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Kristian Haagen discusses the vintage trend
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Kristian Haagen discusses the vintage trend

Tuesday, 09 May 2017
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William McNish
Strategic Planner at RE-UP

“There is nothing quite as beautiful as the spark in a person's eye when you bring up something they are passionate about.”

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8 min read

Kristian Haagen is a man who needs little introduction. Since his first piece was published in a national newspaper way back in 1998 he has carved himself a name with Fine Watchmaking as a true expert. A journalist and writer, a speaker, an auction consultant and one of our favourite influencers, we couldn’t think of anyone better to discuss the vintage trend currently sweeping the world of watches.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your expertise.

I have always been interested in watches. Since I was a little kid. I loved flipping through National Geographic. First pages were full of ads for Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega and Seiko. That had a great impact on me as a young kid, as many of the explorers, divers and mountain climbers in the stories wore watches from especially Rolex and Omega. The watches were a vital part of the uniforms worn by these pioneers and I wanted to become all of them when I grew up. I was six-seven years old. Watches were important to me already, then. In terms of expertise, I guess having had thousands of watches through my fingers has given me a solid foundation in terms of the job I hold at Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in their watch department.

There is a lot of debate about the definition of vintage… how do you define the name vintage? What is a vintage watch and what isn’t?

If we talk “real vintage” a 100 year old wine is just that. But vintage watches are part of daily horological discussions, some even claiming their 1994 Rolex Submariner is a “vintage watch”, simply because the watch is no longer in production. I remember sitting with Patek Philippe two years ago wearing my rose gold ref. 5960. When we talked about that particular model being no longer in production, the Patek Philippe rep said that I “was wearing a vintage watch then”. To me, I would not simply call a discontinued watch a vintage per se. Personally I see watches from the 1930-60s as “vintage” simply because they are old. Watches from the 1970s and onwards I do not call vintage. Probably because I was born in 1970 and would hate to be called vintage, hahahaha!

Do you think the vintage trend is healthy for the watch industry or stunts innovation?

I have no problem with watch companies repeating their past. The past is rich of innovation and great designs. And you cannot just expect customers to “uhh and ahh” because you came out with a new material used in the space industry. The past is cool. The past was full of “tool watches”. Watches made for a purpose. And telling the story with a contemporary relaunch is great (if done right). Look at Omega who just came out with a near perfect Trilogy of the Sea-, Rail- and Speedmaster from 1957.

Would you rather have a re-edition or original watch? Why?

Having the original is of course much cooler. But having both is just amazing. Also not all older watches can be repaired simply because of the lack of original parts and watch making expertise. A new watch is made to be worn everyday. Of course having an original Heuer Monaco from 1969 compared to a TAG Heuer Monaco from 2017 are two very different watches. But owning them both gives you the best opportunities to celebrate the rich history of that particular model. I have no problem with that. So to give you a short answer on your question: I’d rather have both.

What’s your favourite vintage re-edition from 2016/2017? Why?

I already mentioned the Omega Trilogy and saw this set as a show stopper at Baselworld 2017. But Longines is also giving me a big smile every year as their production history has so much to offer. Not only the Hour Angle, but many other amazing vintage timepieces that we probably never took notice of. Look at the heritage 1945 that Benjamin Clymer of Hodinkee inspired Longines to relaunch this year, or the stunning 1970s Big Eye Chronograph. Both amazing timepieces that not a lot of people were aware of. Tudor also deserves a solid mention here as I think their current success is built on the Heritage models and this since the Heritage Chronograph was launched in 2010. The Black Bay collection especially, which is inspired by the 1960s diver’s watch from Tudor, are perfect ambassadors of their impressive production history and I feel like buying into this collection every time a new version comes out. That said, I only own the Black Bay Black (first edition ETA powered model).

Do you own any vintage watches? What is your favourite?

I don’t own any modern Rolex watches. They are all discontinued sports models from 1960-1990s. GMT-Master from 1968, Cosmograph from 1964 and Sea-Dweller from 1994. Of these the ref. 1675 GMT-Master from 1968 is my fave in my collection. The reason why I treasure this watch especially is because the former owner was one of my longtime heroes, Jan Stage. He was a war correspondent and an agent of the Cuban secret service. He wanted the same watch worn by Fidel and Che, hence he chose the GMT-Master. I was contacted by his widow after she watched a TV show about me and my watch collection. She noticed I did not own a GMT-Master and asked if I would be interested in her late husband’s GMT-Master. What she did not know was that I was a long time fan of her late husband and owning his watch would be… well… you know… it was wild. She was so happy knowing that this watch went to a true fan and that it would be cherished. Beautiful watch too. I also own quite a few vintage Breitlings, IWCs and Omega’s.

Kristian's 1969 GMT-Master sitting atop the book of its previous owner, Jan Stage
What effect do you think social media, especially instagram, has had on the trend?

Instagram is a wonderful media in terms of instant visual temptation. One reacts instantly on a picture of a watch that simply looks good. The benefit of many vintage watches is that many of them look really good. And looking good works very well on Instagram. Undoubtedly all auction houses are enjoying the attention they get if posting timepieces from the auctions on Instagram. Personally I know that sharing my own pictures of timepieces offered on Bruun Rasmussen auctions result in high bids from all over the world, meaning that Instagram is a very valuable tool for the auction world.

For new collectors, which watches do you think people should invest in?

Before you start a collection you start socializing with experienced collectors, hang by every word that comes from their mouths, follow auctions all over the world and spend hours on online discussion forums. And then after a few years, just forget all about the loud egos and forum wars and make up your own mind. Start collecting something that really means something to YOU! Don’t worry about what the big cats and auction hunters think. Maybe you start collecting watches from your birth year. Maybe you start collecting watches with Mickey Mouse themes or try to hunt down watches worn by every second place X-Factor contestant. Follow your heart and wallet. And as time goes by (and watches too) you create your own knowledge making your own mistakes and victories along the way. It may be bumpy, but I promise you it will also be fun. And that is the most important part of collecting: have fun! So my short answer to your question is this: create a collection that makes you smile.

Do you think re-editions are a sound investment or will they depreciate quicker than originals?

Let’s not talk investments at all. Investments are for professionals. That said only the fewest re-editions keep their value once the frenzy of a new watch has been overtaken by a new re-edition at the next watch fair.

What is your most extraordinary thing you’ve seen happen inside an auction house?

That was when Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers offered a first execution Heuer Autavia in 2016. It was offered just before the early Autavia’s really took off. The bidding war was solid on this model and in the room there was a row of Heuer collectors following my every move as they sensed that the bidder I had on the phone had his eyes set on this piece. The bidder in my phone ended with the highest bid and the whole room started applauding once the hammer went down. On days like this I could not have a better job.

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