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Buying a Vintage or Pre-Owned Watch? Here are 5 useful tips!

Buying a vintage watch – outsiders will just call it an old watch – or a pre-owned watch might sound strange if you’ve just begun your love affair with high-end watches. However, as with cars, are you prepared to take the full blow when purchasing a new watch? Or would you prefer someone else takes the depreciation hit? Buying a pre-owned watch can save you up to 40-50% in costs, for a watch that is still in production. Buying a vintage watch however is different, and might save you some money compared to a new watch, but it can also multiply the price of a new and similar model by 3 or 4 times. In extreme cases, it seems that the multiplication factor can be even two digits.

There are a few guidelines to follow when you are in the market for pre-owned or vintage timepieces. The guidelines are simple, but it’s easy to forget them in the excitement of making a bid. So keep a tight memory check on the following. And remember you can use them just as easily for pre-owned watches as you would for vintage ones.

  1. The first rule is also the golden rule and it reads as follows: Always buy the seller. This means that even if the watch seems to be 100% authentic, complete with box, papers and original bill of sale, if you don’t or can’t trust the seller, forget the deal. This also works the other way around – if you are not sure the bezel or hands on that vintage Rolex Submariner are original, make sure the seller knows this, and check to see what his reputation is amongst Rolex collectors. There are a dozen forums available on vintage watches, where participants can tell you if a seller is to be trusted or not.
  2. Conduct research before you buy. Apart from the world wide web with its many blogs, forums and watch portals, there are things with pages inside them known as – books. A number of brands like Omega and IWC publish their own reference work and publishers like Italian Mondani have the standard work on brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe. Hundreds of pages with detailed descriptions and photographs of watches, parts and accessories. These books tend to be very expensive (250-400 Euro), but think of it as an initial down payment to protect your future investment. What is a 300 Euro book when compared to an 8000 Euro watch? Additionally, these books are even fun to read when you are into watches. They will turn you into an expert eventually.
  3. Be patient and don’t act in haste when you see something you like. Often it’s emotions which govern a buy. But emotions also cloud judgment. You can’t get a vintage Speedmaster Professional for 500 Euro and you will not get a used Rolex Submariner from the 1990s for 1500 Euro. Something has to be wrong. When it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
  4. Check and double check. Is everything you want there? Original papers and box might double the price in some cases; is it worth it to you? A mid-1990s watch that you want to wear on a daily basis can be as much fun to acquire without a box and papers (who cares?), while a Speedmaster Pro from 1975 is very interesting to have with box and papers. Decide on this before you hit the market as it can really screw up your budget.
  5. Payment, shipping and warranty. As soon as you agreed with the seller on a price, make sure you also make good arrangements on shipping and payment methods. Wiring money through a bank account is probably the most trusted method used. PayPal is of course a good option, if you know your way with it. Escrow is a no-go. Make sure you also decide on payments first and then goods or vice versa. In most cases, you pay upfront. You can arrange to examine the watch for 3 days and return it if not satisfied. Make sure you have this ‘contract’ in black and white. Shipping a watch isn’t a problem, most companies like UPS and DHL will handle this. However, when shipping oversees, make sure you fill out the forms correctly with respect to taxes. There are tricks to get a pass on import duties, but don’t ask us. 🙂

If you have additional tips for us, leave them as a comment below. Or, What has your experience been when it comes to buying vintage or pre-owned watches? We’d love to hear back from you.


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