Contemporary Watches vs Vintage Buying Guide A

Submitted by JEV1A on November 30, 2021 - 8:42am

What you see isn’t what you get

by John V. -Time & Again 

There are only a few watchmakers all high end actually making an all Swiss Watch.  In accordance to tariff laws and such Swiss Watchmakers can use a single Swiss part in a watch movement and call it Swiss!  Most of the Swiss quartz movements are actually Miyota or similar Japan Movements. Automatic watches use the famous ETA from Japan and China. Then the swiss simply stamp on the back or inside the movement Swiss Made. It’s a con job made in hell.  The high end watch makers like Rolex fight and fight to get these laws changed but nothing happens.

Presently there really is not any true American Watchmaker although claims to the contrary run rampant. Such as the stainless steel cases are coming from China because its 100% cheaper to have cases made in china than build your own steel foundry. And what about plating is that really gold?

So my case to buy vintage is simple:

Imagine gold found in the Hills of the high Sierra raw being shipped to Bulova 5th Ave.  There, cleaning up the gold for different shades such as Red or Yellow Gold solid or filled and additionally adds silver nitrates to make a White Gold Case. Then molds and manufactures their own bezels Often case backs are purchased from over a dozen manufacturers. 

Today none of this is happening except high end watchmakers. Yellow dyed gold plating is used and cooked in high degree ovens and electroplated to the stainless steel for mass produced cases. That’s why over a few years the plating wears off. Most of what you see is cheap gold toned cases. 

Movements all changed when the quartz watch was introduced. Ultra cheap Japan and China movements powered by cheap batteries. Most of what you see today in the $300.00 - $800.00 range use these movements. Again the words Swiss Made may be stamped on a Japan Movement.

See through backs today make it seem that you are buying a more expensive watch than it sells for. Technically its completely useless and the cheap crystal may crack and expose the movement. It may look cool but only used as a marketing tool. 

Dials are simply stamped today and baked by computer automated generation.

Vintage dials were hand painted with enamels filled with gold and radium hands etc. 

Nobody cares today except collectors. They see those big putrid giant dials at 55mm and they buy the watches off the shelves. A watch should be fitted correctly to your wrist size.  

I would suggest Limited Editions or Designer licensing such as Raymond Weil’s Beatles watches or the new Bulova Frank Sinatra Editions.  At least you know in 20 years it may be worth something if its still running.

In the day your Grandfather buys a quality Bulova from the Jeweler. He signs a warranty to have watch serviced every year.

When I open up the cases I can see  the markings of service some as old as 100 years ago.

Today nobody except high end watch collectors have regular service offerings. Many Quartz watches end up...when the battery dies… the watch dies.

Interesting that a good quality watch is still today something a consumer should not attempt to service themselves.  Most huge watchmakers today don’t service watches returned, they simply change them out.

Back in the day the common man only had a single watch. Today you buy a watch to fit your lifestyle. For a daily wearer buy an affordable one. For a dress watch spend the money for quality.

Horological speaking watches today have taken many steps backwards to mass produce as cheap as possible.

Just remember, the guy at Zales that sells you the new $500.00 Bulova has no clue to any of this.

John V. 


Time and Again

josé serra
Posted December 5, 2021 - 4:31am

Estou completamente de acordo com este senhor. 

José Serra

Posted December 9, 2021 - 1:24am

In reply to by josé serra

We all have great points.. lets hear Buying Vintage vs New more please? 

Reverend Rob
Posted December 8, 2021 - 12:37pm

With respect, Roland Murphy is the only American watchmaker making his own movements and cases, and qualifies as US made. The last time I talked to him, the wait time was over two years.

Swiss Quartz movements actually are Swiss, Swiss parts and made in Switzerland, but many models have a cheaper counterpart, which consist of Swiss parts, and assembled in places like Indonesia. Rolex makes almost 100% of their parts in house, notable exceptions are the sapphire crystals and the hairsprings. They even have their own in house gold foundry. This was not always the case, in 4th past Rolex has utilized many movement makers for their watches, including Zenith, Valjoux, Cortebert, Gruen and Aegler. The famous Panerai watches utilized a Rolex 618, which is derived from a Cortebert pocket watch movement. 

