Article By: Logan Hannen
What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to take a look at a question we get asked quite a lot: Just how water resistant are vintage watches? *Cue intro music*
Like I said, we get this question a LOT, and I finally decided that it was worth putting pen to paper (proverbially speaking) and attempting to answer it. You’ll see why I say “attempting” in just a second. First, a quick refresher on what constitutes “vintage” in the first place: vintage is generally accepted as being anything over 20 years old which, by definition, makes me vintage, and that’s a strange sentence to type. If it’s older than February of 1998, it can be considered a vintage watch.
Given this time frame, there are some perfectly capable water resistant pieces floating around from the late ‘90s that, with a solid service history, should be just as functional in the water as they were when they were new. However, the further back in time you go, the less true this becomes. The screw down crown/case back that we associate with water resistance really only handles half the equation – it forms the pressure needed to seal the watch off, but it still needs a seal. These seals (called gaskets) are more or less tiny rubber rings which, when the pressure of the case back or crown is applied, adjust to close any gaps between the inside and outside of a watch.
Over time, these gaskets will inevitably fail. They’ll lose their shape with the change in pressure, or any number of other things and, as a result, render the water resistance of a watch almost laughable. But here’s the biggest issue with vintage watches when it comes to water resistance – a great many of them didn’t have screw down crowns or case backs. When you have a snap-on caseback, there is nowhere near the needed amount of pressure applied to the gaskets to create an effective seal. The same is true of the crown, where at any point it could be pried off or otherwise sprung out to create no seal whatsoever.
That’s why, even properly maintained and serviced vintage pieces we still wouldn’t recommend taking in the water (or really, getting wet at all if you can avoid it). The risk is just greater than I personally think it’d be worth, but that’s really your call. I say do your best to keep your vintage watches dry and keep yourself classy, watchfam.
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