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  1. ConElPueblo Feb 3, 2017

    I have had a few newer members asking me for advice on how to spot a good vintage watch and what they should be on guard for. I've decided to post a little primer on how to assess vintage watches (primarily Omegas, though the principles could just as well apply to other marques). I hope this will come in handy for especially newer members, who could need some assistance in the chase of their dream watch.

    There is, at any given time, a huge amount of vintage Omegas for sale. A very, very limited number of them are outright fakes, more often it's the condition of the (genuine) parts that makes the difference between an attractive purchase and an unattractive one. So how do you determine if a watch is in good condition? Have a look at the following parts:

    1. Case: This should be in a condition where the original facets are still clearly visible. The original brushing on any brushed parts should still be visible too. Places where this is very visible: Bezel, lug chamfers, case back medallion (if any).

    Consider these two Constellations:



    The first one has razor-sharp edges on the lugs and the bezel is perfect too. On the other subject, the lugs have lost definition and the bezel has been rounded by polishing. This greatly reduces the overall impact of the design and should be taken into consideration, were you to consider a purchase. Note that most old watches have been polished at some point, so while having an unpolished specimen is great, one that has been polished could just as well be a well-maintained, old watch.

    Here is an example of how correct brushing can affect the look of a watch:


    This is actually a before-and-after photo of one of the members' Seamaster 168.022, which had been incorrectly brushed at some point. Look into how the polished and brushed parts of the watch you are looking for are supposed to look like and this will help you uncover no little amount of attempts to cover up bodge-jobs.

    2. Dial. This is the focal point of any watch, and should have your full attention.

    2.1. Redials... This is pretty much a no-no for a collector, even though there are a few cases where tolerances are higher. In general, redials are rather common and a lot of them were done more or less on a routinely basis during the early days of your watch.

    A redial can be partial, and for instance be the addition of some text or the restoration of a part of a dial. Alternatively, it could be complete and consist of either having the dial plate cleared completely and then repainted (with varying degrees of success) or consist of getting a completely new dial put in the watch. The latter can be impossible to confirm and if done with the correct dial generally doesn't detract from the overall look or value. The former, the reprinted dial, is rather common. Unscrupulous vendors will try to talk around it by claiming that the dial is "original" - as in "the same bit of metal", but that's bollocks. And they know it.

    Here are two Omega Seamaster Calendars for your enjoyment:



    Notice how fine the text on the first dial is and how it... isn't on the second one? That's because the second one is a cruddy redial. Knowing how the font looks like on the reference you are researching will help you quite a lot, especially on Seamasters. Where can you find this info? On Omegaforums, naturally. Do a search and spend some time smarting up. Other tells on the second example are the minute marks that are of varying thickness and length and the light green lume plots. The original radium lume would have been washed off when the dial was cleaned. A final - and really rather obvious - tip: If it's an old watch, there is little chance that the dial will look as virgin white as the lower one. The light, rather even spotting "suffered" by the top one is typical of this particular reference and a good sign of authenticity. Get to know how your targetted watch usually patinates and it will help you in your assesment.

    Dial patina will be the focus of the next post before I'll move onto other parts of the watch.

    Part 2: Dial Patina.
    Part 3: Luminous markers and hands.
    Part X: Fishing on eBay.
    Edited Jul 14, 2019
  2. ConElPueblo Feb 3, 2017

    2.1. You may love patina, but for a lot of people it is still damage/decay so unless it's a special case, a patinated dial will lower the value of a given watch. As this subject is very, eh, subjective and a case of what one finds attractive take these points as mere guidelines.

    Patina should be even on a dial. No matter if it's light spotting or the orangey-brown film of tobacco smoke residue from a long period of exposure to that particular element, you do not want random blotches on the dial, but instead an even spread. If the dial damage in question is pronounced at 3 o’clock on the dial there’s a good chance that the cause of the damage is a leakage around the crown, letting in moisture to the case.

    Two cases of heavy dial patina, probably from tobacco smoke exposure*. Note that the bottom one is next to a very similarly dialled Seamaster that's also patinated, in this case more light and mostly in the middle of the dial:


    (yes, they both were the same light colour to begin with!)

