With the nostalgia trip we seem to have been experiencing for the aesthetics of decades past, dealers in vintage watches are ten a penny right now. It seems I can’t spend 5 minutes on Instagram before seeing someone offering up one gorgeous vintage piece or other.
What’s not so common is to find somebody who deals in the curation and selling of vintage watch adverts. Nick at Ad Patina is the only person I know of who offers this service, and boy does he do it well. His website offers old ads from a wide range of brands. The big boys like Rolex and Omega naturally feature prominently, but there are also more unusual brands like Aquastar, Bulova and Nivada.
As a bit of a history nerd, I find the ads themselves pretty intriguing. Marketing has changed a lot over the years, and these old adverts blend some captivating product art with some pretty creative storytelling. I can just picture some Don Draper-like figure sat in a swanky office, devising some elaborate tale to captivate the average Joe into buying his client’s latest model.
With my curiosity suitably piqued by Nick’s unusual business, I reached out to him to see if he’d be kind enough to answer a few questions about the world of collecting old watch adverts. He was good enough to respond, not just with answers to all my questions, but some new snaps of his stock too! So without further ado, let’s dive right in and hear what he has to say about Ad Patina, and his own passion for these pieces of horological history.
How did you get into collecting vintage watch ads, and what about them is it that fascinates you?
I got into collecting ads a couple of years ago. I always tell people, it’s not easy to collect watches today, especially if you like vintage Rolex like I do. Demand is high, competition is fierce, which makes prices go up and up… Collecting watch ads isn’t quite the same as owning the actual watches, but for me, it’s the next best thing. I get similar feelings from hunting and finding ads as I would studying and tracking down vintage watches. When I discover a special, rare ad, the excitement I feel isn’t too far off from the thrill I feel when a special vintage watch falls in my lap.
It might seem like I only recently got into watch ads. But actually, I’ve been into them for quite some time. In fact, my earliest memories of watch ads go back twenty years, when I was a teenager in the mid-late 1990s and found myself gravitating toward watches as objects to admire and lust over. There was no social media back then and surfing the Internet for watches was the furthest thing from my mind. This is where watch advertisements entered my life – came in handy. They provided information and aspiration. I would slice Rolex advertisements out of magazines and tape them to my bedroom walls.
There’s a lot of interesting aspects to vintage watch ads. One I feel that gets overlooked is their power to conjure up the past. This is what I find most fascinating about them. I definitely enjoy the nostalgia they provide, especially ads from the 1990s, which bring back memories of my teenage years, when I was becoming infatuated with watches and embarking on my first watch purchase. You see I never got into watches to collect them. A big reason I decided to buy a Rolex was that I liked the notion of owning one watch that I could wear forever – through life’s ups and downs. The Rolex ads I came across back then, featuring a who’s who of adventurers and artists, gave me the impression that any watch from the brand would make a good companion… Today, when I see and read Rolex ads from the 1990s, they evoke good feelings about my philosophy on watches from twenty years ago and keep me honest in my relationship with watches today.
Do you have a favourite ad? If so, what’s great about it?
I definitely have a soft spot for ads published in the 1990s. One of those ads, which is a favorite for sentimental reasons, is a Tourneau ad for their pre-owned “vintage” watch department. I distinctly remember this ad gracing my bedroom wall, but I don’t know why I chose it… Unlike today, I can’t say it had anything to do with a vintage “Panda dial” Daytona featured front and center. Back then I was fantasizing about the current Daytona model at the time, a Ref. 16520. If I had to guess, I’d say I was drawn to it because it pointed me in the direction of a trusted, authorized jeweler that I could conceivably buy a Rolex from someday…
Ironically I still haven’t gotten around to framing ads for myself. However, when I do, one I’ll definitely frame will be a 1966 Rolex ad featuring three models: the first version of the “Daytona” with fully-hashed bezel and underline dial, an “Explorer dial” Submariner and a classic Datejust on a jubilee bracelet. There’s a lot I dig about this ad… For starters, I think it’s cool that the Datejust is featured prominently, not the sports models, which get all the shine today. Goes to show you what was selling back then. But what really makes this ad frame-worthy for me is its significance to me personally. You see, I first came across a version of it at a Paris flea market while on our honeymoon in 2015. It was a great find, I was super-excited. I have to say, discovering this ad reignited my interest in ads, which led to collecting them and then selling them… Without this ad in my life, there probably is no Ad Patina.
