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Why Vintage Timepieces make me tick

I have never managed to get excited about watches -modern ones, that is. But I can get very excited about vintage timepieces. Long before Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts and the fashionistas took up the vintage look, I was rummaging in flea markets, buying up little gold watches with flowered faces for what seemed like peanuts. The problem was that they did not work for long. I was doing vintage on the cheap. If you want to do classy vintage, forget flea markets; Tom Bolt is your man. Bolt (son of Sir Robert and Sarah Miles) has been mad about watches since, aged 11, he spotted a vintage Rolex on the arm of James Bond in Live and Let Die. He deals in vintage and what he calls "high-end modern", and there is not a lot he doesn't know about what makes a watch tick and what makes it worth collecting. He is adamant that buying "pre-owned" ones makes sound commercial sense. "You would not believe the money that can be lost buying the wrong watch," he says. "It is not uncommon for somebody to spend Pounds 125,000 on something, only to find that its resale value is about Pounds 45,000." That would not happen with vintage if you buy from somebody reputable. For the moment "there is not as much skulduggery in the women's market as there is in the men's", he tells me. Women don't collect watches as trophies or investments. They don't have drawerfuls hidden away like forbidden treasure which they take out and gloat over from time to time the way, it seems, that some male collectors do -which helps to push prices up. They like something that looks great to wear, and that, funnily enough, keeps the price down. If you were looking for an all-time classic, Bolt could sell you a late 1950s Patek Philippe watch made of 18-carat gold, with an integral bracelet, a square face with an indelible dial (what he calls an "old school dial") for about Pounds 2,000. If you were after a comparable current model it would cost you about Pounds 10,000. Patek Philippe, Cartier and Rolex are the heavy hitters among the vintage cognoscenti, and the versions aimed at men often attract unimaginable sums of money. Women's models are relatively affordable. You could buy a vintage Cartier Tank with a Jaeger LeCoultre movement (these days it uses other movements) for about Pounds 3,000, about the same price as a modern version, but you can tell that, in Bolt's view, there is no comparison. But he could also sell you a lovely vintage Jaeger LeCoultre for about Pounds 1,000, or a beautiful half-hunter gold Rolex on a free-sprung bracelet dating from the 1920s for about Pounds 900. But, he points out: "This is a dress watch and it won't stand up to heavy daily wear." It all changes when you come to men's vintage watches. He recently sold a vintage elongated men's watch by Cartier for Pounds 13,000, while the nearest modern version would retail for about Pounds 4,500. In other words -for those not mathematically gifted -when it comes to men's watches, vintage will cost you. You will be paying for age and class. When it comes to women's, it's a steal. Old will usually cost no more -and sometimes less -than new, but you are getting all that old careful craftsmanship. The point about vintage -which in Bolt's case means watches from the 1920s to the 1970s -is that you are not paying for the marketing and high retail costs. You are buying into an aesthetic that for many people is more pleasing, and less ubiquitous, than the fancy new brands. Bolt says that many of his customers are just as flighty as any fancier of modern fashion -it's just their tastes that are different. He often buys back watches that he has sold and sells his customer something different, though possibly just as old, if not older. "It is seldom that somebody buys just one watch," he says. "Usually they become lifetime customers and buy and sell their watches when they want a change of scene." He won't tell me who his most famous customers are, though it is well known that he scouts around for special watches for many stars of stage and screen. But he will do the same for you and me. Take a look at his website www.thewatchguru.co.uk or track him down on 0203 073 0000   .

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