In order for a watch to be legitimately considered New Old Stock it must, by definition, never have been sold at retail. If you’re buying something that’s labeled NOS, then you have to be the first individual consumer to have bought it. Period. If old stock is changing hands between retailers, or even being distributed from a warehouse to a retailer long after it was produced, it is still “stock.” It’s also “new” in the sense of not having been sold before, and it’s “old” because it’s sat around a while.
The problem with the phrase NOS is that many retailers of vintage watches are starting to use the term too loosely. I’ve seen the phrase “like NOS” over and over again lately to indicate the condition of a watch, and there’s no way a watch can be “like NOS.” It’s either never been sold retail or it has. Period.
When dealers use NOS to indicate condition, what they mean is that it’s mint – that is: in the original condition it was in when it left the factory or workshop. Mint comes from coin collecting, as in, “It hasn’t been touched since it left the mint.” So mint condition makes the most sense when indicating truly perfect all-original condition. (Though even mint has been lifted from its original context and is used by analogy for objects other than coins.)
If we’re to trust the plethora of online retailers, we need to know they use language correctly. I’ll accept mint or even 10/10 for condition, but don’t tell me the thing is “like NOS” or “could be NOS” or is a “closet classic” or some other misleading thing unless you know for a fact that the thing has never been sold at retail or actually sat in a closet.
Another aspect of NOS is that you typically get the packaging as well as original price tags. The watch should look exactly like it did when it was on sale, however long ago that may have been. But a full set doesn’t mean something is NOS. That’s just inaccurate.
When pondering why people would abuse the term NOS so flagrantly, I think it’s because NOS watches are incredibly cool to behold. A full set is a relatively rare and desirable thing, but to find NOS is to find a time capsule. NOS is the closest you’ll ever get to buying the vintage thing back when it was current.
And for reasons I can’t entirely grasp, a truly mint timepiece in its original packaging is a mind-blowing thing to behold. So much vibe. So much vintageness despite not being beat up at all. Finding perfectly preserved watches in perfectly preserved packaging is so much cooler than finding some deteriorating watch that happened to have been beat up in a pleasing enough way to get oohs and ahhs over its “patina” (another word very often misused).
So, dear readers, if you are a watch collector or enthusiast with a taste for all things vintage, please be wary of these emerging and nonsensical uses of NOS as a descriptor of condition. And if you are a dealer of vintage watches, please stop using NOS for anything other than a watch that has never been sold at retail. We owe it to each other to get clear and stay clear on this very basic idea.