Buying A Used Luxury Watch? Common Knowledge That's Not So Common
Pre-Owned Luxury Watches
Navigating the world of used watches can be difficult. There are so many things to look out for it can be daunting, but if you are willing to put the work in you can find some truly beautiful and truly unique pieces. But counterfeit watches abound, and you need to either trust the person or party you are purchasing from, or you need do your homework and make sure you know exactly what you are buying. Here are a few helpful hints that I have found that might just help you in your quest for the ultimate used 'grail' watch. Obviously, buying a new piece is a little easier, as all you need to do is head down to your local authorized dealer (AD) of your favourite brand and you can be secure in your knowledge that you are getting an authentic watch. And if you are skeptical if that dealer is truly "authorized" I strongly recommend going to the brands' website and looking up their dealer network just to confirm who is the authorized dealer for your area.
Box And Papers
This is something that a lot of people new to the world of watches seem to not realize until I tell them. The box and papers of a watch are important and valuable. By box and papers, I am referring to the original box that the watch came in as well as the associated papers, warranties, manuals, etc. that would come inside the box. Whenever I sell a new piece I often recommend to the client to keep the box and just store in a dry place, as the boxes themselves have real-world value.
The reason these are important is that they give the watch more authenticity. Generally speaking, if someone is going to produce a fake watch, they don't spend time creating fake boxes or papers. Often times prospective buyers will want to have as much of the original as possible, and this includes the box and papers.
Having the original box and papers can drastically increase the value of a vintage timepiece as well. A classic Paul Newman Daytona can fetch 10's of thousands, without the original box and papers! Add in the original box and papers and the price will sky rocket even more!
If It's Too Good To Be True...
That good ol' saying "If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't" is very accurate in the world of used luxury watches. All too often I will get people bringing me fake Rolex's thinking they are real, and sometimes my first question is how much they paid for it. Usually, that is a tell right there. If you are paying $500 for a Rolex, 99.9% of the time you are buying a fake - I'm sure there is an exception somewhere, I've just never seen it! And for your information, $500 is too much money for a fake Rolex.
Another thing to look out for is the "appraisal" that comes with the piece. I have seen people go to auctions (watch out for the "Federal Reserve Auction" or anything that sounds like it is a government where they are auctioning off confiscated goods) where items are presented with massively inflated appraisals. If an item is appraised for $50,000 and you buy it for $10,000, you are probably paying too much.
This is something that a lot of people new to watches have never heard of. A hybrid watch is when someone takes an authentic watch like Rolex and add's non-original parts to it. Or another way to say it would be that some parts are authentic and some are not. So for example, I have seen Rolex's that are authentic in every way, except someone has added an aftermarket diamond dial or a diamond bezel to the piece. I have seen fake Rolex case and bracelets with real Rolex movements inside of them. I've even seen a fake Rolex President watch made in 10K gold with a real Rolex movement inside of it (Rolex President's are made in 18K gold).
Some people do not mind having a hybrid watch. The problem with hybrid watches is that you will not be able to get any service from the manufacturer unless you pay to have it put back into original condition. This can be quite costly. Most recently I had a client bring me a vintage ladies Rolex with a diamond dial. Unfortunately, the diamond dial was not original, and the cost to replace the dial back to original would have been well over $2000! Almost the price they paid for the entire watch!
Beware Of The Imitations
Every now and then I see a remarkable fake watch. By fake I mean a watch that is meant to pass as the authentic brand it is representing. Now the majority of the time, spotting a fake watch is very easy if you know what to look for. Probably 95% of fake watches I see are Rolex, and 99% of those I can tell just by looking. But every now and then one comes in that stumps me, and indeed, they are often good watches in their own right. Most recently I had a green Rolex Submariner - often referred to as "The Hulk" - come in for authentication. We had to send it to Rolex Canada for verification and they informed us that the watch was an imitation. But it was so good that even though we had suspicions of certain parts of the watch, I was sure that at the least it would turn out to be a hybrid. To go through the manufacturing lengths to imitate a Rolex that precisely is impressive, and I would imagine somewhat costly as well.
Don't Shoot The Messenger
At the end of the day, the classic saying "buyer beware" is something that you should hold to. There are many good deals to be had out there, and some of them are legitimate. But there are probably even more bad deals out there than good. I have had too many people come into the store thinking they have gotten a spectacular deal on an item and then I get to be the bad guy and tell them the news. Make sure you do your research, that you trust the company or person you are buying from, and make sure there is a way to get your money back should things not turn out as you were expecting.