“Does this vintage watch have the correct box?”

Here’s a question that often arises when two people are discussing the purchase of a collectible watch:

Q: “Is that the correct box for the watch?”

The perhaps impolite but nevertheless accurate response should be :

A: “I’m afraid you’re not asking the correct question”

The proper question here is “Could this be the correct box for the watch?”

The fundamental mistake that we make when considering the boxes and ephemera of vintage watches is to apply today’s quality service standards to watch companies of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Nowadays Rolex, Tudor, (TAG) Heuer et cetera are very efficient when it comes to helping their dealers to supply the correct boxes and ephemera with their watches.  Unfortunately, forty plus years ago they really weren’t very good at all and would ship the watches separately from boxes, tags, manuals et cetera.  This meant that it was the responsibility of the retailer to put the correct package together for the customer and guess what?  They weren’t very good at it either.

Picture the scene: it’s January 1972 and a customer has walked into a watch shop to buy a Rolex Submariner – a significant purchase at £270.  The jeweller has had this watch in stock for a year and because it took a year from manufacture to get to the jeweller,  it’s actually a late 1969 watch.

When the long-haired, flared trouser bedecked salesman brought out the white and green box that was supplied with the watch, his customer was disappointed. He had seen the nice brown one with the seahorse on it in the window and asked if he could have one of those instead please?  This man was spending £270 on a watch and the salesman needed to make him happy so of course, he did what the customer asked.

The last thing that the salesman was thinking was that in 40 years time, this watch would be worth £10,000 and having the correct box would matter – and to some, I mean really matter.

So let’s fast forward those 40 years to a time when a vintage Rolex enthusiast is ready to invest the price of a small car in owning his grail watch – a ‘Red’ Submariner – maybe even a birth year one…

The first question the customer is going to ask is “what year is this watch ” is it 1969 as the serial number suggests or a 1972 as the papers suggest? I’ve covered this topic elsewhere on the site so if you want to read more about dating vintage watches just click here: http://oakleighwatches.co.uk/?p=3574

The second question the purchaser will ask is are the boxes and ephemera correct? – As we know the full story of this particular ‘Red’, you and I are confident that this Full Set is exactly as it was when it left the store – however, our potential purchaser’s eyebrows may have cause to raise.

Surely it can’t be right that a 1969 watch should come in a Seahorse box which wasn’t even released until two years later?  But we know differently…

The moral of this story is that not only is this area of watch purchase a minefield, but also that there are very few absolute certainties and many possibilities.

Some things are clearly impossible and not correct – a watch with a 1975 serial number and papers dated 1973 would be wrong, as would a 1975 watch on a 1985 bracelet, but generally speaking if the differential is up to 2 or 3 years either way with bracelets, papers and ephemera then it’s absolutely fine.

So next time you’re looking at a watch like this, rather than asking if this is the correct box for the watch, ask could this be the correct box for the watch – it will help you appreciate and understand the many possibilities and it may stop you from passing up a fantastic opportunity for the wrong reason.

Oh and one final thing – you need to trust the person that you’re buying from.

If you’re considering spending thousands of pounds on a vintage watch from someone who’s opinion and honesty you doubt, then you should really consider buying one elsewhere.

If you would like support or guidance on any of the issues raised in this article then please email us through the website.

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