ETA is not from Japan or China. They are an all Swiss movement. There are clones of the ETA movements, but these are not true ETA movements. Where the watches often deviate from the 'All Swiss' idea is in the cases, and this has been going on since the Kong Kong cases of the late 50s, used by Omega and many others. 

Patek Philippe and a few others (Roland Murphy in the US) are the only ones still hand making dials, with the engraving done by hand. Roger Smith would be another example. 

It is also illegal to claim gold plating when it is not. Anything marked with a gold percentage, like 14K, followed by the words 'electroplate' must be actual gold electroplate. (Also abbreviated E.P., and Plaque D'Or in French) Rolled gold is similarly marked, as the plate quality in K, and the words gold fill or rolled gold. Both are very similar, in that they are a heavy layer of gold with base metal sandwiched in the middle. 

Bulova was once the largest watch company in the world, and made their own movements in house on certain models. The rest were made at their own factories in Switzerland, and imported to the US, sometimes being modified (usually the balance) upon arrival. They also used a myriad of other Swiss makers, as did many watch manufacturers throughout the 20th century. Bulova did make quite a few of their own cases as well. European models for sale outside the US, often utilized local case makers. (Germany and Switzerland) 



Posted December 9, 2021 - 12:56am

In reply to by Reverend Rob

Great comments... thanks so much!  The Elgin National Watch Company at a point in their heyday employed more than any other watch company of the day. I don't speak of "High End" watches as pointed in the story. Nice to hear there is a single true American watchmaker left. So sad... When I open up countless cases I see Japan and China Quartz movements inside Swiss Watches. And the dials marked Swiss Made. Several years ago the swiss export laws changed that allows a single swiss part installed in a swiss watch allows the company to print and advertise Swiss Made. So I kindly ask, what is really inside that brand new Bulova Limited Edition Quartz Watch? 

Gold is gold is gold and its easy to measure the content. I was in a high end pawn shop lately and found a nice old Gold Nugget but it turned out to be several melted down Vintage Watch cases. So buyer beware. 

I only intended my guide to help consumers. Most of us can't afford a new Rolex or Patek Philippe and quite frankly I'm happy with my Bulova Vintage Watch collection more.  At least I know I can service them myself. 

More to come.. love to hear from other's on buying Vintage vs New? 


Posted December 8, 2021 - 11:22pm

I think times have obviously changed and watches of today have so much more competition than any other time in history. I see the industry falling into three categories; low, medium and high, or put differently: cheap, affordable and high-end. Most watch companies I suspect try to operate in the affordable category. Regardless of where components come from, for me it is how a company utilises those components, after all most watch use the same. There is so much more to a watch than it components as well, and again this is where companies can standout amongst its competitors. Bulova do this very well, IMO.

In this day and age, I also suspect that only a small percentage of watch owners really care where every single component comes from. Rather they look at the brand and its 'status' compared to the competition. When I say 'status' I don't neccessarily mean low v high, but rather history, ethics, production standards etc.

In the end I feel most of us want a vintage watch not for its components, but for its history and story...and sometime its looks, it's rarely not just to tell the time,

Regardless of where the parts were made, where the watch was assembled, it is up to the individual to decide if the watch 'as a whole' satisfies their need and desire to purchase it. If a watch was entirely made in the USA, I highly suspect the retail price would be much higher.

Bulova have always, since their very beginnings, placed themselves at the top of the affordable category, a place they have owned and mastered for 100 years.

Posted December 9, 2021 - 1:17am

In reply to by mybulova_admin

I think times have obviously changed and watches of today have so much more competition than any other time in history. 

During the watch heyday in America 20s-30s-40s-50s-60s there were hundreds of watchmakers, casemakers, parts makers, american and swiss movements.. etc. so many brands it was hard to tell one from another. We see the mass vintage advertising, Bulova billboards, watches in space and on the moon, it was really crazy then. The Bulova Accutron Model has to be one of the most advertised watches ever made. 

Today I only see a handful of watchmakers advertising. At least here in the States TV Holiday ads for Movado, Rolex and that MVT thing are popping up everywhere. The rage in America is the Apple Watch, to think generations will only know interactive computer watches is really scary. 

Agreed that its your own business what you buy.. I suppose getting used to my 17-18inch Tire Rims took awhile these 52mm cases in my opinion look stupid and I will probably never get used to them. I mean does the Zales guy really say; "Now look at that giant case.. that's more value for your money?  

