Vintage Longines Mens watches
Buying vintage watches in not for the faint of heart. My friend Paul Boutros often says that no matter who you're dealing with, you (as the buyer) are "at war" with the seller. It's a battle of who knows more about the particular desirability of the watch, who can suss out the over all condition relative to others, and who can play the game better. Even when you're buying a watch from a known and trusted entity, it's all a struggle. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. In this personal post, I will tell you about the very last watch I purchased, and how it might be the perfect example of how even when you win, you never win as much as you think.
I had been looking for an old Longines chronograph for years. Probably four years. I remember the first time I ever came across a great, stainless steel 13ZN at an Antiquorum preview and I fell in love. Since then, I've come close to buying several gold 13ZN's on many occasions. But, I have a few inexpensive gold vintage chronographs from the likes of Universal Geneve and Zenith, so I really wanted to hold out for steel. Obviously, steel is much more wearable for me as a guy who wears a suit exactly one week per year (SIHH in January).
So, in my nightly browsing for vintage watches, I stumbled across what a dealer described as a 1950s Longines 13ZN. I looked closer, and to me, it didn't look like it was from the 50's at all. I would've guessed the early 40s. And then, I looked further still, I saw that there was a singular pusher on this case at 2 o'clock, and nothing at 4 o'clock. This was a mono-pusher 13ZN. I sent an email to the dealer, who was a large European seller of both old and new watches, though one I've never dealt with either personally or professionally. I didn't hear anything back for one week. I sent a note via the contact form on his website, still nothing. I was about to give up.
I sent one last email to this dealer from my personal email account and the next morning, I heard back from someone at the shop. They answered my questions about movement and case numbers, condition, etc to my satisfaction. I then took the information they had provided me and did quite a bit of research. I first looked at John Goldberger's book on classic Longines watches (you can see a pictorial display of it here) and saw that 13ZN mono-pushers did not account for many of arguably the largest collection of rare Longines in the world. That confirmed my suspicion that this watch was rare, and very likely, early. Then, I reached out to Longines to ask what information they might have on the watch. Longines has one of the most active heritage departments around, and if you send them a note with your movement and case numbers, they usually get back to you within 24 hours. It's an amazing service available to all.
The next morning, I had confirmation from Longines that this watch was invoiced on November 23, 1939 to their Argentine agent Perusset. So, while the dealer was confident it was from the 50s and a normal 13ZN chronograph, I now knew it was a mono-pusher chronograph and much, much earlier than advertised. This, of course, makes it more valuable.
Having all this information in hand, I agreed to purchase the watch - site unseen - a common practice if you're going to be an aggressive vintage watch buyer. I wired the money, and waited for it to clear. Then, just as the watch was about to ship, I was told they were not happy with how the watch was performing and would like to service it before sending it to me. Sounds innocent enough, certainly, but a service by a dealer who mislabeled a watch by 20 years could mean trouble. I was buying this watch in the condition I had seen, so I would have been gutted if in the service the dial had been touched up, or the case polished - both things that happen way too often.
Finally, three weeks later, I received my watch in New York. It had been six weeks since I sent my first email to them (which went unreplied) and a month since I had first made contact with them. I was so excited opening up the box, and I had already planned to put it on one of our awesome 18mm unlined Horween straps . I pulled the 1930s Longines out of its box and noticed it had a nylon NATO strap on it. Strange, i thought, because even the most tasteless dealers try to put a watch on a strap that would make sense, so I expected to see it on some sort of calf or alligator. I pulled the inexpensive NATO off the watch and saw the full story. The spring bars of this watch had been soldered into place. Why? I have no idea. But it does happen from time to time. And the dealer didn't tell me.
I had one of two choices here - send a strongly worded email to the seller lambasting them for not disclosing this fact or take my watch and move on. I chose the latter. Because, I do believe I got one hell of a deal on this watch. It was labeled and priced as a 1950s two-button Longines, when in fact, it is is a highly rare 1930s one-button. The dealer may have won the battle, selling me this watch without disclosing the spring bars had been soldered, but I think I won the war. And frankly, I love this watch, and think it works rather well on a thin leather NATO.