A while back I wrote an article on the most undervalued watch brands. It has been a wildly successful article. I get hundreds of visits a week to my site from it. If you haven't read it yet you can find it here:
Since I wrote that article, almost two years ago, I have learned so much more and found so many additional overlooked brands. I figured it was time to dust off the list and add a couple of new favorites.
I heard it said by a watchmaker once that there were hundreds of watch brands back in the day, but today people can count the one's they have heard of on one hand. I have found that many of these "lesser known" brands offer quality pieces at a fraction of the cost...and sometimes even use the same movements!
Here is my original list in bullet form, please read the article in the link above to get the details on each of these makers.
Hamilton - This one was a complete oversight. It originally should have been on the list. Hamilton watches are very high quality, and made just down the road in Lancaster PA. They were famous for their pocket watches and are still in business today (although name only). They had many notable designs and you can find good examples for relatively little money. One of their most distinct designs ever was the Ventura worn by Elvis, which was just re-released recently.
Baylor - The house watch brand of Zales Jewelry Stores. I just saw a great ad from them in the 70's that said "people buy name brand watches for a sense of security, if you want security buy a blanket, if you want a watch buy a Baylor". They had many notable models Chronographs, Deep sea models, etc. Since they are a little lesser known you can scoop them up for about half what they are worth.
JW Benson - A recent addition to my list.They made watches from the 1800's into the 1960's. JW Benson was like the Tiffany of London. A large jewelry store that also sold watches. The thing that I love about their watches, is their early one's have styling very similar to another famous London watchmaker, Hans Wilsdorf...better known as Rolex.
Illinois - Another over sight. Although they did not have the success of Hamilton or Waltham moving from pocketwatches to wristwatches, Illinois watches are some of the most collectible watches out there. They have very unique large faces which were oversized by the 1930's standards.
Timex /Ingresoll / US Time - This brand obviously is not new to me. I have just come to appreciate them a little more. I picked up a couple "Ingresoll Wrist" watches from 1918. It was one of the first wristwatches marketed to men on a large scale. The best part was the Radioactive paint that made the numbers glow! Through it's evolution to the Timex of today they have accomplished their mission well: Make watches that last and for less than everyone else.
Seiko / Citizen - Seiko has become very collectible. If you talk to any old timers they will tell you they used to throw them away. There are some very unique designs, and an entire community around the collecting of the brand. Likewise Citizen is also a very collectible brand, and occasionally you come across a Citizen or "Serio" (aka Seiko) from the 1940's. Interestingly enough Citizen is the largest watch maker in the world. They own a few little companies you may have heard of like: Miyota (makers of just about every Japanese Quartz movement), and Bulova (our beloved American watch brand is no longer American).
Tissot - The Omega of England. Tissot watches are vastly popular in England, but not as much here. Ironically they share many movements with Omega as the companies merged in the 1930's. The vintage chronographs are definitely costly, but the earlier non-complicated models are much more affordable.
Enicar / Racine - This Swiss brand made a lot of wonderful watches. They are most famous for their Sherpa Watch, which sells in the thousands of dollars, but their lesser known watches are of good quality. Enicar is Racine spelled backwards, and Racine is the last name of the founder of the company. One of their famous innovations was the Star Jewel which was all a marketing ploy, and strapping a watch to the rudder of a ship that sailed across the Atlantic. The Enicar dive watches were favored above Rolex when tested for the military. While they did not outperform them, when the cost was considered there was no measurable difference in performance that would warrant the additional cost of a Rolex.
Medana- Mostly for their Calendar watches. Medana is made by Roamer, they made pin lever watches. Most of the time I would not bother with pin lever movements, but their calendar watches are great, and they went out of their way to make their pin lever movements look like a regular jeweled escapement movement, even to putting in a full regulator and fake balance screws on their balance wheels.
Solvil et Titus - I really wanted to buy a Titus watch, but I just missed it at auction. It will forever be the one that got away. Like Benson, they have many models that are very similar to Rolex, and they always use quality parts and movements. They were founded by Paul Didisheim - Maker of the Winton and Nassau and eventually the Marvin watch company that exists to this day.
Elgin - Another oversight. Elgin watches are very collectible and quality. They like many other made a wide array of styles. While their designs are a little more traditional it is common to find watches from the 1930's for not a lot of money. Their top of the line model is the "Lord Elgin".
Bargains on the Big boys list - I feel the need to say that just because a brand is on the more recognizable list doesn't mean it is not one that should be hunted. There are tons of vintage Bulova, Movado, Omega, and even the occasional Rolex watches selling WAY below their worth. This article is more a statement on brand name awareness than on on market value.
As always Happy Hunting!
- Tinkerman Watches