Buying a watch that has had a previous life is something most of us will do at some point in our collecting journey. Sometimes it is the only way to get a very high in-demand timepiece, an older model that is no longer in production, or more commonly, to save a little money on what a watch retails for new. When a timepiece is sold in the aftermarket we can call it a myriad of terms, but for brevity’s sake let us settle on two terms: pre-owned and used. Pre-owned is a watch that comes from a trusted reseller with a very open and stringent set of procedures a watch will go through before being resold. Used watches are sold as-is from sellers on forums, e-Bay, or any other platform where the maintenance and condition of the watch are relatively unknown. Let us take a deeper look at what it means to buy pre-owned vs. used and what the benefits may include.
The number one worry by far when buying a watch from somewhere other than an authorized dealer is whether or not the watch you are buying is authentic. Counterfeiters have gotten good enough to fool almost anyone at first glance. Famously Lil Baby was sold a fake Patek Philippe by his jeweler recently, and a very popular YouTube channel Horology House had to close shop when it turned out he had sold a fake Rolex to a customer. The fear of passing on a fake watch to a customer leads larger trusted sellers like Crown and Caliber and Hodinkee to implement multiple levels of inspections to ensure that every watch is authentic. They will run the serial number to make sure the watch isn’t stolen and make sure that every part of the watch matches brand standards. If there is any level of doubt to the authenticity of a timepiece, it goes to a watchmaker who will open the watch and inspect the movement. This is not something an individual seller is able to do. It is possible that even with the best of intentions an individual reseller could inadvertently sell a fake watch that passed a quick visual inspection. Whereas a company that has access to watchmakers who are able to do thorough inspections would have caught a fake before it reached a buyer.
A larger reputable pre-owned seller will test every watch to check the accuracy of its timekeeping, the amplitude of the escapement, and if it will pass a pressure test. Once a watch passes these tests it will be ready for a new home. If it doesn’t, the watch will be serviced to ensure that the new owner will receive a working watch ready for the wear and tear of daily life. When purchasing a used watch rarely are any of these tests performed. One can only hope the watch is ready to go into the water or run only a few seconds off in a day, but there are no guarantees.
Speaking of guarantees, a pre-owned watch purchase will also typically come with a warranty. Today the industry standard has been increased to two-years after purchase. One of the worst feelings imaginable is devoting time and energy researching the watch you want, finding it, and then spending the money on it only to have the watch stop working six months later. Buying from someone on a forum means that if this happens, it is up to you to spend hundreds or even thousands more to get the watch serviced, whereas if you buy pre-owned, you have the peace of mind of knowing that if something goes wrong, the warranty will cover it. Every watch will eventually need to be serviced, but a new buyer never wants to worry about that while the high of a new watch is still fresh in their mind.
The last benefit of purchasing a pre-owned watch over a used watch is the condition of the case and bracelet or strap. Used watches are sold as-is, with scratches, dents, leather wear and grime in all their glory. This can have a certain charm as the older a watch is, the more these things are considered patina or character rather than just wear and tear. A good pre-owned seller will make sure the watch you buy is as close to new as possible. This means that no matter the age or condition the watch case is in, it is getting a spa day to clean off all that has accumulated in its little nooks and crannies. If the watch is not in that realm of vintage it will also get a quick polish to get rid of small surface scratches and even a laser weld to get rid of larger dents. If the job is done right, it will be almost impossible to tell that the watch has ever been worn before.
So why does anyone buy used with the risks of getting a fake, run-down, or beat-up watch? It’s cheaper, that’s why. Pre-owned is value added. It costs time and money to authenticate, service, and clean a watch and then warranty the purchase. The peace of mind that comes with this extra cost is well worth it. Of course, the choice is yours, but always remember that you get what you pay for.