I'm not sure anymore just who is buying Vintage Watches, the e-bay Vintage watch craze has slowed to a crawl but no signs of prices going down. I'm lucky enough today as a watch collection of mainly old Bulova's that I can draw upon daily as a fashion accessory, something we seem to all have forgotten about today. 




josé serra
Posted December 9, 2021 - 7:06am

In reply to by JEV1A

Grato por todos os esclarecimentos. Por tudo o que foi dito, continuarei a usar e a apreciar os meus Bulova vintage.


Reverend Rob
Posted December 9, 2021 - 11:12am

In reply to by JEV1A

I wholeheartedly agree John, those big cases ARE stupid. I predict they will fall by the wayside and look pretty ridiculous in a few years time. 

Posted December 9, 2021 - 5:55pm

In reply to by Reverend Rob

Fashion trends change in a heartbeat, I get it but I have always gone by measuring your wrist sizing and finding a watch that matches the size and curvature of your wrist. The giant dials other than high end watchmakers won't go away soon. As long as watches are being sold on aesthetics and not functionality, workmanship, craftmanship and quality hence giant dials. We do have to remember some of the first wrist watches were pocket watches with added on lugs to add a leather strap. That probably looked in the day even weirder. 


Reverend Rob
Posted December 9, 2021 - 10:54am

Just for the sake of completeness, and accuracy, the following is the bottom line as far as the 'Swiss' Industry goes. As Stephen has mentioned, a lot of customers don't care where the watch is made, as long as it carries the brand name. People ask me this in the store all the time, and there is a hierarchy of sorts regarding the origins and the perceived value, I won't get into it here. This is a good reference, for anyone who wants the details. The Swiss standard is notoriously lax, amounting to something like 51% in some cases, but here it is:

Swiss Made defined by law

Swiss watch
A watch is considered Swiss, according to the Swiss law if:

its movement is Swiss and,
its movement is cased up in Switzerland and;
the manufacturer carries out the final inspection in Switzerland
Swiss watch movement

A watch movement is considered Swiss if:

the movement has been assembled in Switzerland and,
the movement has been inspected by the manufacturer in Switzerland and;
the components of Swiss manufacture account for at least 50 percent of the total value, without taking into account the cost of assembly. From 1 January 2017, the law set the minimum at 60 percent.[6]
If a watch movement is intended for export and will not be cased-up in Switzerland, but it otherwise meets the criteria to be considered a Swiss movement, the watch may say "Swiss Movement" but it may not say Swiss made on the watch case or dial. A watch that says "Swiss Quartz" is considered to be a proper Swiss watch. However, it is often improperly used by foreign manufacturers to merely indicate that the quartz movement is of Swiss origin.[7]

60% rule for Swiss-made watches:
Use of the Swiss made label for watches is covered by an ordinance of the Federal Council dated 29 December 1971. The Swiss standard is often pejoratively referred to as the 60% Rule. However, it has its basis in real life economics. Again, the law merely sets forth a minimum standard. The famous or infamous Swiss Made Ordinance has, for a number of years, been subject to many criticisms, particularly inside the industry, because it is considered too lax, but also in legal circles, where the view is that it no longer fully meets the legal mandate specified in the companion law on trademarks (SR 232.11).

It is not generally known that quite a few Swiss companies have watches assembled in China for export to North America, Asia and even Europe, where the brand name is more important than the “Swiss made” label. Such watches may consist of a Chinese case and a Chinese crystal, a Taiwan-made dial and metal bracelet and Japanese hands. If the movement is to be considered Swiss, 51% of its value must be Swiss and at least the last wheel must be added in Switzerland. Swiss watch brands without the “Swiss made” label are usually equipped with a Japanese movement. The “Swiss parts” label means that the movement is assembled in Asia using kits consisting at least partially of Swiss made components.[8][9]


Posted December 9, 2021 - 6:07pm

In reply to by Reverend Rob

OMG what a swiss nightmare.. bottom line you really don't know what you are buying even though it says SWISS MADE. But do we really care anymore?  How many quartz watches do you have sitting in a drawer needing batteries.  If I was a swiss watchmaker and I got a better deal from China to produce my desgn saving 50% of my revenue what would you do? Its a no brainer... a small boutique Guitar Company near me has their own designed guitars made in China. I asked why not produce in the USA and they laughed at me. China has stolen the cheap watch market as well as many of the goods once made in the States. That 60% rule is totally exploited. If I put a big bubble crystal on the watch that is swiss made, does that constitute 60%? I have opened up cases and found swiss made tags over made in china. Again I'm not talking High End Watches here. 

