How to safely buy used luxury watches (and get a good deal)

Buying a used watch is by far the way to go — if you know what you are doing or you shop with someone who does. If you have no idea what you’re doing, there is a good chance you will either overpay or worse yet, buy a fake luxury watch. This post will ponder the best ways to buy used as well as how to get a good deal.

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(Author’s photo)

Why You Should Buy Used

Hopefully, you read my previous ponder on whether or not luxury watches hold their value. If not — hint — they generally don’t (with a few exceptions, but most watches and brands won’t). Just like a new car loses most of its value when you drive it off the lot, so does a luxury watch. Despite the rumors and conventional wisdom that you are buying an investment, most NEW luxury watches can never be sold for what you paid for it — ever (adjusting for inflation and opportunity cost, it’s even worse).

I don’t want to repeat my previous post, so please read it if you have doubts about what I’m saying. However, USED watches can turn into a great deal, maybe even an investment. Generally speaking, you are ahead to find the person that bought new last year and is now selling used (and there are a lot of great places to do this). They have absorbed the majority of that “lost value” by “driving it off the lot”, and now you are ready to buy the used watch and capture as much value as you can. The reason you should buy used is to let them pay the “new watch” premium while you get a slightly used but only-a-few-years-old watch — it’s not that far off from buying a car. The nice thing about watches is that people tend to take better care of them than cars, especially watch collectors, who do the majority of the selling of used luxury watches. Most collectors wear their watches every once in a while, doing a rotation within their collection, meaning a 3-years old watch has likely been worn 100 days or less. That is not a lot of wrist time considering watches are made to be worn daily for decades; a lightly used watch has a lot of wrist time left on it.

After the last post, Luxury Buyers contacted me to discuss the article. I asked Luxury Buyers to weigh in on this post as well (after all, this is their industry). Luxury Buyers is a well-established buyer and retailer of luxury watches and jewelry. While I hope that we will agree on everything, I can assure you — we don’t. But that is great. I care most that you get both sides of the argument so you can make up your mind as a buyer. However, on many aspects, we see fairly eye to eye. Here is what they had to say:

“When buying a used luxury timepiece you are able to save yourself from spending a lot of money as opposed to buying one that’s brand new. In addition, there are many rare timepieces out there that are not available in stores anymore, but that you may still be able to acquire used from someone that is trying to get rid of theirs since they realized that they just have it sitting in their drawer picking up dust.”

rolex new in box

(Author’s photo)

Why to Buy New

I have to give a spiel about buying new as well, both for those who are on the fence, and also because I have done it many times. If price is no factor, then buying new has a lot of advantages. My favorite buying new experience was buying a watch in Geneva, Switzerland. It literally was an experience. I was fairly confident I knew exactly which watch I wanted, but that didn’t stop me from visiting every shop in the downtown, trying on watches, sipping on free champagne, and soaking up the ambiance at some of the most decadent and elegant watch salons (my most memorable being the Patek Philippe store — amazing).

As a watch collector, I would have paid money for that experience, so to get to do it as part of the experience and get a watch tax-free was a gift; I would still recommend a serious collector consider buying new when visiting Geneva. I’ve bought new about 50% of the time.

Here is Luxury Buyers’ take on buying new:

“There is nothing like buying things brand new. Especially when it comes to your luxurious timepiece. The clean look, feel, and scent of a brand new timepiece is something that you just won’t be able to experience when you buy one that’s used. But that, of course, comes with a much higher price tag for those ready and willing to indulge in the pleasures that a new timepiece has to offer. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you shouldn’t buy used:

  1. It’s risky since you never know what kind of surprises may arise later with your watch i.e. mechanical and cosmetic issues. 
  2. You are at the mercy of the individual seller’s or company’s terms of service (Make sure to read those carefully; should you choose to buy used). 
  3. There are many knock-offs out there that can easily pass as the real thing and have even passed authentications by authorized dealers. (Always authenticate your timepieces).

