Little Vintage Watch Hunters vol.1

Great satisfaction even at a real price.

A “good watch” often comes at a high price. Brand new watch models increase in price every year partly due to the exchange rate, so one of the right ways of thinking is to aim for an affordable vintage watch. So where can you get a high-quality watch at a good price that even a watch beginner can use with peace of mind? This project is a serious shopping documentary in which watch writer Tetsuo Shinoda and new addition to SENSE’s editorial team and watch beginner Satoshi Shinohara visit watch shops in a search for great timepieces.

#1 “Can you buy a Rolex in the ¥300k range?”

SHINOHARA: You’ve always been a big help in the SENSE watch features! In the magazine, you have introduced new watches in projects with very Shinoda-like ideas and tastes. To be frank, I’m not very knowledgeable about watches, and they all seem so expensive… but now that I’m a full-fledged member of society and because I want to outfit myself as such, I think it’s about time I get myself a watch.

SHINODA: Well, first of all, what kind of watches do you like?

SHINOHARA: It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m not really sure what I like… or rather, all I can think of is “Rolex”. That said, I’m not actually sure what kind of brand Rolex is! (laughs) They’re pricey… right?

SHINODA: The latest model is over ¥500,000, and for popular models probably around ¥1 million.

SHINOHARA: Ah, yeah…

SHINODA: But if you’re talking about vintage watches, rest assured there are models with great price for their value. Of course, most people will think that an antique Rolex will mean a super-high price tag, but that’s just for really rare watches even among Daytona or the Submariner models. For so-called “normal Rolexes”, there will be a lot of units for retail at surprisingly fair prices, so you can easily buy a really nice piece in the 300 thousand yen range.

SHINOHARA: Really?! I think I can swing that! But… the threshold for even setting foot inside an “antique watch store” seems pretty high, still. Do you think a beginner like me can handle it?

SHINODA: Well, I thought about that, and that’s why I chose ITEM in Shibuya. It’s in a familiar area with lots of famous select shops, so you feel comfortable, right?

SHINOHARA: Yeah, I’ve been through this area countless times, and never knew there was a watch shop here.

SHINODA: All right, let’s head inside.

SHINOHARA: Whoa, there’s a ton of Rolexes right out the gate!

Many Rolex watches in the showcase. The placards show not only the model name but the year it was made, helping you make your choice.

KATO: My name is Kato, and I run this shop. What kind of watch are you looking for today?

SHINOHARA: Um, well, (unintelligible)

SHINODA: Why are you so uneasy right off the bat? (laughs) Well, today we’re looking for a Rolex in the 300-thousand-yen range. Do you have any suggestions? Shinohara, the staff at antique watch shops are watch experts, so firstly it’s important to let them know clearly what you want. It’s different from new watches, in that each antique will vary greatly in individual price, but each price has a reason, so it’s also important to listen to their explanations.

KATO: I see. For a 300-thousand-yen Rolex, I would recommend the Datejust model, made in the 1960s, which has an instantaneously-changing calendar. There are different bezel shapes, ones with more dazzling, dressy feels, and ones that look quite chic. Different watch hand styles can change the mood of the piece as well.

The staff laid out the watches on trays for us as we talked. There are so many different kinds of antique Rolex models, it can be hard to choose.

SHINODA: Hm… lots of options, I see. I think I like the one with the silver dial the best. The bezel sparkles beautifully! It has an aura you wouldn’t expect from a watch almost 70 years old. Even with this you know you’re wearing a Rolex.

The 1960 Rolex Datejust, with a shiny fluted bezel for a dressy feel. \328,000

SHINOHARA: By the way, why are the models with dark-colored dials more expensive than the others?

KATO: Watches with colored dials were rare across all watches made in the 1960’s, not just Rolex. That’s why they are popular around the world and tend toward higher prices.

SHINOHARA: I see, I see.

SHINOHARA: Just hearing the word “rare”, now I’m really interested in black dials all of a sudden. (laughs) I’m totally new to watches; do you think I could buy an antique like this?

KATO: Sure, there’s no problem, but there are some things you should know. The biggest difference between antique and modern watches is “waterproof”. The greatest enemy of mechanical watches is water, and depending on the model, you have to be careful in rain or even sweat. But the Rolex-patented Oyster Case is very solid, and the watch stem is screwed in, so it’s probably easier to user than that of other watchmakers. Now, it is old, so I can’t promise one-hundred percent, but that said, I think you can expect a reasonable level of waterproof.

A 1972 Rolex Datejust. With a rare gray dial, and the CHRONOMETER at the 6 position certifies its high precision. \398,000

SHINODA: And precisely because the watch is solidly-built, there are many pieces that are still in great condition even though they are over 50 years old. That’s what’s so great about Rolex. Oh wait, here’s an Air King.

KATO: The Air King has grown more popular recently. In the past it was created as a budget model without a calendar, but it looks stylish, which has made it popular these days.

A 1969 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King Precision model. It has no date function, so its windproof dome stands out with grace. \308,000

SHINOHARA: It has a nice “connoisseur” mood. I’m so excited by all this stuff I never knew! I used to think owning a Rolex was an unattainable dream, but I’m surprised I can probably buy one with my bonus.

SHINODA: Why not try one on? After all, it’s something you wear, and not just about the look, the size, balance, and overall feel are important as well.

SENSE editorial team member Shinohara timidly handles a watch while Shinoda looks on protectively. Shinoda looks as if his inner voice is saying “don’t drop it!”

SHINOHARA: This is the first time I’m even touching a watch. I don’t even know how to open the buckle…

KATO: Hold it here, put some strength into it like this, and it will open. Ah, you see?

SHINOHARA: Oh wow, it’s…so…cool!

For Shinohara, who has never worn a watch until now, this moment marks the commemorable occasion he has lost his watch virginity. You can see how happy he is.

SHINODA: You’ve been struck speechless! (laughs) I think I’ll try one on too. Shinohara, you don’t wear any rings or bracelets so you’re fine, but let me take my ring off. If I don’t, I might scratch this fine product.

SHINOHARA: See, I want to know more grown-up watch etiquette like that.

KATO: Well, if you hold more than one watch at a time, they may bump into each other and scratch, so holding only one at a time is an ironclad rule. Things like that.

SHINODA: You have to be constantly aware that you’re handling expensive sensitive mechanisms like this.

SHINOHARA: That makes me nervous. I didn’t think I’d be seeing so many Rolexes at once, so my eyes keep darting around!

SHINODA: Well, I mean, if you bought the first one you saw, this article would be over, so let’s calm down a little bit. (laughs) This shop has other brands and chronographs, after all.

SHINOHARA: Huh? What’s a chronograph? (to be continued next time)

Shop Information
An antique watch shop with a workshop that also does repairs. Purchases come with a 6-month warranty, where you can have broken watch hands or major errors fixed for free.
1-15-11 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 12:00-19:30
Closed on Wednesdays (open on Holidays)

Tetsuo Shinoda :Watch writer Tetsuo Shinoda :Watch writer
Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1975. Tetsuo Shinoda became a freelance writer after working for “Hot-Dog PRESS” at Kodansha. He writes watch-related articles in various media including watch magazines, business magazines, and websites. He is a hands-on watch writer who graduated from a watch school.