The recent (and very good read) Vintage Watch Market Update For The Holidays 2016 by Michael Stockton over at Fratello Watches got Nat and I to discussing what this means for us and for our future vintage pursuits. In the midst of exchanging emails, Nat poignantly wrote the following, which I suggested be turned into an opinion piece regarding an interesting parallel between the vintage watch and vintage guitar markets.
of (vintage) watches and guitars
As I keep my eyes on the vintage watch market, I can't help but notice similarities to the vintage guitar market. This is probably because I was once an avid collector of guitars, having recently decided to primarily throw my money at watches instead. Anyone keeping up with the news from the big auction houses, or even the big eBay sales, knows that the so-called grails and other highly desirable vintage watches are on the rise. But there's a lot of old watches out there. What to think of the lesser known references, or even brands? This is where I believe the vintage guitar and amplifier market can provide some insights. I'll warn you, there is some music gear geekery ahead. But if you are scratching your head or glossing over at the mention of vintage circuits and potentiometer ratings, just remember that feeling the next time you are talking to a loved one about the patina or lug thickness of your new acquisition.
When the scarcity and price of the most sought after guitars and amps made them unobtainable to your average player, any vintage piece with some pedigree, real or imagined, started getting hot. Once vintage Gibson and Fender guitars started getting out of reach for most, narratives starting popping up about Ibanez "lawsuit" guitars. The story went that they were so close to the Gibsons of their day that Gibson sued them (and they did).
But what is interesting, is that they were never objectives of desire until the vintage well started to run a bit dry, and the prices started to rapidly climb. And when vintage amplifiers that people were practically giving away in the 80s starting commanding major coin, all of these amps that were "basically the same circuit!" started to catch people's attention. And other vintage amps, that no one gave a shit about a few years prior started getting a lot of attention. What initially attracted people to vintage gear: better craftsmanship, vintage tones, look, style, provenance, connection to the golden age of rock music; wasn't as important. It wasn't about what it meant that a guitar or amp was vintage, it mattered that it was vintage.
If you look at various online retailers or eBay, this is already happening with watches. Some no-name watch that is kind of like a Universal Geneve Compax starts to become more attractive and begins to command money it wouldn't otherwise warrant. Other narratives pop up as well, the case was made by such and such, the dial made by so and so. If you’ve looked at vintage watches and set the filter on “Price: lowest to highest” I’m sure you’ve seen these descriptions. What's especially interesting about this, is that middling brands can have second lives based purely on the fact they are vintage. Collectors who are really in the know won't be swayed by this as much, but when it's the guy who read a GQ article or the person buying a gift for their hip son or daughter, I believe this starts to come more into play. And it's easy for someone to cook up a story about how a no-name brand was the prototype or sister-brand to Rolex or Patek. I have a friend who is currently looking at watches for her fiance, and she sent me a link to something with a redone dial. I told to avert her eyes like it was the ark of the covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark and tossed her laptop across the room. Well, I didn’t, but her confusion over my total aversion to it, even after I explained the traps of relumed, repainted, refinished, and serviced dials, made me realize how susceptible the majority of people are going to be to some well-crafted emotional appeal for a watch that looks cool.
There is another parallel to guitars here, and it is the current status of a brand affecting its vintage pieces. With guitars, the red-hot vintage market was for Fender and Gibson, which are the Rolex and Patek analogs for watches. Although Gibson has made ten thousand more missteps than Patek ever has. Imagine if Patek eventually just became Tag Heuer, that's Gibson.
 I’m also willing to hear arguments that Patek is Rickenbacker and Gibson has been Heuer/TAG Heuer all along in this watch-guitar universe.
Either way, Gibson was a major player then and now. But brands like Guild, who made awesome guitars but were bought by Fender and left to wither and die in acquired brand purgatory, saw their vintage pieces exist in the same relative obscurity in which their current production resided. Whereas Rickenbacker, who maybe really is Patek in all of this, is known for the rarity of their instruments, even at present.
 Fun fact: Rickenbacker ended their partnership with Guitar Center because Guitar Center wasn’t doing enough to keep counterfeit Rickenbackers, especially vintage ones (and there is a huge market for them) out of their stores.
I feel that Tudor is a good example of this. Tudor is definitely experiencing a resurgence with some serious time in the sun, and even if it isn’t directly helping its vintage market, it is in no way hurting it. Whereas brands that are still in existence, but don’t command the respect or adoration of capital “s” Serious Collectors, often find their vintage pieces not doing that much better than a no-name chronograph with a dubious connection a more storied brand.
All of this is to say, I think the most growth potential lies in the stuff that no one is that excited about, because that's the stuff that will actually be attainable to your "average" person with 2-3k to spend on a watch. If it does parallel guitars, the bottom will eventually fall out for most of that stuff while the growth on the known pieces continues steadily, but not wildly. I don't know if people are still going crazy over those lawsuit guitars, but I'm sure anyone would gladly go for a Gibson Les Paul with PAFs through a toggle-switch Marshall Super Lead.
 Think a Heuer with a Valjoux 72 and unpolished case.
That is to say, the value of these secondary and tertiary brands and references will probably not be as stable as their better known brethren. What watches have over guitars is that as a purchase, guitars are about 50 percent emotion and 50 percent function. Watches on the other hand are 99 percent emotion and about one percent function. For your average joe buying a vintage watch, I'd say it’s probably closer to 99.99 emotion and 0.01 function. We can all think of someone, even if it’s on Instagram, who doesn’t even wind their watches.
 I was at a jewelry store holiday party looking at watches. A guy next to me wearing a SkyDweller asked if the watch I was trying on was a flyback. It wasn’t even a chronograph so I looked at him confused. When I took the watch off he pointed to the sapphire caseback and declared “Ha! I told you it was a flyback!”
So I think the growth stability of these "lesser" brands is greater with watches than it was with guitars because the reality of them not being "just like the real thing" won't set in as soon. Buy what you like, buy what you want and are going to wear, but be careful about the appeal of vintage for vintage’s sake.
Addendum: As I was writing this I went down to visit a friend who owns a recording studio. He happened to be recording another friend who was tracking guitars that day. When I walked into the control room, I noticed his guitar and remarked “Lawsuit?” and he said “Yup.” He was more than happy to let me know the great deal he got on it, and it was considerably less than what they were going for a few years back. A quick scan of Gibson Les Pauls from the same year show they have only continued to rise in price. So will watches follow suit? No one can say for sure, but I would be surprised if they didn’t.
Thanks to Nat for contributing what may make for an interesting dynamic as vintage watches gain more and more interest. Be sure to follow Nat on Instagram @ncoghlan for plenty of watches, bikes, selfies, and otherwise random sarcasm.