Vintage Style: Timeless watches from Theo & Harris
8 months, 10 countries, 200 watches. These are the impressive stats behind Theo & Harris, the New York based vintage watch seller that has been featured on sites like Hodinkee, Fratello Watches and Wound for Life. They've got everything on their site from a time only Plymouth under for $200 to a 70s Datejust for just under $3000 but their primary focus is on keeping watches affordable for everyone. So sit back and see my highlights of their current selection along with Christian Zeron's, founder of Theo & Harris, thoughts on the state of affairs in the watch community. What's refreshing about Christian is that he's not afraid about calling things how he see's it, whether it's Hodinkee's recent partnership with MB&F, logo heritage on watches inflating prices or saying that sometimes vintage Seikos just suck.
TC: What's the significance behind the name, Theo and Harris?
T&H: Our name, considering there is no Theo nor Harris working here, has garnered a whole lot of attention since we gained in popularity and my answer to the great mystery is always, without fail, underwhelming. Bottom line, I'm really big into marketing. I fine tune photos, sentences and structure of business until my hands bleed because I really do think that the public, whether they always realize it or not, are very sensitive to detail. Theo & Harris feels good to say and sounds good to hear- that's about it.
TC: At the moment all of your stock is below $1000 except for the Datejust, is this where you see the most value in vintage watches? Will you eventually expand to watches of a higher price point?
T&H: I tailor our inventory not by price but by value. Whether I'm looking for a car, watch, pair of shoes or bottle of wine, I'm breathing value. Everyone hates the feeling in their stomach when they realize they were doped into buying something way over priced. For that reason, every vintage watch in the T&H collection is chosen because of the value it represents. I often have a hard time finding tremendous value in the $1,300-3,000 range and the inventory reflects that. Most great vintage chronographs, barring those with logo heritage (which is a minefield of bullshit on its own), can absolutely be had below $1,300. As for time-only watches, there's no reason a standard Omega or Longines should be valued at over $900. As far as our inventory expanding to a higher price point, I don't see it in the near future. We're not necessarily limited in what we curate and offer, we're just sure this is where we want to be. Don't get me wrong, I'll source a minty Submariner for anyone who asks but I don't see one in the inventory any time soon.
TC: In recent years brands like Enicar, Hamilton, Seiko & Wittnauer etc. are all getting a resurgence of popularity. Why do you think this is and what brands would you pick to be "the next big thing"?
T&H: It's great that those brands have recently received their well deserved attention. In retrospect, it makes sense that the Wittnauer's of the world have increased in value but when you're looking in retrospect, everything makes sense. We have the information in our hands and can now look back and pick out the signs. Anyone who says they know what exactly is next is probably hoarding a few in their safe. We're not going to catch the big inflation waves unless we're lucky but with the right information, we can absolutely do the same thing but on a smaller scale. The market, as markets tend to, is constantly evolving so it requires intense attention. As it is my job, every day my finger is on that pulse and I do my best to pass my understanding of the market movements to the T&H audience. That's why, every Wednesday, we release a new #ASKTNH. I regularly talk about the changing market, what's on he rise, what is bound to drop etc. I can't tell you what the next Universal Geneve is but I can give you all the hints.
What is great about the current state of affairs in the vintage watch community and sites like Theo & Harris is that they are perfect examples of how you don't have to break the bank to get a good vintage watch on your wrist. Take this Tissot Seastar for example which is currently on the site for $495. This Tissot isn't exactly the pinnacle of horology nor is it an investment piece but it's certainly a perfect gateway watch into the world of vintage. For the money you could get a modern Tissot Heritage Visodate....but why would you? For one thing just look at this movement and I can guarantee you won't have the same level of finishing on that modern Tissot and it certainly won't have the same character as this piece does. For someone looking to get their first mechanical or vintage watch then this is a perfect choice, a quality brand for a reasonable price. First a Tissot, then the world. The Tissot Seastar is currently $495.
