EXPERT ADVICE:

How to Buy Pre-Owned Watches


The market for pre-owned items is huge. The success of websites like Craigslist, AutoTrader and so on are a testimonial. And the wristwatch market is no exception. Although a wristwatch is often a very personal item, at some point people are willing to part with it and trade up for something more expensive, or more special to them. In this article, Robert-Jan Broer of FratelloWatches offers some guidance on where to look and what to look for.

Before we start, it is important to understand that the market for pre-owned watches can be divided into two categories, those being fairly recent watch models and vintage watches. For this discussion, we’ll stick with pre-owned watches from 1990 and later. Everything before 1990 could be considered “vintage,” although some define “vintage” as meaning prior to 1980 or even earlier. Why do we draw this line? Because buying vintage watches requires a bit more expertise and explanation. We will cover the topic of buying vintage watches separately in a future article for WatchTime.com. Why would you buy a pre-owned watch? Well, first there is the chance that a watch that you really like (or always have liked) is out of production and simply not available anymore. In this case, the only chance to obtain such a watch would be in the pre-owned market, unless you’re hoping to come across a never-used model at a dealer who never sold it in the first place, and chances of that happening are pretty slim.

Another reason might be the depreciation on a pre-owned watch. This depreciation is, for some watch brands and models, a bit more applicable than for others. The comparison with cars is not the best one, as those depreciate like almost no other ‘durable’ product, but even here, there is a difference in the depreciation of a BMW 328i and an Alfa Romeo (whatever model), for example. It’s the same with watches. The depreciation of a stainless-steel sports Rolex is far less than that on a quartz Chopard ladies’ watch. Almost any watch will acquire some depreciation; it is up to you to decide how much depreciation is acceptable when you’re considering the purchase of a pre-owned watch rather than a new one.

Vintage Rolex & Omega

The aspects to take into account when shopping pre-owned are worth mentioning here as well. As with a pre-owned car, you’ll want to know a few important things. For watches, you should focus on:

Service history
This isn’t so important if the watch is just one or two years old, but always ask about the service history of the watch and for the invoice. Since servicing a mechanical watch will cost you quite a bit these days, chances are small that the seller discarded this important document. If no invoice exists, assume that the watch hasn’t had a service overhaul. Calculate the cost of paying for this service yourself and add it to the watch’s price and decide whether it is still worth going forward. Ask for the official service cost at an authorized dealer, or ask your local watchmaker. Also, ask whether he (or she) is capable of servicing the watch you are about to purchase.

Vintage Tudor Pelagos

Box and papers
If a watch is 30 to 40 years old, it is very likely that its original box and manuals are gone. For some reason, the owners didn’t care about these things (and sometimes still don’t). My father, for example, received a beautiful Omega in the late 1960s without a box or papers. These were just left at the dealer as he saw no reason to bring them home. With today’s packaging, in which a lot of effort has been put into a nice wooden or leather box, detailed manuals, warranty cards and so on, you should really look for an all-complete set. Of course, if the watch is very special and you’re relatively sure you’ll never to never part with it, and the price is right, you might decide to pull the trigger on it without these accessories anyway. Also, make sure you’re getting the correct box for your specific watch. It should at least be period-correct. Throughout the years, some watch brands used several different boxes for their watches.

Omega Speedmaster Pro with Box and papers

 

Scratches and dents

A watch should be worn. We have little use for people who put their new watch in a safe and never look at it again. Even if it costs $100,000, a wristwatch is meant for the wrist. Not every watch is suited for daily wear, but is a pity to see some of these beautiful watches disappear in collections that never see daylight. Of course, a watch that has been worn will get some tiny hairline scratches, a few deep scratches, and even an occasional dent. Always ask yourself what kind of shock or bump a watch must have received if a scratch is very deep or if the case has multiple dents. Remember, it is not only the case that has been knocked around, but also the mechanical movement inside. If a watch case has a dent in one of its lugs, it was probably dropped on the floor and landed on just the wrong spot. You may still decide to buy it, especially if  you’ve checked to see that all its functions still work, but keep in mind that damages may go deeper than what’s visible on the surface. Also, when there is corrosion on the hands or applied hour markers, for example, ask yourself whether the movement is free of corrosion. If possible, and if the watch doesn’t have a display back, ask the seller if you can see the watch’s movement. Look for signs of corrosion and while you’re at it, also look for scratches and other signs of abuse.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - vintage
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - vintage - back

We could go on and on about the things you need to look for, but in general, make sure you don’t ever consider buying a pre-owned watch without some knowledge of it. On Fratello Watches, we started with an Omega Speedmaster Buyer’s Guide to assist people who are looking for a new, pre-owned or vintage Speedmaster watches. There are other initiatives like this on other platforms as well for other brands and models. Last but not least, where does one go to find a nice pre-owned watch, anyway? As mentioned above, just as there is a Craigslist and an AutoTrader website, there are also on-line market platforms for pre-owned watches. Chrono24.com is definitely the world’s largest platform for watches and has more than 150,000 offers on watches from both professional sellers/dealers as well as private sellers. Another interesting initiative is watchrecon.com, a website that curates the offers on pre-owned watches from various watch forums and communities. This will save you the time you might take to search these forums one by one.