Great info.. thank you! 


Reverend Rob
Posted December 9, 2021 - 11:08am

But further to John's point- Vintage vs New? I always say you get more bang for your buck with vintage, but that is slowly changing as the prices for vintage watches steadily rises. Personally, I like vintage watches, there are few new ones that I would consider spending a lot of money on. My most expensive watch is a Christopher Ward 5 Day Automatic Chronometer, and I got it basically because the movement was designed and made for them by Johannes Jahnke, of Synergie Horlogéres. They are calling it an in-house movement, especially now as SH has merged with Christopher Ward. As a watchmaker, I like this movement because it is a double barrelled chronometer and is an interesting design.

I'm not a complete mechanical snob, I like some Quartz watches, but given their much lower life expectancy, there is a lower limit to what I'll spend on a quartz. I do understand that to re-make the Parking Meter, for example, it would have resulted in a very expensive watch as a mechanical re-issue. We are hearing it will be a quartz, and I'm ok with that actually. Ditto with the other Bulova re-issues like the surfboards. It keeps the purchase price down to a manageable level, and you still get the iconic styling.

I guess you could say vintage watches are all about the history, which I always find fascinating. I explain to my customers who may be new to vintage or mechanical watches in general, there is more fuss involved; if you stop wearing the automatic it will stop after a day or two, or the manual must be wound everyday. Not that winding a watch is such a chore, we all used to do it 50 years ago. As I say on my website, winding your watch, or setting it or adjusting the time brings you in mindful conscious contact with your timepiece, and kind of brings you into being in the moment... well that's my take on it anyway. 


Posted December 9, 2021 - 6:25pm

Vintage Watches have become mostly a novelty rather than a true collectable. If you own a 63' Corvette and you decide to so-called restomod it into a modern version batmobile then why not apply the same standard with a Vintage Bulova?. I'll answer my own question... because of nostalgia and history and the fact we realize great craftmanship even with mass produced Bulova's of the day. Once I considered sticking a Acuquartz movement into a 218 Accutron case and then I thought about how I felt about it... watches are too sentimental to destroy. I tell customers even if I can't find parts or can't get a watch to run to keep it and pass it on.

I own a perfectly preserved red gold Elgin that was given to a young man days before Pearl Harbor on his birthday. The boy joined the Marines and never came home to enjoy his watch. His father's brother sold me the watch and told me the story. When I wear it I think of a young man in combat in the Philippines that died far too young helping to save America. Can a vintage watch define who we are? I say most certainly so. 

So what watch defines you? (general question for the group)


Geoff Baker
Posted December 10, 2021 - 5:05pm

John -being a watchmaker you clearly have a one sided view of the watch world. I disagree with most of the points you make supporting your belief that vintage is better than new, it simply is not. Quality is determined by buyers based on price and value which is exactly why auto makers produce cars in many price ranges as do most manufacturers. The argument that vintage is somehow better falls flat in almost every product we buy and use daily, including watches.

In the heyday of the 1920-1960 watch industry, mechanical watches were expensive beyond the means of most working men. A $75 Bulova watch in 1950 was equal to or greater than a weeks wages for a professional man. In terms of minimum wage in the US it represented 100 hours of work or two and half weeks of pay. During the 1930's,1940's and 50's most watches were considered high end gifts and prized or precious gifts. The fact that so many of those watches survive today is testimony to the manufacturing standards of companies like Bulova, which, quite frankly made expensive watches. 

In the 1960's Bulova and others realized that they could tap into the lower end watch market due their ability to manufacture lower cost movements and cases. It really wasn't until that time that watches became widely worn by working class people. That trend continued to raise the need for even cheaper quartz movements and cases until we found ourselves in a throw away watch world. I submit that these inexpensive digital watches are exactly what millions of people need today so the market continues to be strong AND is adding value to the buyers. For a working man who needs to tell time but risks damage to the timepiece a cheap digital watch is just what he needs. In my field of business those watches are exactly what working men needed and used. 

