Time for vintage watches

Los Angeles as time goes by, vintage watches seem to be looking better and better. There is a demand today for watches with personality and character. As a result, interest in classic wristwatches has been booming – and for as many different reasons as there are collectors.

Voice instructor Florence Heller says her interest in classic timepieces is sentimental. Her husband recently gave her a 1953 Evans with red and white rhinestones in place of the numbers on the face. “I like it because it puts me in touch with my past,” she says. “It reminds me of when I was going to high school. It’s a man’s watch but I have great fun wearing it. It looks good and it makes me feel good. It’s also a great conversation piece, something people always seem to notice.”

Eric Schwartz, a manufacturing executive, says nothing pleases him more than getting dressed up and putting on one of the 22 vintage watches he has collected over the last six years. “I like watches that are straightforward,” he says. “I look for ones that are sleekly styled and elegantly understated.” His collection runs the gamut from a 1920s Elgin to a 1940s Hamilton.

Juraj Miklas, head chef at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant, says he collects wristwatches for the unique pleasure they give him. “I appreciate the work that went into making these watches,” he says. “I like to touch them, to wind them, to study their shapes.” Among his collection of 60 watches are a 1917 stainless steel Patek Philippe and a 9-karat gold Rolex from the 1920s.

Ken Jacobs is a clinical psychologist who turned his hobby of collecting vintage watches into a thriving business. A few years ago, he began selling off extras by maintaining a display case at a small shop on Melrose Avenue. A few months ago, he opened his own store on that street. It’s called Wanna Buy A Watch? and has been jampacked during the Christmas shopping season.

“Nobody buys one of my watches for the purpose of telling time,” says Mr. Jacobs. “People buy them because of the thrill they get from putting them on.” Mr. Jacobs, who seeks out watches that are strong in visual appeal and exquisite in styling, says he is fascinated by a watch’s detailing and history. He also goes to great lengths to have them restored to their original splendor. Among his favorites is a 1930s Gruen “wristsider.” Also called a “driver’s watch,” it’s worn at the side of the wrist, which, “made it easier for a guy tooling around in his roadster to tell the time.”

Among his women’s styles, priced from $100 to $400, are a number of delightful art deco designs. Some have enameled motifs, others sparkle with precious stones. Many have faceted crystals. For men, in prices ranging from $100 to $300, there are oversized timepieces from the early 1900s that resemble scaled-down pocket watches.

While Ken Jacobs deals mostly in one-of-a-kind styles, Lance Thomas deals in volume. He is proprietor of Village Clockworks in Santa Monica, and his comprehensive collection of 2,000 watches even includes some that have never been worn and can still be purchased with their original cases. Among his most popular styles are rectangular “tank” style watches from the 1930s and 1940s. Other vintage timepieces bear the status names of Bulova, Rolex, Elgin, Waltham, Longine and Hamilton. Gold-plated and gold- filled versions for both men and women start about $100. The same brands in solid gold bring $300 and up. And for the customer in search of something truly unique, there are hundreds of unrestored watches that can be put together in any variation of colors and styles.

“Vintage watches have a certain mystique that seems to attrack people for very personal reasons,” says Mr. Thomas. “I don’t want to sound silly, but I realy believe that a watch that has been stared at by past generations retains some kind of psychic energy that is very alluring and magnetic.”