With more and more people wanting to get a luxury timepiece for themselves or as a gift for a loved one pre-owned has become a popular option for buyers. Pre-owned has the advantage of saving money over a new watch or it may be the only way to get a model that is no longer in production. It also allows you to skip the multiple month or year wait list that is now becoming the norm with some in-demand models. Here are some things to look out for before buying your first pre-owned watch.
Vintage vs pre-owned
Watches are often a multi-generational heirloom, so it may take some time for one to be considered vintage. The line between pre-owned and vintage can be slightly blurred but generally speaking vintage watches are over 40 years old and are a category of watches that has seen a large jump in interest from first time buyers and collectors. However vintage pieces will over time lose the ability to be water resistant, the lume will no longer work, and finding parts for repair may be its own pursuit. Pre-owned watches are typically still in production or recently in production and can be easily serviced and brought back to like-new condition. While there is a certain charm to the older vintage models and owning a watch as it becomes an heirloom makes for a great story, a newer watch is easier to maintain and a more practical choice.
Buy the seller
Now that you’ve decided on pre-owned and are ready to purchase that watch you’ve been lusting after, here is the most important thing you need to know: BUY THE SELLER. With so many fake watches out there and unscrupulous sellers ready to take your money, trusting your dealer is key. Large watch purveyors like HODINKEE and Crown and Caliber have been around for years earning the trust of thousands of buyers. Like any trusted seller should, they have experts on hand who will authenticate every watch that comes in, and for high-end timepieces a watch maker that will open the watch to check the authenticity of the movement as well. There are too many sellers who are more interested in selling a watch as quickly and as for as much profit as possible than they are about taking the time to authenticate a piece or establish trust with their customers. Even celebrities like Lil’ Baby was sold a fake $400,000 Patek Philippe by a jeweler. This is an area where going to a very reputable seller is crucial.
A watch that has had a previous life may have picked up a few scratches along the way. In most cases these can easily be polished out, and the watch can be brought back to like-new condition. For larger dents on a watch case the seller might choose to laser-weld it back to original condition or leave it with all the war wounds intact. Whatever the seller decides to do before listing the watch, it is important that they are honest with the buyer about the condition it is in at the time of sale. An honest dealer will be specific about any flaws the watch might have and will price accordingly. No seller should attempt to sell an obviously scratched up watch as “like new”. This is a huge red flag. As for what condition to buy it in is entirely up to you and what you’re comfortable with. Something with a little more wear and tear on it will come at a significant discount, and if you do not mind that history being visible then a good deal can be had. The condition notes from a seller should also let you know if anything is not original on the watch. This can sometimes mean a replaced hand or bezel on older watches, but often on pre-owned it could simply be that the strap may have been changed as any original leather strap will have a much shorter lifespan than that of the watch itself.
Box and papers
When watches are sold new, they come with the manufacturers’ box and papers guaranteeing the authenticity and providing a warranty for the watch. When a pre-owned watch is sold with both, it is often referred to as being sold with a “full set”. The absence of either of these doesn’t necessarily reflect the legitimacy of the watch. For some the box and papers will be put into a corner of a closet never to be seen again. For others part of the appeal of buying a watch is to have it include everything it originally came with. That desire adds value in the aftermarket. If this is something you want when buying a watch pre-owned, be prepared to pay a few hundred and in some cases a few thousand more. It will however also add value to the watch if you ever want to sell it.
One of the things that is impossible to verify by a seller or a buyer is when a watch was last serviced or how well it was serviced. The watch you buy today may need to be serviced within the year. A reputable dealer of pre-owned watches is mindful of this and will offer a warranty of a few years to ensure that you are covered should your watch need to be brought back into working condition. This helps to ease any worry you may have about the history of the watch prior to becoming part of your collection.
A knowledgeable and trusted seller should set your mind at ease about buying pre-owned. They should be straightforward, honest and detailed about the condition of the watch and have taken measures to bring the watch as close to like new condition as possible while maintaining its integrity. They will also be up front about what is included in your purchase and whether the watch is all original. Most importantly they will guarantee their work with a warranty that will have you covered should any problems occur with the watch over the next few years. With this in mind, go out and enjoy the hunt for your next pre-owned watch!