Some of these online sellers also have a brick-and-mortar shop as an extension to their online offerings, which means that you can visit the shop and see in person the watch you’ve seen online. It is always recommended that you see a pre-owned watch with your own eyes, and fiddle around with it a bit, instead of just buying it online without the opportunity to do a little inspection.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Snoopy

Some authorized watch dealers also carry a selection of pre-owned watches. These are mainly watches from clients who traded up to a more expensive model. Ask your local watch dealer about pre-owned watches. Most of them have a good relationship with their clients and might know someone who is willing to part with their watch. Then there are these watch auctions (both off- and online) carried out by several companies, including Auctionata, Bonham’s, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and so on. Be aware of the fact that, in most cases, you will be able to see the watches before the auction takes place, but also that there will be other bidders, so there is uncertainty regarding the final price, not to mention that you’ll have to pay a 20% fee to the auction house. Last but not least, always ask about warranty. In the case of a young, pre-owned watch, there might still be a factory warranty. If you buy the watch from a professional watch seller, a 6-to-12-month warranty is common.

This article was originally posted in 2015 and has been updated.

Save

17 Responses to “How to Buy Pre-Owned Watches”

Show all responses
  1. Harrison Streete

    Regarding the Speedmaster being manually operated: Do I understand correctly that the manual winding interval may be each forty-eight hours, or is twenty-four hours is the correct interval with another twenty-four as “backup”?. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    HS

    Reply
  2. Sylvio F. Bertoli

    What a nice article. I could not agree more with the author’s comments on scratches and dents, namely “A watch should be worn. We have little use for people who put their new watch in a safe and never look at it again. Even if it costs $100,000, a wristwatch is meant for the wrist. Not every watch is suited for daily wear, but is a pity to see some of these beautiful watches disappear in collections that never see daylight. Of course, a watch that has been worn will get some tiny hairline scratches, a few deep scratches, and even an occasional dent”. A true watch lover wants a watch with a history not something that was kept in a safe by someone only interested in profitting from this wonderful mechanical toys that together with cuff links and pens are the only acceptable jewelry for classic men and that can be a beautiful additional jewelry for women. Well done, Robert. U DA MAN!

    Reply
  3. Christine Bourgeois Sica

    Hello Robert-Jan: Are you familiar with WatchFacts? My last two pre-owned watch purchases came with their reports. Using their proprietary WatchFacts Score and reporting system, they are making major advancements for the vintage and certified pre-owned watch industry. May be worth looking into for you as well. Warm regards from Miami, Christine

    Reply
  4. I have a tudor which is over 60years old. How do I get to know more details about it as it’s serial number is not readable. Also, how much would it be worth?

    Reply
  5. Daniel Hammer

    Be extra careful when buying a used Rolex. There are so many counterfeits out there because the watch brand is so popular.

    Reply
  6. Molly White

    First of all i want to say you one thing that your watches collection is so beautiful and stylish.The same vintage watch you have mentioned in Pictures i bought it

    Reply
  7. mel zangwill

    What I would like to know that when dealing with pre owned watches for example a Rolex Daytona when new value $25.000 used plus 15 years ,what should the prices be ? Same for Panerai etc,

    It seems that in many cases there is next to no depreciation, which means why buy used?

    Reply
  8. John Kennekam

    I see you paste a picture of a Tudor Palagos. I love the look and feel of the watch, but am interested in how it will depreciate in comparison with it’s sibling Rolex Submariner or an Omega Seamaster. Do Tudors hold their resale value well?

    Reply
  9. Sam Harris

    There has to be a step up, something out there better than eBay. I for one would love to know.

    Reply
    • c willr

      I got my pre owned omega seamaster at Swiss watch expo and crown and caliber bought my older omega I hardly wore sent it to omega and they rebuilt it like brand new worth it 1998 model i always wanted

      Reply
  10. Options for buying are limited near me. Would anyone like to share their experiences buying with Chrono24.com?

    Reply
    • Hi,

      I am the author and I bought a couple of watches using chrono24.com myself. Chrono24 does not offer the watches, but dealers (and private people) use it as a platform to display their watches. So always see if you can find some feedback on a seller on there. Some sellers are marked with Trusted Seller or Premium Seller. Buy with confidence and otherwise contact their support team with any questions. They do a great job.

      RJ

      Reply
  11. Love how you only have photos of pristine watches as you talk about scratches, dings, corrosion, etc.

    Reply
    • Hello Bill,

      Most pictures in the article are my own watches. The Audemars Piguet is pretty scratched, but the pictures don’t show as these are tiny hairline scratches. Same goes for the Speedmasters. It is what I wrote in the article: if a watch is too dinged or scratched, ask yourself what kind of abuse the movement had to endure. Personally, I don’t mind a few scratches or normal signs of ‘wear’, but if it is worse, I step away.

      RJ

      Reply
Leave a Reply