Now Is The Time To Save Long Forgotten Watches Positive phenomenon brought on by the coronavirus by Tomas Rosputinsky May 14, 2020 MIN READNow Is The Time To Save Long Forgotten Watches
Collectors and watchmakers dig deep on their benches to repair some of the harder-to-service watches.
I try not to buy broken watches. If the option is there, I’d rather wait for a particular model in decent condition, preferably from a reliable source. As we all know, some watches are hard to find, so here and there we just have to take the risk. I usually do it with pieces that I’ve never seen pop-up before. If I buy a watch that needs attention, I don’t like to leave the repair unattended and start sourcing parts immediately after purchase. This way I successfully manage to get all my “questionable“ pieces back into shape.
Sourcing watches during COVID-19
This same type of risk aversion can be attributed to most dealers. Although some may focus on watches that require more repair and effort, most look to source watches that are easy to flip. If you‘ve ever sourced parts for older movements, you know why. Googling a watch part without knowing the part number is often a useless, time-consuming endeavor. Without reading huge volumes of forum discussions, it’s sometimes impossible to get any information on where other collectors managed to get their parts. Without generous and open-minded collectors sharing their contacts, some of my watches would still lay dead.
In comes COVID-19 and although premium dealers such as Eric Wind or Bob’s Watches scored their best weeks of the year, dealers, in general, are cautious about their stocking strategies. Any particular dealer’s situation will be highly individual and dependant on their current stock, clientele, and their ability to reach new customers. The other week I had a chat with UK based dealer Scott from BirthYearWatches, who unlike the previously mentioned businesses sells mostly lower-priced vintage pieces. Even Scott confirmed a positive trend. “I’ve stopped my full-time job to concentrate on watches and a worldwide pandemic breaks out! But fortunately, people are still buying watches.”
Although I would expect people to spend less on watches, consequently slowing down the market, there will always be big spenders that are able to invest, or maybe to put it better, find themselves exactly in the middle of an expected market freeze where everyone else is holding on to cash.
In a follow up to my interview with Zsolt Csörgő a couple of weeks ago, he said his vintage watch business is still doing well. He said that before Coronavirus all watch dealers were buying practically constantly. But without taking a pause, he added that he will be careful with buying new stock for the next few months.
With all the watch fairs canceled it’s also much more challenging as online sourcing is not the most effective stock sourcing for many dealers. Zsolt is able to bring new watches daily only thanks to a massive back-log stock he piled up over the years.
Yet the condition of such back-log stock is not always the best. At the bottom of the barrel lay the more challenging pieces that require more service and sourcing attention. Mike summed up what I often hear from other collectors nicely in his recent piece Love Of Watches In The Time Of Coronavirus. „I’ve been scrolling through my collection and I’ve dug out some pieces that I’d honestly forgotten about.“ I will put it this way: With Mike re-discovering his own collection, I can hardly imagine what project watches have to be hiding with many dealers trading easily serviceable watches first.
A few weeks ago I was digging online for some parts for my digital quartz Seiko from the ’80s when the forums pointed me towards Wm S. McCaw, a full-service material house with astonishing history. Established in 1913, the company is still in the hands of the 3rd generation, managed by Vice President Elizabeth Cousino and her brother as a President of the company. In her first response to my email, Elizabeth warned me that she might take longer to respond than usual. “It is just myself and my partner holding down the fort these days,“ Elizabeth explains operation under COVID-19 restrictions.
Elizabeth Cousino. Image Source: Facebook.com/McCawCo
An unexpected positive
With limited operations troubled by lockdown Elizabeth confirms the now obvious fact. “Collectors and watchmakers dig deep on their benches to repair some of the harder to service watches.“An unexpected positive phenomenon brought on by COVID-19. With collectors more hesitant about their next watch purchase, they‘re starting to think more about the watches they never repaired to their full glory. Similarly, limited options for dealers in bringing in new stock are making them look deeper in their drawers and shine a light on watches that need more attention than just changing the crystal.
If you ask for a particular item, the advice is to be as specific as you can.
This crisis is giving us a great opportunity to realize how important people like Elizabeth are. Can you imagine storing half a million to a million vintage watch parts? “Different systems are in different sections of the store. We are primarily organized via the Bestfit numbering system. We work hard to source what people are asking for correctly.“ If you ask for a particular item, the advice is to be as specific as you can. The more time they spend deciphering or digging, the more it can add to the overall price of the part.
I asked Elizabeth what the most bizarre request they ever got for a replacement part was. “The most common oddity is the unusual terms people use to describe the part they need.“ She didn’t give any examples, but I can imagine chuckle just at the thought of it. Besides trained watchmakers, they do get a fair share of hobbyists. “There are industry-accepted names of parts with a few variations. And then there are names that seem to be geographically or familially passed down that are an adventure to decipher.“
75% success rate
I was curious to know what percentage of requests for replacement parts they are able to fulfill. “I would say around 75%,“ says Elizabeth, which matches the success rate on parts I personally asked them about. To me, perhaps the best thing about this process is McCaw’s individual approach. Some parts I provided correct numbers for, some I was able to describe just as a bezel insert for a particular Seiko model. Some parts they didn’t find for me, but at least gave me the correct item number so that I know what I am looking for.
Seiko 8X and 7X series movements for the Astron GPS
Most wanted parts
What vintage parts are most wanted? “Rolex is still huge. The generic market is a big portion. Beyond that general requests for ETA spare parts probably second. Seiko crowns and stems next.“ Being a vintage watch nerd, I was particularly interested to know more about vintage dial availability. “We sell mostly the movement parts, crowns, and crystals. Some hands. Dials are rare. Most supply houses did not stock a large inventory of dials from any particular brand.“
Besides a computer system search engine, they use card files and occasionally old micro-fiche.
If you heard somebody complaining about the price of a vintage watch part, they don’t have the slightest idea of how much money it costs to house all this inventory. And searching through it all is often a challenge too. Besides a computer system search engine, they use card files and occasionally old micro-fiche. I would love to dive into the McCaws library as I bet their movement and casing books library is extraordinary.
Getting new-old-stock parts is not easy
“We are always purchasing older inventory. On any front, either local watchmaker or material house closing, we are always looking to buy,“ says Elizabeth on growing stock. It is hard to find a large lot of any part when speaking of vintage parts. It happens occasionally, but if they acquire vintage parts, it’s by definition on a smaller scale. Thus, even if three other coronavirus pandemics strike, don‘t expect prices to go down and go get your project watches fixed rather sooner than later.
Elizabeth’s favorite watch is the Omega Speedmaster Professional 1969, but to my great surprise, she has a thing for fun ’80s Seiko. While her brother, the President of the company, specializes in Rolex, Elizabeth’s particular knowledge base is biggest in Omega and ETA. If you have any vintage Omega waiting to get some tender and love, Elizabeth might be the great first contact. “Vintage Seiko is my new learning curve,“ says Elizabeth and confirms that Seiko is growing big time in collector circles.
Keeping watches alive
“Experience is extremely key. There is no manual to teach employees how to find watch parts. Most of our staff have been here for 15+ years. It‘s taught by learning only.“ I too have to admit that before this pandemic, I didn’t put much thought into vintage parts houses before, but I respect their work much more now. Elizabeth says that they rarely hold on to things awaiting higher demand and anything they have is for sale for the right price. “Parts are best when they are repairing someone’s watch, not sitting in our drawers.” Check out and like the official Facebook page here.
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About the author
During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more
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