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.
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).
- Anonimo Watches: https://anonimo.com/
- Armin Strom: https://www.arminstrom.com/en/configurator/
- Ball: https://shop.ballwatch.ch/en/
- Baltic: https://baltic-watches.com/en/
- Baume & Mercier: https://www.baume-et-mercier.com/us/en/home.html
- Bell & Ross: https://www.bellross.com/
- Breitling: https://www.breitling.com/us-en/
- Bremont: https://us.bremont.com/
- Bulgari: https://www.bulgari.com/en-us/
- Bulova: https://www.bulova.com/
- Cartier: https://www.cartier.com/
- Casio: https://www.casio.com/products/archive/watches
- Chanel: https://www.chanel.com/us/
- Christopher Ward: https://www.christopherward.com/
- Citizen: https://www.citizenwatch.com/
- Davosa: https://www.davosa-usa.com/
- Doxa: https://doxawatches.com/
- Formex: https://usd.formexwatch.com/
- Fortis: https://www.fortis-swiss.com/
- G-Shock: https://www.gshock.com/
- Guinand: https://www.guinand-uhren.de/home-en.html
- H. Moser & Cie.: https://shop-now.h-moser.com/
- Hanhart: https://shop.hanhart.com/en
- IWC: https://www.iwc.com/us/en/home.html
- Jaeger-LeCoultre: https://www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/us/en/home-page.html
- Laco: https://www.laco-watches.com/en/index
- Longines: https://shop.us.longines.com/
- Lorier: https://www.lorierwatches.com/
- Maurice Lacroix: https://www.mauricelacroix.com/us_en/
- Mercer: https://www.mercergoods.com/
- Milus: https://milus.com/
- MKII: http://boutique.mkiiwatches.com/
- Mondaine: https://mondaine-usa.com/
- Montblanc: https://www.montblanc.com/en-us/home.html
- Nomos Glashütte: https://nomos-glashuette.com/en
- Norqain: https://www.norqain.com/?v=7516fd43adaa
- Omega: https://www.omegawatches.com/en-us/
- Oris: https://www.oris.ch/
- Panerai : https://www.panerai.com/us/en/home.html
- Piaget: https://www.piaget.com/
- Porsche Design: https://www.porsche-design.us/index.php?lang=1&
- Rado: https://www.rado.com/en_us
- RGM: https://www.rgmwatches.com/
- Seiko: https://seikousa.com/
- Shinola: https://www.shinola.com/
- Stowa: https://www.stowa.de/en/shop/
- Swatch: https://www.swatch.com/en_us/
- TAG Heuer: https://www.tagheuer.com/us/en/
- Timex: https://www.timex.com/
- Tissot: https://us.tissotshop.com/
- Weiss: https://weisswatchcompany.com/
- Yema: https://en.yema.com/
- Zodiac: https://www.zodiacwatches.com/
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
- Audemars Piguet
- Carl F. Bucherer
- Franck Muller
- Frederique Constant
- Glashütte Original
- Parmigiani Fleurier
- Patek Philippe
- Tutima Glashütte
- Ulysse Nardin
- Union Glashütte
- Vacheron Constantin
(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.
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.
- Authentic Watches: https://www.authenticwatches.com/
- Bucherer: https://www.bucherer.com/ch/en
- Exquisite Timepieces: https://www.exquisitetimepieces.com/
- Govberg Jewelers: https://www.govbergwatches.com/
- Jomashop: https://www.jomashop.com/
- The Watchery: https://www.thewatchery.com/
- Tourneau: https://www.tourneau.com/
- Watches of Switzerland: https://www.watchesofswitzerland.com/
- Wempe: https://www2.wempe.com/en
(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.
- Analog/Shift: https://analogshift.com/
- Chrono24: https://www.chrono24.com/
- Chronotrader: https://chronocentric.com/forums/chronotrader/
- Crown & Caliber: https://www.crownandcaliber.com/
- Ebay Watches: https://www.ebay.com/b/Wristwatches/31387/bn_2408451
- H.Q. Milton: https://www.hqmilton.com/
- Oyster Palace: https://oysterpalace.com/
- Rolex Forums: https://www.rolexforums.com/
- StockX: https://stockx.com/
- Theo & Harris: https://theoandharris.com/
- Those Watch Guys: https://www.thosewatchguys.com/
- WatchBox: https://www.thewatchbox.com/
- WatchExchange: https://www.reddit.com/r/Watchexchange/
- WatchuSeek: https://www.watchuseek.com/
- Wind Vintage: https://www.windvintage.com/
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.