon. Until the early 20th century, wrist watches were very much considered women’s accessories, with men opting for pocket watches.
Cartier paid homage to the French Renault FT-17 tank, inspiring the rectangular shape and tank-thread type flanks. While it was initially used by the French military, the classical design has aged into a pure dress watch today.
The design is unmistakably Cartier. The overall shape is instantly recognizable, but if you look closer, the details are iconic. From the cream white dial with stark black Roman numerals and heat-blued hands to the blue sapphire cabochon in the crown and the hidden “Cartier” name in the Roman number ten. They are all classical design cues we know and love.
There are tons of variants to choose from. You can even go for other case shapes if you like those better than the Tank. Consider, for instance the Santos or more niche variants such as the Baignoire or Ceinture. But even within the Tank range, your options are plentiful. Choose between sizes, steel or gold variants, elongated “Americaine” or more angular “Francaise” models. Have your pick of mechanical or Quartz movements.
The Tank is currently extremely in-vogue, so prices have been on the up. Unfortunately, many of the Tank Louis variants have appreciated out of reach for this article, but there is a plethora a Must de Cartier Tanks to be had. You will find beautiful examples within the price range so we cannot ignore the Cartier Tank and its brothers and sisters when exploring the best watches under 5000 euros.
80s and 90s Omega Speedmaster & 70s Mark models
As the number 1 source for vintage Speedmasters in the Netherlands, we have dedicated articles to why we love the Speedmaster before. So let’s not go into the Speedy’s history or its many strengths here.
When you fall for the Speedy Moonwatch Professional and start looking into the available models, you may be scared off by the massive differences in price. A pre-moon example easily breaks the 10k mark, while a brand new one sets you back just north of 6000,-. And then there are the models we are looking at today, below 5k. There are more and less attractive buys in all of these categories, but quite simply put: you cannot really go wrong with any Speedy Pro. Still, we have got a little sweet spot in mind for you…
If you filter for sub-5k Speedmasters, you will end up with a lot of options from the 1980s all the way up to young-timers from 2010’s. Our choice would be the pre-1997 models. Why? Because they carry a large chunk of vintage charm, without the hefty price-tag of the 1960s and 1970s models.
Vintage charm, ey? In what sense? Well, 1997 saw the introduction of LumiNova as the preferred luminescent material to be used on Speedmaster dials and hands. While technically superior to the older Tritium, its color-stability makes it a lot less attractive to fans of vintage watches. Nothing beats the warmth of a Tritium model with beautifully yellowed hands and indices. Many late eighties/early nineties Speedies have gained absolutely stunning patina. The younger models remain perfectly greenish-white forever. Less attractive if you ask a vintage dealer like ourselves.
Want to be sure about the lume? Check for a T Swiss Made T designation at six o’ clock. These are the Tritium dials. Later LumiNova and SuperLumiNova dials feature only a Swiss Made marking. But, of course, preferably just hunt for a nicely yellowed example!
Another big bonus with these watches are the bracelets. The previous-gen Moonwatch (Omega updated it early 2021) featured a steel bracelet with extremely long, protruding end-links, giving the watch a much, much bigger profile on wrist. It did not really hug the wrist at all, making the Speedy wear a lot bigger than its short lug-to-lug length actually requires. If you have big wrists, that’s probably fine, but we very much prefer the older bracelets of the 80s and early 90s. They had a more subtle design and the short end-links ensure the watch had a much nicer fit on the wrist.
There are several sweet spots within the Speedmaster universe, but if it is a sub-5k vintage watch you are after, this is your best bet! A pre-1997 Ref. 145.0022 Speedmaster is easily one of the best vintage watches under 5000 euros.
Another way to go is to opt for one of the funky 1970s Mark II, III, IV or V variants. These models were added to the Speedmaster line alongside the original Professional. First introduced in 1969, the majority of Mark versions are from the 1970s. And boy does it show! These are quirky, radical watches in real 70s fashion.
After the MKII, the Mark line was fitted with automatic movements and a very cool central chronograph minutes counter.
The Speedmaster Mark line-up is extremely attractive and special. But since the 1970s are not really in-vogue at the moment, their prices have remained attainable, relative to other watches. And so you can get a lot of watch, and we mean a lot, within the budget we set for this article.
Perhaps you feel the Date, Air-King, Tank and Speedmaster are just a little too obvious. Or maybe you are a seasoned collector who already owns all three. In that case, here are a couple more exotic options under 5k: