When it comes to selling a watch, there’s one big question you’ll likely have before you start: “How much is my watch worth?” Sure, you can throw up your watch on eBay and see what happens, but if you’re not familiar with the pre-owned market, this may not always be the best (or quickest) option. First, you should always do your research. Second, you should know that there are several factors that can affect the value of a pre-owned watch.
In the secondhand market, not all brands are made equal. When you buy a watch brand new, you have to understand that you’re paying for a certain amount of markup, which all but disappears when you go to re-sell it. And for some brands, that can be a pretty steep drop in value. For a brand like Rolex, its reputation for reliability and accuracy means that Rolex watches retain much of their initial value. Other brands that are high in perceived value like Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and A. Lange & Sohne also retain their value more than watches of other brands.
For a more in-depth analysis of the brands that do and don’t retain value in the pre-owned market, explore our series on watch values and depreciation.
Likewise, the type of movement inside the watch itself makes a difference in its value. A Swiss-made mechanical watch will carry greater value than a quartz-powered one, partly because of the hours of effort that goes into manufacturing, assembling, and testing a mechanical movement. In the community, certain mechanical movements are well-respected and even revered (especially when it comes to vintage watches), which can affect the price of a watch. And of course, you always have to consider the condition of the movement—if your watch needs service or there are defects in the movement, that seriously affects the value of the watch.
The relative rarity of a watch also contributes to its value. Many brands will release special edition watches to commemorate a special occasion, person, or anniversary. Special edition watches can range in number from a dozen to thousands, and there are certain brands that release “limited edition” watches fairly often—so a watch with a limited edition label isn’t always going to mean it will be high in value. Because demand for these rare and unique watches is high and the supply is low, this increase the value of these rare watches.
Generally, rarity will apply to vintage watches. Because demand for these rarer vintage models is high in the collector community, this sends their value up.
We touched on this above regarding a watch’s movement, but truly, the condition of your watch has a strong impact on its pre-owned value. Many owners take great care of their watch by cleaning it regularly, having it serviced, and storing it in a box or a watch winder. Cleaning your watch helps keep it in great to excellent condition. By not cleaning your watch, you allow dirt, dust, and other particles to build up in the lugs and bracelet, or even make their way inside the movement. If a watch has a beautiful movement that doesn’t work, that has a significant impact on the value of the watch.
Watches come in a variety of materials, from stainless steel to white gold to platinum. Precious metals like gold tend to fluctuate in value, which in turn affects the value of a gold watch. Typically, stainless steel tends to keep a steady value in the pre-owned market.
In the pre-owned market, luxury watches for men hold their value a lot better than women’s watches. This is because women (and those who buy for them) tend to buy brand new over pre-owned when it comes to jewelry and watches. Therefore, women’s watches don’t perform as well in the secondhand market since they don’t have as much demand.
In addition to those listed above, there are many other contributing factors to the value of a pre-owned watch: bezel type, dial color, age, and the presence of box and papers will likely also have an effect on the value of a pre-owned luxury watch. Your best bet? Consult an expert, someone who knows the market well and can give you a nuanced, informed, and accurate idea of what to expect.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published March 19, 2014 and has since been updated for clarity.