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On the Trail of Vintage Watches

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By Kaye Estoista-Koo

WATCH CONNOISSEURS (Clockwise from top) Michael Young in action examining a vintage watch presented to him by an attendee of Vintage Grail pop-up; Albert Tolentino shows off the two watches he wore to the Vintage Grail pop-up: 1007 Oyster Perpetual in brown tropical dial circa 1965 and a 1665 Double Red Seadweller Mark III 1972.; Some of the watches on sale during the pop-up in Manila Private House

WATCH CONNOISSEURS (Clockwise from top) Michael Young in action examining a vintage watch presented to him by an attendee of Vintage Grail pop-up; Albert Tolentino shows off the two watches he wore to the Vintage Grail pop-up: 1007 Oyster Perpetual in brown tropical dial circa 1965 and a 1665 Double Red Seadweller Mark III 1972.; Some of the watches on sale during the pop-up in Manila Private House

What’s the value of a theme park souvenir if all you did was buy it without going on the rides? Michael Young of Classic Watch Repair Hong Kong, internationally acclaimed vintage watch connoisseur, posits this analogy. Owning a vintage watch is all about the ride and experience, just as you appreciate the theme park souvenir only if you queued and went on the ride.

Paolo Martel with Vintage Grail co-founders, Jesse Maxwell and Franco Varona, explains what they want to accomplish.“Vintage watch collectors based in the Philippines used to have to travel abroad, wait for auctions, meet with dealers. Our goal is to bring these rare and precious watches to them. With pop-up retail, we curate and change the inventory depending on the interest.”

WATCH ME

The first Vintage Grail in Manila Private House at the end of February was followed by Lanai in March and the Aston Martin showroom by June. Paolo wants their locations to cater to different markets. “Our long term plan is to have permanent retail space and when possible, shown along art pieces.We handle the shipping and authentication with one of the most reputable service centers in the region and we take care of everything,” he says. While Vintage Grail focuses on Rolex, they also carry IWC, Patek Philippe, Tudor, and Cartier.

During the inaugural event, Michael and another Rolex enthusiastAlbert Tolentino spoke on all things vintage watches. Paolo says there will always be a resource person available.

So how does one start the journey of collecting vintage watches?

Michael has words of caution. “If you don’t like reading, going on the Internet, don’t start,” he says. “Most of the fun is in the reading, what you are wearing is a trophy of what you have learned and that is the whole experience—if you are not up for that, better go for limited editions.”

Albert, a Filipino, began because his father was into watches and jewelry. “I am just so passionate about watches, but over the past 15 years, I have been reading forums in Dutch, Japanese, German, even if I did not understand them. I would take pictures of watches. In high school, all I could afford was Swatch, Seiko, Citizen. But my dream was a Rolex.”

His first Rolex, a Submariner Matte Dial 5513, which he got at 17, is something he has since regrettably sold.

The Vintage Grail catalogue has a vintage Rolex for just P70,000. Paolo explains, “We don’t only offer the multi-million, high-end pieces.We have six Rolexes all priced under P200,000 each. If one is serious, he can start here and, in 30 years, will have evolved into a serious collector.”

Michael believes there are two ways of looking at vintage watch collectors, those who collect based on brands and those who simply collect vintage, “sick of the mass-produced stuff and looking for something unique.”

THE HOLY GRAIL OF WATCHES

For Michael, expensive doesn’t equal vintage because for him, it could be an old Seiko, with the old patina and the worn look. “It’s like a pair of old jeans, vintage has to do with the design, retro look, if it’s worn, aged, or weathered.”

Vintage watches are statement pieces like women’s jewelry. “With more disposable income, you look for ways to express yourself,” Michael remarks. “Vintage collection is not to show a lot of wealth but to show you are different, unique, and you have your character on display. A vintage is more subtle. It is about the research and knowledge. How rare is it and what is the story behind it?”

It is critical to ensure you have a genuine, vintage piece on your hand if you want to turn it into an investment piece. Michael adds, “If you buy a non-branded vintage, the resell value is not high. The luxury watch names increase in value over time. You could get 150 percent back.”

Albert says, “Collecting is 50 percent buying a watch and 50 percent buying on the reputation of the one selling.”

On the trail of vintage watches, is there a Holy Grail?

Michael, a collector for 30 years, says his Holy Grail is not just one watch, because he likes one-off watches. “If only one, the Paul Newman Daytona Rolex, auctioned for about $17M a couple of years ago,” he says. “There are other Paul Newman Daytonas, but only one worn by the actor.”

Albert confesses he already owns one of his Holy Grails, a Rolex Seadweller 1665 with Qaboos dial. Only 40 pieces were commissioned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, King of Oman, as a gift to his trusted soldiers. The watches were never sold commercially and Albert bought his from a Muslim in Mindanao, who had been wearing it for years but kept the dial in perfect condition. “The last of its kind was sold for $200,000 but I believe it costs more today because a lot want to get their hands on it.”

His other Holy Grail? “A Daytona Paul Newman, which I cannot afford!”

It takes time to build a collection, so Michael has no plans of stopping even if he acquires his Holy Grail. “It will never stop even if you have one of each kind, there will always be a better one, better condition, newer stock.”

Paolo is excited with vintage catching fire in the country as we follow America, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China.

“Vintage Grail is a buying and selling platform because until recently people sold to friends so you could not sell high, but here we offer fair market prices and our ultimate goal is to make watches more accessible,” he says. The timing is perfect, it’s a booming market, people are traveling, evolving, even women are collecting. We have collectors ready for the rare, vintage watches.”

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