    As "patina" could just as well be called "damage", this raises another issue - how about the movement? If you find a heavily patinated watch to your liking, you must inspect the movement. Chances are that whatever caused the damage on the dial side has affected the movement too. Funnily enough, the word “patina” is rarely used on damage below deck...

    In the case of black dials, there are several ways for these to age. Have a look in the "Vintage Black Dials Only!" thread, where I have found some of the following examples:

    Black fading to grey:


    LinkPurchases made through these links may earn this site a commission from the eBay Partner Network

    In both cases the black colour is slowly losing its lustre and turning slightly grey. The text changes too and will, typically end up like the "Seamaster" text on the upper model and be hard to read.

    Just like this:


    A pretty common variety of patina on a black dial is the "gold speck" dial, or the "starry night", where a number of golden stars dot the dial:


    This is due to the way the dial is produced: a layer of black paint is added to the brass dial, letting the brass appear where there is text. Eventually, the paint starts to flake and the brass peeks through. Simple.

    Probably the most widely liked type of patination of a dial are of the "chocolate" or "tropical" variety. It is my understanding that to begin with, the "tropic" moniker would only be used on a black dial turned lighter brown, but now I seem to see it all over the place. Oh well. As mentioned, patina is a subjective thing and you'll have to make up your own mind whether or not you like it, and if you like it enough to pay a premium over a ordinary specimen. Most brown dials are due to paint defects and the effect of UV and/or moisture ingress.



    Quite a few blue dials - often those with a metallic finish - have also been known to change appearances. Here's a member's Omega Seamaster 176.007, which was a striking electric blue when it was new:


    The reason why I've focussed so much on black dials is that when these 50's and 60's watches were new, black dials weren't in vogue for a number of reasons. Black dial Constellations, apparently, were even a special order item. This means that there are many fewer of them - and due to the popularity of today, redialers will often paint their creations black! So if you are assessing a piece online and the black dial looks too good to be true (most have deterioated to some extent), then it most likely is. Tread very carefully.

    *EDIT: I have now, some time after writing this post, come to the conclusion that correlating this particular type of dial aging with tobacco smoke ingress is probably false. It seems to be more likely to be a manufacturing defect in the lacquer, seeing that it often occurs in the same references and isn't spread evenly across several different refs.
    Edited Sep 16, 2018
  3. adi4 Feb 3, 2017

    Excellent and detailed write-ups. Thanks for taking the time to do this! I agree, this should be stickied once complete.
    bikerfox, Duracuir1, rott3 and 3 others like this.
  4. ncstate1201 Feb 3, 2017

    Great posts, I couldn't agree more on checking the movement when dial is aged. I would be curious to know if dial paint could be stabilized in anyway without affecting the appearance, my guess is no, but if you owned the starry night example it may be something to investigate if it was a possibility. The only thing I have seen something close to this done on was a IWC Mark XI (it has an iron dial which can cause issues), but it is not common practice and did effect the finish on the ones I have seen.
    Untame, Duracuir1, redroze and 3 others like this.
  5. watchyouwant ΩF Clairvoyant Feb 3, 2017

    ...........that 100 Meter Sub was my Rolex Submariner. just for future use of this pics. kind regards. achim
    Whatchdog, Omyga99, Dug and 6 others like this.
  6. arcadelt Feb 3, 2017

    Well, I've baited my hook and I'm ready to cast; however, I don't really get patina at all, other than as a marketing tool to try and get extra more money for something that should attract less. You say:

    Why isn't it that the damage (patina) reduces the value of the watch and if someone finds the damage attractive in some way that raises the price back up to the value of the ordinary specimen? Seems to me this delusion that the damage somehow makes the item rare results in other unscrupulous sellers damaging perfectly decent watches that might have been desirable to the "ordinary" amongst us, just in order to sate some artificially marketed demand. Then again, I remember something involving ridiculous prices for tulips...
    Edited Feb 4, 2017
  7. ConElPueblo Feb 4, 2017

    Very true and I believe this to be happening quite commonly with Rolex where the prices are even more inflated. Remember that one of the great drivers for people to seek out patinated examples is a wish to own something special, something to differentiate them from the other collectors. The tendency to name certain types of dial defects and actively seeking them out and inflating the price in the progress started at Rolex collectors, which is understandable, as there is so little variety between the models to begin with! It stands to reason that even minute differences make a large impact in value...