Buying a new timepiece not only gives you a peace of mind, but it also allows you to have the original manufacturer’s warranty available to you, which is always one of the best things to have, especially since it is an investment.

genuine fake watches

This is an actual photo I took while visiting Turkey. You don’t want to be the one who accidentally buys the “genuine” fake watch. Read on to avoid this! (Author’s photo)

How to Buy Used

There are a few tactics you can use to buy used and they all come down to your comfort level. I’ll evaluate the most common methods I know and how I recommend going about it.

First of all, here is what Luxury Buyers has to say on buying used:

“When you buy used, you want to be certain that you are going to receive what you paid for — not something that deviates from what you read in the description on the web page it was listed on. In order to authenticate a website [seller] on your own, here are a few things that you must look at beforehand:

  • Read any reviews about the company (they can be found online by doing a simple google search like: “company name” reviews).
  • Make sure they supply you with a certificate of authenticity.
  • Always read their terms of service and return policy.

Now here is my (Watch Ponderer’s) take:

eBay (or Chrono24 or other online marketplaces for watches).

This is by far the largest marketplace out there and as close to a perfect market as you can get — if you know what you are doing. I strongly encourage you to read my primer on the economics of the watch market if you are not familiar. eBay is risky unless you follow my advice exactly. The best deals can be found by looking for a person like you or me who isn’t a dealer and has a watch they want to sell. This is because they want the money now, otherwise they wouldn’t be selling, (versus a business/dealer operating on eBay that is selling watches. They have an inventory that they will only sell if the numbers make sense, meaning you will pay fair-market price or maybe an unintentional premium). Buying from an individual or an apparent dealer can be risky though.

vintage longines watch

Vintage Longines watch in 10K Gold. You can only buy this used! (Author’s photo)

While I am one perspective on this, I only offer the perspective of the consumer that has bought a few times and had no problems — but there are plenty of people that have very bad experiences on eBay. Luxury Buyers has a countering point of view that I encourage you to take to heart. After all, eBay is a risk and you need to know what you are getting into when you buy. I will offer both of our perspectives in tandem. We agree on some and completely disagree on others. I care more that you know both perspectives; at the end of the day, you will do what you want; I care most that you are informed.

From Luxury Buyers: “Ebay is a place that many [people] have had mixed emotions about — whether it’s electronics, clothing, or jewelry. Despite eBay’s success, it has been known for being one of the most popular places for hackers and scammers to abide in. Because of this, this makes eBay one of the least recommended places to buy your pre-owned luxury timepiece”

This next list is a complete list of the things I look for on eBay (as well as added points of view from Luxury Buyers — shown in italics). The things I look for are:

Do they have the full set of box and papers? If they don’t, I walk away, regardless of the price (with one exception mentioned below). Anyone who collects watches at any level knows to save box and papers. Even iPhone owners know to save their iPhone box for resale; a luxury watch buyer should definitely be smart enough to do this. Without box and papers, some professional watch buyers won’t even buy a watch they know to be genuine — that’s how important box and papers should be to you. Ask yourself — if you spent $8,000+ on a new Rolex, don’t you think it would be wise to at least hang onto the warranty cards? When someone hasn’t done this, it makes me nervous. The exception to this would be older watches (>10 years old) where the passage of time and changing hands a few times makes losing the box plausible. In this case, I would expect an official appraisal, or get one conducted immediately upon receipt of the watch.
From Luxury Buyers: “There have been many cases where people buy a Rolex thinking that it is an authentic timepiece, to later find out that it was simply a very well made replica. Pictures can be edited professionally and make the worst look like the best. Documents can also be counterfeited and therefore should not be something that you rely on for verifying the authenticity of your watch.”

What is the seller’s history? I look for eBay sellers that have at least 100 transactions if they are an individual like me, or 600+ transactions if they are a professional seller (i.e. have an eBay store). If they don’t have 100% feedback, I check to see if its a result of a legitimate complaint (ex. “item was fake”) or just some unrealistic buyer (ex. “it arrived 1 day later than I thought”). I also look to see how long the seller has been on eBay. If they are new to eBay (1-2 years) I do extra due diligence as it could be a get-rich-quick-and-run scheme; if they have been on eBay for many years (>5 years), I am less cautious.

what to look for ebay

(Modifications by Watch Ponder)

From Luxury Buyers: “Unless you are recommended to a certain seller by someone that you trust, or know and have done business with the seller in the past, Ebay should be your last resort for acquiring your used watch.”