As a professional I generally wore a moderately priced mechanical movement watches. Some of them were Tag Heuer and some were from 'boutique' brands like Frederique Constant (a current Citizen brand like Bulova) but recently I've been buying and wearing Bulova mechanical watches made in the last couple years. While I've collected VINTAGE Bulova watches for decades and have them regularly serviced by a professional watchmaker I wear new watches almost exclusively now. The watch I'm wearing today is the Bulova 96B350 which is a tribute to the Oceanographer V. It is as well made as any Bulova produced in the last 50 years and at full retail price of $750 is an amazing value. In 1950 dollars a $75 watch would cost about $875 today so my watch is a bit better value than the high end watches of 1950. It can be as easily serviced as any watch made in 1950 and the quality is every bit as good, regardless of where the components are manufactured or assembled.

Vintage watches will always be sought out by collectors and those among us that value nostalgia and/or a retro look. To those buyers and collectors I will always recommend regular professional service if the timepiece is to be used. Watch buyers today that seek a retro look but demand new products are being serviced very well by companies like Bulova. To the generation of watch wearers who prefer regular wrist watches, our friends at Bulova have a line up that is modern, retro and caters to vintage collectors.

I HIGHLY recommend brand new BULOVA watches to anyone and everyone who is not interested in the vintage collector field for their outstanding value and quality. They also support the work we do here and deserved to be recognized for their commitment to BOTH vintage and new watch buyers.

Posted December 10, 2021 - 9:22pm

Hi, great comments! Yes, I love my vintage over any new watch for sure. I service all watches so I see contemporary brands as well. Seldom do I see Bulova new watches. The point here is your opinions on buying new from old. You most certainly have expressed yourself clearly on that point.  A friend's new girlfriend's son asked for a watch for Christmas. He is 16 and not the biggest kid on the block. So my friend purchased the limited edition Bulova Frank Sinatra "My Way" tank watch. It came the other day and my friend wanted to try it on before wrapping it up for the boy. My god the dial is huge... biggest tank bezel in history of Bulova. He is scared it will look silly on his small wrist but I assured him these giant dials are the rage.

So just for modern style fact sakes tell me you love these giant dials? Now as far as pricing these quartz so-called swiss watches are grossly overpriced. Remember I'm the guy that has to open these watches up and service them. It's unbelievable how cheaply they are made compared to watch works of yesteryear. I find it crazy you say new watches are better, in any way or form? 

I actually never said that I love Vintage over new watches... it's not my place to do so. If somebody special stuck a new Rolex in my XMAS stocking I most certainly would not complain. But being that will never happen I prefer my own vintage private collection to draw upon. I wind them or shake them and lightly clean them and I'm good to go and everyone asks, is that an old time watch? I answer yes, its from 1927 .. and I see their eyes light up. There I conclude my point, agree or disagree.. its all good!  JEV

Geoff Baker
Posted December 13, 2021 - 9:57pm

John - HERE is a link to the Bulova website for the Frank Sinatra "My Way" watch. Check the specs, the case is 29.5 mm wide and about 36mm high. That is neither a giant dial or the largest tanq watch in Bulova history. I think it's a very nicely executed model that harkens back to the watches Bulova advertised when they were the sole sponsor of Mr. Sinatra's television show in the early 1950's.

For the record I do not favor watches with extremely large cases and dials but the watch market clearly does. If I was was in the business of making watches I would make them at the price point and style that the market favors. Accutron and Bulova are doing that today and are every bit as successful as they were at any time in their storied history. The quality of their current product line is, I believe superior to that of 70 years ago.  The price they ask for that Sinatra watch is relative to a $40 watch in 1950 which would have been the bottom of the Bulova line. Lumping $20 throw away watches into the same category as the quality quartz and mechanical watches Bulova is selling is utter nonsense.

I think there are five categories of new watches available today. 1. Cheap throw away quartz watches. (<$75) 2. Moderately priced 'fashion' watches, watches that make a statement about the wearers style or affiliation.($100-250) 3. High quality mechanical and quartz watches (I would place Bulova  AND Accutron in this category) ($500-4,000) 4. Luxury watches ($5,000-20,000) 5. Watches you can't afford. Each of these categories is thriving right now and I commend all the manufacturers meeting their respective customers demand for those categories.

and yes, I think four of these categories of new watch is better than most of the watches of yesteryear if for no other reason that that the precision and quality of the manufacturing process is far superior, regardless of where the product in made.