    This is confirmed when looking towards Omega, where the biggest market for this is with the Speedmaster enthusiasts. "Ghosted" bezels, brown dials, grey dials...

    I'm pretty sure that for speckled dials it would be a simple matter of applying a layer of lacquer to the dial. Not going to give it a go, though!
    Both of the orangey-brown specimens in the post are my own and for the Seamaster at least, the layer is clearly a thin film. It has an oily sheen to it. I could well imagine that a clumsy finger could smear it out or that a tiny bit of soap and water would remove it completely.

    To tell the truth, I have no idea about this, but it seems to be the consensus that this is the case. I guess I could open up the Seamaster and have a whiff just to confirm :D
    Edited Feb 4, 2017
  8. ConElPueblo Feb 4, 2017

    Thanks for all the kind words, it's really too much.

    None of the stuff I've jotted down is really complicated or something that are closely guarded secrets, it's just so basic stuff that we tend to forget the importance of it and how we've also struggled with these basic concepts when starting out on the hobby. When you get just a little knowledgable or experienced, sorting the wheat from the chaff is nearly an automatic proces - you don't spend time studying the dial to see if it's a redial or if the case has been over polished; it's just clear to you that it is and you move along... Explaining WHY and HOW doesn't really come into it.
    LancMan, DJ1868, Bencherman and 36 others like this.
  9. rexquando65 Feb 5, 2017

  10. Egatdagi Feb 9, 2017

    Quick question. Several people also point to tritium dials and "T Swiss Made T" or "Swiss Made T" markings as a sign of authenticity but I have seen several examples of dials that sure look original and have lume but no "T"s.
    The first Constellation in this thread is a good example so does someone want to expand on when to look for the "T" markings?

    EDIT: I think I figured out part of my question. No "T" can mean a radium dial.
    Edited Feb 9, 2017
    oldtimer likes this.
  11. BlackTalon This Space for Rent Feb 10, 2017

    Also I think 'T's were not used until sometime near the end of 1963, so there are watches from before that with tritium but no Ts.
    ConElPueblo likes this.
  12. WYO_Watch Feb 10, 2017

    @ConElPueblo thank you for that. I appreciate you going out of your way to help us newbies. Trial and error can be tough on your pocketbook and excitement.
  13. Shibata Feb 10, 2017

    Great Post. Thank You!!
  14. bonefish1 Feb 11, 2017

    Very helpful information. Thanks for sharing your incredible knowledge.
  15. ConElPueblo Feb 13, 2017

    On the subject of luminous markers and hands it is worth spending at least a little time getting familiar with the watch you’re after before making a final verdict on whether or not a specimen is completely original. You’ll want a watch that looks good. Period. Having a vintage watch with wrongly redone or badly degraded lume will seriously detract from the overall appearance of a watch and should have a massive effect on price.

    Very, very lovely, even patina on the radium markers and hands on this forties JLC.

    Types of luminous compound:

    There have been a number of different types of luminous materials used on watches during the last hundred or so years. The earliest type has an amount of added radium as a catalyst for the luminous material in the mix (it is not the radium itself that is luminous, it is the phosphor) and these will invariably be “dead” and not able to produce any sort of glow anymore. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be radioactive anymore; radium has a half-life of 1600 years – but the phosphor has degraded to the point that it isn’t able to glow. Radium was used as a catalyst in this way until the early 60s and will usually degrade into a very dark colour or go brown, as opposed to the watches that contain tritium – the replacement for radium – which tend to turn a yellow-beige colour instead. If you expose a dial with radium plots, be extremely cautious as you do not want this stuff in your body.

    Mid-forties LeCoultre with radium in both hands and on arabic markers. Note how they have aged differently compared to the lovely Jaeger-LeCoultre in the beginning of the post!

    Tritium, as mentioned, turn a more yellow colour and was used from the early sixties until the turn of the century, where it was replaced by other materials by most brands. At Omega the replacement was Super-Luminova, which doesn’t patinate in the same manner as the two other substances (at least, not yet…). Note that tritium has a half-life of 12.5 years, so watches with tritium will have little glow by now while Super-Luminova isn’t radioactive.

