For me, collecting watches isn’t just a hobby. It's a full-on obsession that, at times, gets close to the kind of single-minded mania that gets people locked up in rooms with soft walls. Even if I walk past a drug store, I’ll peer in the window to see if there’s anything that ticks.
I’ll dig for watches anywhere, but my primary sources are still local antiques fairs and auctions. With the growth of watch sales on eBay, I’ve increased my focus on online hunting, and even developed an application that follows specific parameters and sends me reports of recently listed watches. So far, this app has led me to about 500 watches on eBay that most people would miss. In an upcoming article I’ll let you know how I’ve done it.
Sometimes the stories of my hunting are as interesting as the watches themselves. In fact, I often say that I collect as many stories as watches. Some of these tales sound stranger than fiction, but real life is often far, far stranger than any story you have read.
Here’s just one...
Most people think of Mido watches as being rather middle-of-the-road – a sort of Swiss Toyota Camry of the Watchworld. But last year I tracked down and bought a Mido Multifort ‘Rainbow’ diver – also known as a Mido Powerwind Diver, the most rare and valued watch Mido produced. Most Midos knock around the £250 mark.
The Mido Multifort Rainbow comes in at almost $ 10,000 -- almost unthinkable territory for a Mido. A typical collector, seeing a Rainbow in a random box of watches, would barely look twice. It’s the type of rare and unknown watch that only a seriously obsessed collector will know for its importance and value.
Mido introduced the Multifort Auto in 1935 - one of the first completely waterproof watches, as well as being antimagnetic, shockproof and self-winding. In ‘35, most people still had keep-fit handwinders. Mido’s waterproofing claim was extensively tested and found absolutely accurate; the specially treated cork seals around the stem (a traditional weak point in the case) meant water stayed on the outside.
You can find an early Mido Multifort Auto for a couple of hundred dollars. But the ‘Rainbow’ diver is something very different indeed. It’s a full-on, certified diving watch - rated to 300m or 1,000ft. Being a practical tool, the concentric scales on the dial mark out diving decompression times at various depths (130, 110, 90 and 70 feet).
It was a Sunday and I was having lunch at a restaurant close to home when a photo came through WhatsApp from an antique dealer friend: it showed a Mido ‘Rainbow’ diver. I put down my wineglass, left the food on the table, took my scooter, and within 5 minutes was sitting opposite the dealer, looking at the watch.
As I examined the watch, I noted that the numbers on the bezel were missing. A ‘Rainbow’ is rare enough, but finding a replacement bezel ranks with being offered a place on the next moon landing. So I offered the dealer $200. The bezel problem was one thing, but I already had another ‘Rainbow’ at home.
In fact, when I got home I discovered that my first Rainbow had different colors, so I decided to try to find the original bezel. Searches on eBay and markets turned up nothing, so I finally decided to put a post on Instagram asking for help.
And this is where the story gets really interesting...
A little while after my Instagram post, I had a message from super collector Subsea57 (who knows his diving watches) to get in touch with Lucchese.watches, a French dive watch collector and expert who could possibly help me.
We messaged back and forth, finally settling on cannibalizing a cheaper Mido for its bezel - all in a good cause. We agreed on €1,200 for the bezel and I could finally relax. But on the day I was to transfer the funds, Lucchese emailed me.
He said that by removing the bezel on his watch, there was a chance that the bezel on mine might simply be fitted upside down with the numbers facing in towards the case.
In seconds, I had my Mido on the bench. I carefully pried the knife between the bezel and case and slowly turned it. The bezel popped off onto the workbench.
The bezel had indeed been mounted upside down -- meaning the numbers were on the side facing the case! I simply turned it over and re-fitted it. Then I went online to celebrate with my friends from Instagram.
On that day I not only saved €1200, but I found a fantastic story of the kindness and generosity of friends in Watchworld. My watch -- with its original bezel -- was worth at least $8,000, but the real value was in the dimension and importance that social networks are bringing to watch collecting.
Instagram is an incredible tool. I’ve been using it for almost two years and among other things, it has helped me realize that I’m not as crazy as I thought; there are countless other collectors like me -- people who wake up thinking of watches.
The speed with which Instagram manages to gather together people with common obsessions was, until recently, unthinkable. But already our class of collectors is like a large family and an immense network of information exchange.
Now I no longer need to search for days to authenticate a watch, display or part. I just put it on Instagram and wait for the comments. If, after 24 hours, the watch or part hasn’t been massacred with criticism, you can almost be sure that the watch is all original.
I am sure that the current and steady explosion of vintage watch prices is closely tied to the growth -- and quality -- of collectors who have come to share their collections, knowledge and passion through the Internet.
In fact, the ease and speed with which we shared information exploded at the same time as the prices of the watches.
I would take a decent bet that most collectors, until now, had never heard of the Mido Multifort ‘Rainbow’ diver. It’s also a pretty safe wager that, after this article, the searches will start and the prices are likely to rise. Although I’m hanging on to mine, I’m curious to know the next price level the Rainbow will reach.
I’d go so far as to suggest that Mido (now part of the Swatch Group) should launch a re-edition of this model. It’s a stunner.
Most major brands are only now waking up to the vintage trend. But barely. Although Tag Heuer and Omega sail in these seas with brilliance, most companies have barely started to get their swimming costumes off the peg.
You can already see the result in the prices of the Autavia, Carrera and Speedmaster; price records are being beaten day after day and, I have a feeling, the game is only just beginning. Lucky us old collectors -- we managed to form our collections before the explosion of the Internet!
These rising prices have started another phenomenon: collectors, certain that prices have peaked, are selling their entire collections. Many older collectors simply cannot resist the current prices they’re offered. For me this is pure illusion, I see absolutely no sign indicating that the value of quality vintage prices should stop growing.
For me, vintage watches remain the best investment. I do not invest in stocks, I do not have money in banks. I often say that all the money I get will be won tomorrow, because the money I earned today has already invested in my collection of watches.
And I learn something new every day too: in this case, always check which way up your bezel is!
Article published by Worn and Wound