The intricacies of buying a second-hand watch can leave the novice overwhelmed with confusion and self-doubt. It’s a daunting market requiring serious research, and questions abound: Am I being overcharged? Does that scratch mean I should pass? Is this piece authentic?
We speak to the watch experts at Sotheby's and Christie's for their best advice for all the new collectors out there. Here are their top tips on purchasing a second-hand watch.
Listen to your heart
The buyers of second-hand watches can usually be divided into two categories: the sentimentalists and the investors. Some people want to own a piece of the past, maybe something their parents or grandparents wore, that will transport them back to a time for which they feel nostalgia. Others are looking for good deals, bargains that will pay off with a quick flip through a resale, or a watch to store until it has appreciated in value.
Jessie Kang, Sotheby’s head of watches, Asia, says buyers should look beyond the potential dollar value. “The very first and important reminder we often suggest to clients is to buy watches for more than investment purposes.” In Kang’s view, you should look for a piece you connect with, one that makes you want to own it not just for its potential, but also because of its inherent appeal to you.
All things are not equal
Biebuyck also advises buyers not to be dazzled by the exclusivity of an item. “Rarity does not equate to value, except in exceptional circumstances. Just because something is hard to come by does not mean it’s worth lots of money,” Biebuyck warns. “Generally, there is a reason something was produced in limited quantities in a period: it was not a sales success due to it being not very good or was offered in a con guration that was not fashionable at the time and has not aged well.”
“Generally, there is a reason something was produced in limited quantities in a period: it was not a sales success due to it being not very good or was offered in a configuration that was not fashionable at the time and has not aged well.”
Do your homework
It is always best to know your product before buying it. The more you know about it, the better decision you can make. But research should not be limited to specific timepieces; Kang encourages buyers to get to know their own tastes and resources before making a purchase. “We encourage in-depth research about the category they are buying, and to buy what they truly like and the best they can afford,” says Kang.
Use your head
It’s all too common nowadays to find shoppers standing over items in stores checking prices against competitors on their smartphones before making a final decision to buy. While there are more discreet ways to do this, it is important that during your research you shop around, make notes of prices, and ask for an item’s history to ensure it is authentic. “Always buy smart: compare prices and check the provenance,” suggests Kang.
Condition is everything
Second-hand does not mean dented, dinged or scratched. Biebuyck advises buyers to take the time to inspect the timepieces carefully before purchasing. “The premium that is paid for perfect watches with untouched dials is now multiples of what one in average condition is worth,” Biebuyck says. “Collectors are in pursuit of the best of the best examples, and condition is prized over nearly everything else.”
Build a collection
You may be in the market for one specific watch or perhaps your goal is to amass a collection. If you have your eyes on a few timepieces, or are particularly drawn to a style or design, Kang suggests you should consider shaping your collection right from your first few purchases. “We would also advise building a collection under a certain theme, be it about a particular brand, a particular function, a special movement, a special material, left- handed pieces, etc.”
Be prepared to walk
And if you can’t find the right watch, don’t be afraid to keep looking, Biebuyck says. “What is meant to be will be. If a deal does not look like it is going to work out, there is probably a good reason for it, and it’s not worth spending time trying to push something through when it will likely end in disappointment.”
Text by: Brian Adams