    Lovely patina on tritium markers and hands (FS here).

    The two major parameters are aesthetics and originality:

    As that lovely patinated colour we are looking for in a watch comes with a slow degradation of the luminous compound, what you’ll want is a watch that hasn’t had any moisture ingress, as that can give the lume a blotchy appearance, darken it unattractively or destroy the compound and remove it from the dial. Radium, as mentioned, is highly radioactive and a watch with radium in it’s luminous hands that has stood still for a long period can suffer from “radium burn” where there are clear shadows on the dial at the position where the hands have stood immobile in years. Other dials can suffer from a complete radium burn, which is often characterised by being most obvious where the markers are. Neither of these are necessarily a bad thing – they can be a proof of originality and also look quite attractive as well as being a great conversation starter ;)

    Radium burn on Rolex dial... link.

    On tritium dials there shouldn’t be any burn, but another characteristic should be present – the added “T” next to the SWISS MADE. Now, I’ll come forward and admit that I have little clue as to why there are dials with two Ts and others with only a single one, but the heart of the matter is that it should be present on watches from around 1960 and forward to the change to Super-Luminova. Note, however, that in a short period in the 70’s (and perhaps as early as late 60’s), a number of Omega references with luminous dial plots and hands do not feature the “T”! I do not know the exact reason, but it could be due to experimentation with other materials, I guess. A large number of redials have the “T” moniker after SWISS MADE even when not having lume anywhere, making it a pretty good tell when spotting redials.

    Correct Omega Constellation ref. 168.0056. Notice how the hands have aged differently from the hour markers and how the "T" is missing - this is normal for this 70's reference.

    Some redialers or relumers will make an effort and mix up a compound looking just like aged lume and the results can be spectacular. In general there are some tells for this, ranging from sloppy application to too neat (!) application and either too small lume plot or too large… Also, having 100% identically aged lume on all hands and dial plots will look great on any old watch, but it could just as well be due to a thorough relume. There are no guarantee that a watch will have hands and lume markers that have aged the same way – there are simply too many variables.

    A good thing to be aware of is that all Omegas that features luminous hands should also have luminous plots on the dial! So when accessing a watch, make sure that the hands fit the dial in this manner (there are other points regarding the hands, I’ll cover some of these later). This one below used to belong to me and feature incorrect hands (of the correct type, however) as they contain luminous compound without having luminous markers – observe how the lume in the hour hand have degraded from a yellow colour at the end to a near black tone towards the base of the hand; there has probably been some sort of moisture ingress.

    The correct shape of hands for this reference, but without luminous material on the dial there shouldn't be any in the hands, either.

    The above should tell you that a vintage watch with white (or light green, even!) lume have been relumed at some point. Many watches have been relumed at some point, after all they are tools first and foremost and having this done as a part of a service makes good sense. Still, as collectors we’d like it better if it hasn’t ;)

    Relumed hour hand - compare with the radium lume dots at 3 and 6, which have turned brown.

    Some watches (most notably issued ones) will have been relumed as a standard part of any service and in this case a relume isn’t the
    same detractor as with a civilian watch, even though the application is rather lumpy and crude.

    Notice how thickly the lume has been applied. This particular specimen has aged very nicely.

    I hope this cleared up some points, even though I realise that it may have muddied the waters in some regards. You’ll have to remember that there are no rules without exceptions when dealing with vintage watches. Do some research on the type of watch you are looking at before and figure out which rules applies to the watch in question. Then make a qualified decision.
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  16. jfwoodman Feb 13, 2017

    Kind of you to share your thoughtful advice. The vintage market is fun but certainly presents challenges - and much of your advice help to minimize mistakes in key areas.
    Zdzislaw likes this.
  17. Vinomega Feb 26, 2017

    ConEPueblo...thanks for this great post!... Makes for an interesting read!
    ALBLOHE likes this.
  18. slique12 Feb 26, 2017

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up - super useful for beginners, and a good reminder for even seasoned collectors.
    blubarb and ALBLOHE like this.
  19. patk35 Feb 26, 2017

    I really appreciate you taking the time to get all this information together.
    ALBLOHE likes this.
  20. E39Talon Feb 27, 2017

    really informative!
    nimzotech, ALBLOHE and craigbythesea like this.