How responsive is the seller? I message the seller before I buy to see how responsive they are. If they really care about customer service, they will answer my questions in a timely manner. I want to rest assured that if there are any issues, they will be responsive. Responsiveness tells me they care about this transaction and will do whatever they can to make it work. A good way to test this out is to ask what model year it is (as most people don’t specify) or why they are selling it. What you are looking for are the normal reasons people sell a watch (upgrading, downsizing my collection, want to buy a different watch, etc). You will occasionally get a long sob story which is a sign to RUN!!! as most people don’t share personal details during a negotiation with a random person on the internet — I interpret it as a sales pitch that could be the sign of a scam (remember those spam emails you get sometimes asking you to wire them $5,000 so they can execute a will and return you $1M?). Besides, if you need to return the item,  you can count on that same sob story as they protest the return.

How Many Watch Details are Listed? Some sellers spend the majority of their listing telling about their “guarantee” and themselves rather than the watch. This is a red flag to me. Details about a watch speak for themselves. If there are only 2-3 pictures and very few details about the watch (model, year, (partial) SN, etc), then I walk away. Real collectors know other collectors want a lot of details, so when a listing has few details, it tells me the seller either has no idea what they are selling (and can’t guarantee its authenticity), or its a fake.

Don’t worry about return policies. Return policies are less common than you’d think, but it’s ok. eBay covers a guaranteed 30-day return policy if the item doesn’t work or isn’t as describe (including being a fake). Many sellers don’t offer returns anymore because they get sick of allowing for buyers’ remorse when eBay already offers a return policy for the main reason people want — to ensure they are getting what they pay for. If you are less familiar with watches, I recommend taking your new watch to a store to have an appraisal done. You will likely pay $25-75 to have this authentication and appraisal done, but it’s well worth it. This is easier to find in a metro area but much harder to have done in smaller towns who may not have stores familiar with your particular brand of watch.

Look for professional sellers if you want less risk but are willing to pay a bit more. Buying from a reputable dealer is the safest way to buy on eBay. There have been many large sellers of watches that have come and gone on eBay just in the last few years. They accumulate thousands of transactions, and then they disappear from eBay. I am not sure if this is because they go out of business or get banned from eBay. Therefore, I look for professional sellers that have physical jewelry store locations that I can call. If they claim to have a store, look it up on google Streetview or google+ and call the number to see if its Joe answering his phone or sounds like a real store?

Example box papers pay premium

Example of a professional seller listing on eBay. The watch is 2-years old, yet the listed price in only about $750 below the current retail price for a NEW one.

Find the right price. This may take some patience. Most sellers overprice what they are selling. First, look for auctions. You will likely find the fairest price in an auction. Second, look for an individual seller that is desperate for cash; they will accept lower-than-usual Best Offers. Third, look for Best Offer opportunities from other people (don’t low-ball your offer or the seller may not even respond. A reasonable first offer is within 30% of the original asking price, but don’t expect more than 10-15% off. I’ve even received a counteroffer for 1.8% off the listed price). Lastly, look for a Buy-it-Now with a good combination of price and seller circumstances.

Go to a Watch Store (or buy online from a watch store). From Luxury Buyers: “We recommend working with professionals in the industry that have a positive reputation for selling pre-owned watches. Working directly with a seller will always be your best bet since you know exactly who you are doing business with and on top of that, there is no middle man taking a cut from the transaction.”

From Watch Ponder: If you find a watch store that sells both new and used, you will definitely pay a little more. For example, you will likely pay 20-25% off new retail prices, while on eBay, you will pay about 50% off new retail prices. In fact, a lot of individual sellers end up selling to dealers on eBay, which means they buy and then mark it up to whatever price you pay in their store. However, you also are paying for their guarantee of the watch.