Does your favourite watch brand also make your favourite ads, or are they different?
My favorite brand is Rolex. I bought my first, a Datejust, in 1998 while on a high school class trip to Paris. Those ads that I hung in my bedroom certainly served as motivation to work hard and save my paychecks from working at a grocery store. Certainly I like a lot of Rolex ads – how can you not? But the more I get into ads, the more I’ve come to appreciate ads from other brands. Actually, some of my favorite ads are for watches I probably would never wear, like a Bulova Oceanographer. I think the ad for this dive watch is so good – it’s totally among my favorites. The bright colors, underwater imagery, spirit of the ad and that headline, “If you’ve got the guts, we’ve got the watch” make it arguably one of the best ads of all-time in my book.
How do you go about tracking down ads that were made 40, 50 or 60 years ago?
All the ads are original and come directly from old magazines. Whenever possible I like to be the one to remove the ads – very carefully. I’d say I’ve spent almost three years (and counting) researching where to find ads. That means figuring out which magazines contain specific ads as well as getting a handle on how to find those magazines. The thrill of the hunt never gets old. Finding a sought-after ad is like attaining a grail watch. And it’s an equally exciting feeling to discover a new ad and share it.
Ultimately it comes down to looking through magazines and acquiring magazines. I’m constantly seeking out people with magazines for sale and flipping through magazines I come across in my travels. Just the other day I was rummaging around an antique store and found three magazines with nice ads inside. Also, recently I found someone on a local classified website with old magazines they wanted to sell – many of which had great ads inside. But more often, vintage ad and magazine hunting is more intentional and involved. I enlist people all over the world to help me with this.
Which ads are the most popular, and why do you think they are?
The ad that immediately comes to mind when the “most popular” ad question comes up is the 1966 Rolex Explorer “top of the Matterhorn” ad. It’s as much a beautiful photograph as it is an amazing ad. Take away the headline and watch for a moment… you’ve got an incredibly detailed photo of a human hand gripping a mountainside. I often say the image could stand alone in an art gallery among other portrait-style photography. Of course, when you then factor in the watch and a headline that works for any Rolex model, it’s just a great all-around ad.
Some other notable ads that never disappoint: The Omega “wrist computers” ad, which I think is a great example of an ad for a brand as much as it is for a model. It really captures the essence of Omega. And I can’t not mention the earliest ad for the Patek Philippe Nautilus, from 1977-78. The double rendering stands out to us, but what about to someone flipping through the magazine forty years ago? To me, ads like this, the very first for a model, can’t be beat. Especially when that model turns out to be such an iconic design and coveted piece, like the Nautilus.
You can buy an ad in superb condition from Nick for the very affordable price of $35, with prices rising to around $165 for a popular or rare ad from the likes of Rolex. For such a cool piece of horological history that seems like an absolute bargain. (Especially as these magazine ads are the sort of thing that were thrown away). Nick also offers a framing service, where you can choose an ad and have it framed in a variety of styles. This does come at an extra cost of around $200 more, but that’s completely understandable given the extra work involved in professionally framing one of these.
I think if you’re a watch nerd into either vintage pieces, or the current models of some of these iconic wristwatches, one of these framed ads would make a great addition to your office (or home if your other half will let you display it in public!) Personally I’ll be keeping my eye out for an ad of my 1988 Tudor Prince Oysterdate.
If you’d like to have a browse of what Nick has to offer, why not head over to his website: Ad Patina?