What’s My Best Watch Buying Option During a Pandemic? How (And Where) to Buy Watches Online


With the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, and social distancing measures likely to carry on for the foreseeable future, the capacity to browse and purchase watches at a boutique anytime soon might seem somewhat slim. Nonetheless, while the traditional method of buying from a local jeweler, a larger AD, or a brand boutique might be paused, buying a watch from any of them online is increasingly possible.

Some brands facing this new reality have launched new online stores to cater to the growing demand of online purchasing, while others, such as Patek Phillipe, have allowed authorized dealers to sell online, lifting a longstanding ban on the practice. Others still are allowing limited sales via in-person private appointments at brand boutiques. Still, for all the options, supply lines both for manufacturing and consumer sales have been crunched, with some of the most popular models on the market coming in and out of stock as retailers and watch brands develop work-arounds in the face of disruptive social distancing and travel restrictions.  

To help you in your watch-buying journey, we at WatchTime have assembled a guide on the three most popular buying options, as well as helpful tips when looking for a watch. While the guide is especially helpful now, the information will be relevant far down the road, even when social distancing standards and mask requirements begin to fade.

Breitling’s New Online Storefront

Buying Options: (1) Brand Direct

In buying a watch online, the options are much the same as buying a watch in person, leaving consumers with three primary routes: direct brand sales, authorized dealers, and the secondary, or “grey” market.

The first option is to buy directly from the brands, i.e., go to a brand’s website or official online shop and purchase a watch directly through the platform. Some higher-end luxury watchmakers are still offering private in-person appointments, but even brands opting towards this method of sales most often still have an online concierge service to help with scheduling.

The benefit of buying directly through brands is this is the method best able to ensure authenticity of the watch you are interested in, and further able to ensure the watch is brand new, never having been worn. The downside is that buying directly through brands, with few exceptions, requires the consumer to buy the models at MSRP, with few discount opportunities — useful for very in-demand models and those prone to counterfeiting, but certainly requiring more initial capital for purchase and won’t necessarily yield a positive or neutral return upon resell (if that’s a consideration).

Some brands, including luxury watchmakers like Rolex and Patek Philippe, as well as more affordable brands like Citizen-owned Frederique Constant and Alpina Watches, are eschewing direct sales altogether through the crisis, conducting sales almost exclusively through authorized third-party sellers with existing stock (though some are still offering limited private appointments in certain locations). You can find a list of some of these brands, below:

  • A. Lange & Söhne
  • Alpina
  • Audemars Piguet
  • Blancpain
  • Breguet
  • Carl F. Bucherer
  • Chopard
  • Corum
  • Franck Muller
  • Frederique Constant
  • Glashütte Original
  • Girard-Perregaux
  • Hamilton
  • Hublot
  • Junghans
  • MeisterSinger
  • Mido
  • Mühle-Glashütte
  • Parmigiani Fleurier
  • Patek Philippe
  • Rolex
  • Sinn
  • Tudor
  • Tutima Glashütte
  • Ulysse Nardin
  • Union Glashütte
  • Vacheron Constantin
  • Vulcain
  • Zenith

(2) Authorized Dealers

The second option for buying a watch online is through authorized dealers (AD), which simply means that a watch brand directly authorizes a private third-party seller to sell its watches. Working through an AD extends the same authenticity guarantee as buying directly through a brand, but as the dealers have a larger stock of watches to move, they more frequently are willing to offer discounts on their available products. For many, ADs offer a happy medium between directly purchasing from brands and launching full-fledged into the sometimes more difficult to maneuver secondary market.

The Watches of Switzerland site

There are thousands of ADs across the country for many different brands, but some of the largest sellers include Wempe, Tourneau, and Watches of Switzerland. Depending on where you live, your local watch shop could be an AD as well and would surely appreciate your patronage, so it would be good to call, check their website, and see what options they have available.

Watchbox’s Online Homepage

(3) Enter the Secondary Market

The third and final method for buying a watch online is via the aforementioned secondary market, sometimes called the “grey market.” It can be described, quite simply, as a market where goods are bought and sold outside of a manufacturer’s officially approved distribution channels– though in the world of watches this definition encompasses a wide variety of watch sellers. These include large-scale pre-owned and vintage dealers, like WatchBox and H.Q. Milton; selling platforms that connect buyers and sellers, like Chrono24 and eBay; smaller-scale dealers like Eric Wind’s Wind Vintage, Theo & Harris, Oyster Palace, and Those Watch Guys; and one-off private sales where owners sell their watches directly, most often through an online listing on a forum like Reddit’s r/WatchExchange, as well as long-time watch forums like WatchUSeek, Rolex Forums, and Chronocentric’s Chronotrader.

Working through a reputable dealer (whether large or small) has the benefit of best ensuring a watch’s authenticity, though discounts may be less certain to come by. While working through a sales platform and via private sales might yield better prices, it certainly adds a significant degree of uncertainty in buying in terms of authenticity, which is a valid and serious concern when spending potentially thousands of dollars on a watch with limited contact or information on which to base the decision.

