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What is the difference between an antique and a vintage watch?

What is the difference between an antique and a vintage watch?
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Antique. Vintage. Retro. Old skool. There are a whole host of terms we use to describe family heirlooms or fashion pieces. Most of the time there’s no right or wrong, but if you’re trying to make money out of your old bits and pieces, it’s essential to know the semantics. In the context of watches, the terms “antique” and “vintage” are used pretty interchangeably. Use the wrong one in front of a professional, however, and you might get a dirty look. There is a key difference between vintage and antique watches.

What is an antique pocket watch?

So, what is an antique watch? We’ve talked about pocket watches here because of the age of antique watches. Strictly speaking, an antique is defined as anything that’s more than 100 years old.

Antique Pocket Watch

Wristwatches were not invented until 1868, so there’s a good chance that your antique watch may be a pocket watch.

Valuable antique watch brands

If you do fancy yourself a bit of an antique collector, try to look out for the following brands:

Omega watches

Though it’s known as a modern brand, Omega was founded in 1848, so you can still find antique Omega watches. Look out for:

  • The First Minute-Repeater Wristwatch, 1892 – this was the world’s first minute-repeater watch, whose mechanism was triggered by a slide at 3 o’clock.
  • The First Omega Wristwatch, 1900 – while the former was created under the Swiss Louis Brandt and Frére, a precursor to Omega, this wristwatch was the first to carry the Omega name officially. It was known for its robustness during military use.

Vintage Longines Watch

Longines watches

In November 2018, it was reported that a collector had found the oldest Longines pocket watch in the world, a Savonette silver which dated back to 1867. For a more likely find, look out for:

  • The 20H Calibre, 1878 – patented by watchmaker Alfred Lugrin, this simple chronograph timepiece was the first mechanism produced by Longines that could be used for precise timing.
  • The 21.59 Calibre, 1888 – the first certified chronometer was an upgrade to the abovementioned 20H Calibre.
  • La Renomée, 1900 – this Longines timepiece won the Grand Prix at the Grand Exhibition in Paris at the turn of the century.
  • The 13.3Z, 1913 – this single push-piece featured a 30-minute instantaneous counter, accurate to within one-fifth of a second.

Vintage Longines Watch with brown leather strap

Cartier watches

Cartier is just starting to enter the antique category, with perhaps its most famous model turning 100 years old in 2017. For a valuable Cartier watch, look out for the following:

  • The Santos, 1904 – while this did not go on sale until 1911, it was created seven years earlier as a gift to Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.
  • The Tonneau, 1906 – this was the first official Cartier wristwatch for men.
  • The Tank, 1917 – this is a tribute to the American and British armies, who relied on tanks to save the European nations during WWI.

Vintage Cartier must de watch

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How old does a watch have to be to be considered vintage?

So, when is a watch vintage? The exact definition of vintage is slightly more flexible than antique, with some claiming the item has to be more than 50 years old. However, generally speaking, a vintage item can be anything from as young as 20 years old to 99.

Valuable vintage watch brands

Many collectors will have a whole host of vintage men’s watches in their collections. For valuable vintage watches, look out for:

Rolex watches

Vintage Rolex watches are easier to come by than antiques, as the company was not founded until the earlier 1900s. The following vintage models hold their value best:

  • The GMT Master, 1954 – this was produced for Pan American airlines, allowing cabin crew to adjust their watches as they switched time zones easily.
  • The Submariner, 1954 – this was created for amateur and professional divers, featuring a hermetic seal. It would later feature in James Bond films Dr No and Live and Let Die.
  • The Daytona, 1963 – the Cosmograph Daytona was originally designed for racing drivers and promises enhanced reliability thanks to a larger mainspring.

Antique Rolex Watch

Seiko watches

Though Seiko was founded in the 1880s, it did not develop its signature models until the 1960s onwards. Valuable collectors’ items include:

  • The Grand Seiko, 1960 – created in Nagano, was considered the hallmark of accuracy.
  • The Cal. 6139, 1969 – this was the world’s first automatic chronograph watch with a vertical clutch and column wheel.

Vintage Seiko Watch

Tudor watches

Vintage Tudor watches are here thanks to Rolex’s foray into affordable watches. In 1946, Tudor was born. Look out for:

  • The Tudor Royal 8533, 1961 – this ladies’ watch is made from 9ct gold and features a shock absorber system.
  • The Tudor Oyster Prince, 1969 – this marked the evolution of a new logo for Tudor, featuring a shield to symbolise stability.

Vintage Tudor MonteCarlo


Vintage Omega watches have graced the wrists of Hollywood icons and other celebrities for decades. You’ll find amazing value in the following:

  • The 1957 Trilogy (Railmaster, Seamaster and Speedmaster), 1957 – each of these models was famous in their own right, for example, the Speedmaster became known as the ‘Moonwatch’ after it was worn by Buzz Aldrin during the first expedition to the moon. Equally, the Seamaster has been seen on the wrists of many James Bond iterations.
  • The Omega De Ville, 1967 – this became its own line in 1967 after an initial introduction in 1960. It was created in Geneva, rather than in Omega’s headquarters in Bienne.

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Meet our expert

Looking for somebody who buys vintage watches? Send yours to Vintage Cash Cow, where it will be personally appraised by our in-house expert, Antony Charman. Our Antony has been assessing vintage and antique watches for donkey's years. His knowledge is so trusted that he has appeared on the History Channel multiple times. Watch our expert Antony Charman on the History Channel  

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