I can be completely honest here and say that until I saw this watch I had never heard of Croton before and it's only because of sites like Theo and Harris lifting the curtain to otherwise unknown brands and the greater watch community accepting quality over brand. Croton are still in production but having looked over their somewhat dated website I'm fairly confident in saving I prefer this classic piece here. The gilt lettering really pops against the black dial and I really love the lesser used subsidiary dial placement at 12 and 6. I'm a sucker for these pilots style watches so the on-dial tachymetre and the aviation style crown are really hitting all my buttons. Oh yeah, it's also a column wheel chronograph. Unfortunately the less accurate CAM system became cheaper and easier to mass produce so seeing a classic column wheel is great. The watch comes on a light brown leather NATO strap so all you really need is a bomber jacket, a white silk scarf and a pencil moustache to imagine yourself as the next Dan Dare/Biggles. The Croton Gilt Dial Chronograph is currently $795.
By Christian's own admission he is more of a 34mm dress watch kinda guy so this futuristic 40mm Seiko with its hooded lugs and bright colours getting some love from him shows just how good he thinks it is. Compared to other watches on Theo and Harris the movement on this Seiko is rather plain but I don't think it matters here as the charm of Seiko has captured the hearts of many watch fans despite some shortcomings here and there. There is some discoloration/spots across the dial but a watch like this has some much innate character because of it's funky design there is probably a story for every scratch on the case or mark on the dial. There is enough wear on this piece to add to the character yet not too much to inhibit wearing it. As the description reads "Seikos are cool. And everyone wants a cool watch". The Seiko Chronograph is currently $385.
TC: What is your favorite watch that has been sold on Theo & Harris?
T&H: Without doubt, a Zodiac Seawolf. The Seawolf on its own is a super cool watch. The size is great, the soft blue bachelite bezel is rarely seen on any other watch ever the fact that it's a vintage dive watch that ISN'T a Submariner tops it all off. Unfortunately, given their exploratory nature, they're typically beaten to hell. Their white dial's are cloudy, their bezels are shattered and they almost never keep proper time. And then there was mine. Ultimately, I loved what the watch did to me, it gave me an outlier. Zodiac isn't my favorite brand, it probably doesn't even fall in the top five, nor is the Seawolf my favorite dive watch as it's way behind the Fifty Fathoms and yet, this is the watch I'm most proud to have owned.
TC: If you could change one thing about the watch industry/community what would it be?
T&H: The awareness. The market for watches may be large but the number of informed consumers is concerning small. Most of the audience buys watches like they get gas, without informed discernment. But I think that the guilt there falls on the industry. The watch industry is numerically huge, but it's fragmented. Collectively, we're talking about tens of billions of dollars each year globally. And yet, there are no collective efforts between companies, or even small independent boutiques, to promote wristwatches as a whole. If industry figures put their egos aside and worked together to promote the awareness, markedly more people would know exactly what there is to love about watches.
TC: Finally, what watch are you wearing right now?
T&H: If you know me, you know that I'm a huge Datejust guy. It’s conservative style, perfect proportions, legendary name and (relatively) affordable price make it one of the best kept secrets in the watch world (even though they're right in front of everyone's nose). A vintage 1601 was my first watch and, without surprise, the model is held very closely to my horological heart. Right now I'm wearing a slate grey dial 1603 Datejust that's actually our the inventory.
What is there to be said about the Datejust that hasn't been said hundreds of times before? It's probably one of the most written about watches from definitely the most written about watch brand in the world. It's barely changed at all from the day it launched yet it remains as fashionable and desirable as ever. This Ref. 1603 is from the seventies and I must say I prefer this style of fluted bezel to the more angular and defined bezel of the current datejust and the slate grey dial is a nice alternative to perhaps a plain white or silver dial. Whilst doing some research about the Datejust I came across some info on the crowns that I wasn't aware of. An underlined Rolex crown logo on a steel Rolex crown means that the piece uses the Twinlock seal which, as the name suggests, means there are two seals working to keep this piece waterproof. Whether you want to be the first to test the water resistance on a forty year watch is up to you mind! I must admit that when I started Timepiece chronicle I wasn't a Rolex guy but it is pieces like this Datejust that are slowly pulling me in the direction of the Crown. This Rolex Datejust Ref. 1603 is $2875.