Reddit’s r/WatchExchange

Buyer Beware

The below statement is a cliché, often uttered in the watch community about online buying, but it’s nonetheless still a phrase worth remembering (as I often do) when hunting for your next timepiece: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. This is true not only in the secondary market, where authenticity is more difficult to verify and the reputation of the dealer is everything, but also applies to authorized dealers and to direct brand sales. Buying a watch online without ever seeing the timepiece in person takes a significant leap of trust, and just because a watch might be a couple hundred or sometimes thousands off its MSRP does not necessarily mean it is a good deal.

Further, speaking specifically about buying in-demand vintage watches, especially those made by Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, and other historic brands — e.g. those that are especially prone to counterfeiting — as an inexperienced buyer, it can often be better to pay a premium to work through a reputable dealer than to go for the deepest discount and discover that you’ve bought a “Frankenwatch” that has an eighth of the effective value and no hope of either return or resell.

For better or worse, as a result of the current pandemic, it has quickly become a buyer’s market for those purchasing a watch. But there are still plenty of people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers or even to outright defraud them. Hopefully this rundown proves helpful to all prospective buyers in keeping both their social and economic distance from these types of sellers.

19 Responses to “What’s My Best Watch Buying Option During a Pandemic? How (And Where) to Buy Watches Online”

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    • Hi, we usually do not endorse dealers (and haven’t had any contact with them), but you can check out their ratings and reviews on Chrono24

      Reply
  1. Derrick

    Though they try to do their best, I also still had some problems with Chrono24 and Jomashop. Don’t think Chrono24 can guarantee the quality/service of all their sellers despite the 5 star ratings for them. Most of the ratings are way over rated becuase you have to write the reviews within 1 month, however, many of the problems occur after the 1 month review period and their is no way to edit the reviews. Many sellers see this and just have to make sure the customer is happy for 1 month. The problem with my watch (bought from Luxe ware) occurred 6 months after receipt and the problem was that someone exchanged the main rotor in the 50,000USD watch despite that the watch was labelled “New”. Had to spend 3600USD to fix the watch as both the seller and Chrono24 ignored me.

    Reply
  2. Bob Dietrick

    I bought an Omega Speedmaster from a reputable dealer in Chicago. Everything arrived as expected. The problem is that there is no one to size the watch. I live on long Island, NY in Oakdale which is about 65 miles east of NYC and all of the jewelers are closed. All factory stores are closed. Finally after four weeks I have found a Pawn store who will do it. However I had to wait 5 days for him to do it. You have an excellent column but you should make your readers aware of this problem.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob, that’s a great point, and actually something we’ve been thinking about here. Look out for a guide in the coming weeks on how to size your watch and change straps!

      Reply
  3. Tom Lance

    Thank you Caleb. This article was very informing and thorough. I hope to see a piece on affordable watches such as the ones on 49uNDER.com. Thanks again Caleb.

    Reply
    • Hi Tom, thank you for your feedback! A guide on more affordable brands is something we’ve been thinking about, look out for a great one to come!

      Reply
  4. I have bought, sold and traded some amazing Rolex and other watches from DavidSW in Orlando, FL for the last 7-8 years. I have had fantastic experience with David and his team in everyone of my transactions. His service is outstanding and his watch selection and quality is one of the best in the business. He has impeccable references on all of the popular watch forums.

    Reply
  5. Marc Bonnici

    I’ve brought and sold using the Watchbox app. Really excellent service around. Highly recommended

    Reply
  6. Dr. B

    I don’t use the secondary markets; too much risk of the issues described above. I much prefer to build a relationship with a local AD and then pre-order

    Reply
  7. Hobbyist

    Some of the AD’s listed here are not actual Authorized Dealers (Jomashop for example). They are grey market. Reputable sure, but you’re not going to get manufacture warranties from sites like that.

    Reply
  8. John Blazys

    Excellent article and information. Are you familiar with an apparently out of business watch company called Capt & Co? I saw a watch with that name but it was sold and I’d like to find another. Vintage 1940s.

    Reply
    • Hi John. I’m actually not familiar with Capt & Co, but I did a quick search and found some interesting vintage chronographs. It might be good to reach out to a reputable vintage dealer and see if they might be able to source one for you!

      Reply
  9. Michael Chang

    Bought from Jomashop, Watchbox and Crown & Caliber, all authentic.

    Reply
  10. Steve

    I have bought four high end watches on Chrono24. Very positive experiences.

    Reply
  11. Houssam

    Hi, I saw chrono24 mentioned in the 2nd market, I really wonder about their eligibility, I have been ransacked for omega diver 300M purchase through one of their trusted sellers (Lux-Timepieces GMBH), never been able to contact the seller since then and zero support from chrono24. Regards,
    Houssam

    Reply
  12. SHAKENDOWN

    I have not researched everyone listed, but reading the BBB reports for Authentic Watches, Jomashop, & Crown & Caliber, suggests anyone considering purchasing from them should not. If you think I’m a troll, read the reviews & complaints.

    Reply
  13. Steve

    Some AD’s will make an appt if you have a relationship with them. Some of those hard to get models may suddenly be available also! Manager of my local AD hand delivered a Pepsi GMT id been begging for for couple of years in April after they were shut down.

    Reply
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