A few things to remember if you go to a watch store:

-How much are you really saving over buying the watch new? For a newer Rolex, the difference might not be substantial enough to make it worth your effort.

-Are you trading in another watch? If so, consider if the offer you are getting is enough to make it worth your trade-in. I’ve found that retail prices of the used watches I want to buy can be “made lower” if I’m trading-in, but that money gets compensated to the store by offering a lower-than-fair trade-in value. For example, I own a $3,000 fair-value watch. If I want a $5,000 watch, the store will offer it to me at $4,000, but then only give me $2,000 in trade. Settle the trade-in value first (and make sure it seems fair to you) and THEN talk about buying price for the new watch.

-Are there box and papers? If not, know that your watch will have less resale value in the future.

Buy Direct from an individual seller. This is where you buy a watch directly from an individual (outside of eBay). This may happen if you have a friend selling a watch. Have you ever heard that friends and business shouldn’t mix? I don’t buy from friends either. Watches are a commodity, meaning they sell at a fairly set market price. When people try to do friend to friend transactions, you will usually pay a higher price than you should — it’s difficult to drive a hard bargain with a friend. Watches are easy to sell; there is no reason they need to sell it to you. Unless you both agree to a fair market price (set by someplace like eBay or an online retailer) then it’s best for you to buy on your own and them to sell on their own. The one exception to this is if they have a unique piece that you can’t get anywhere else, in which case you have to do what you have to do to buy the piece.

Final advice from Luxury Buyers: “Acquire your used timepiece without the headaches. Do business with companies that you trust and that others trust and recommend.”

Some other things you should care about. Besides the watch, box, and papers (or appraisal and verification of authenticity), there are some things you should care about that can make a big difference in what you pay. These are a few (if you have others, please add them in the comments): The Band. Surprisingly, an A Lange & Sohne band for an ALS watch is a big deal among collectors. I had no idea until I ventured into this world for the first time. With that being said, not everyone WEARS the band that goes with the watch, but it’s good to have. If the watch doesn’t have it, you should discount the price you pay by $100-200 depending on the brand. On a related note, if you don’t like the band on the watch, don’t let it stop the sale. You have TONS of options. A great place to start is

The Band. Surprisingly, an A Lange & Sohne band for an ALS watch is a big deal among collectors. I had no idea until I ventured into this world for the first time. With that being said, not everyone WEARS the band that goes with the watch, but it’s good to have. If the watch doesn’t have it, you should discount the price you pay by $100-200 depending on the brand. On a related note, if you don’t like the band on the watch, don’t let it stop the sale.

IMG_0453

(Author’s photo)

The Buckle. This one really shocked me: the buckle on the band of your watch matters and makes a big difference in price for collectors in the high-end watches. If you own an ALS or Patek Philippe, the watch should have a buckle made by them (in the correct metal). If it doesn’t have one, it could affect the value of the watch by as much as $300-3,000+ (depending on the metal). Even if you don’t care about the buckle (I could honestly care less) it’s good to know for appraisal and valuation purposes.

The Buckle part II. Is it a deployment buckle? If so, that is more valuable. Deployment clasps are very convenient and add to the value of a watch, but only if it’s one made by the company that makes the watch. If it’s an aftermarket buckle, it adds very little value.

In Conclusion

I hope you have learned something from this post as well as seen both perspectives. Overall, buying used is a great way to save money and it all comes down to how much risk you are willing to take. There are many ways to mitigate the risks, but at the end of the day, even the most reputable dealer can make a mistake that you might not know about for years. If you have stories or experiences, we’d love to hear about them.

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I have a passion for watches and am a collector of luxury watches. I write opinion-based articles that try to bring the business lens to my writing to provide readers with a view of the business, marketing, and strategies of the watch industry companies I look into. In addition to Watch Ponder, I do speaking, freelance writing, and publish in other watch blogs and magazines. I do this as a hobby and because of my passion for watches. I am also a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

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