So, you have started developing an interest in watches, read a few publications, got even more engaged and decided to make it official by buying a watch. If the above scenario sounds remotely familiar, then keep reading. Not a lot of pictures on this one but some potentially useful advice!
It is quite common for a few of us to mark different important occasions in our lives by buying a watch. Under those circumstances, I found myself bidding frantically at 2 o' clock in the night in an attempt to secure a beautiful Omega Speedmaster automatic 3511.50. I hadn't really done my homework nor did I knew too much about watches at the time. I did not want a Rolex and I thought that an Omega would be a great choice. My dad used to wear a chronograph for a few years so I was always drawn to them. The reverse panda look was amazing and I always thought that automatic was better than manual wind! Anyway, the watch showed up two days later and I wore it non-stop for a whole summer. If you are a seasoned collector you have probably thought of a few ways that this could have turned ugly. I was lucky enough and everything went smoothly. That Speedy became the beginning of an obsession that consumes me until today!
This was more than 3 years ago, and I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. If you asked me now I might had done things a bit differently. I still feel grateful that I did not end up with a piece of junk!
There are different ways you can go about buying a watch. You can walk into an authorised dealer, choose something that you like, pay for it and walk out. It is probably the safest way to go about it. The only problem is that the ADs do not stock and sell obscure, rare, possibly hard to move vintage pieces, the kind that most watch collectors seem to be drawn to... You can walk into a pawn shop and get your hands on a pre-loved watch. You do need to be careful though, and make sure you are getting a genuine well looked after example. You can find a grey-market dealer and get a new watch for a substantial discount, but if you are just getting into watches you might have difficulties understanding their business model. A very common approach is to log into eBay or surf a bit on Gumtree and get something that takes your fancy. Well, a lot of horror stories have come out of this one. Finally, if you are becoming genuinely interested in watches you will soon find out that different online publications and blogs are not enough and before you even know it, you might find yourself joining a forum with likeminded individuals. Most of these forums usually have some sort of a Sales Corner where you tend to find a few interesting pieces.
As has been mentioned in the past, watch collecting has recently turned mainstream and the prices of vintage models have seen a very strong increase. As has also been mentioned in previous articles, whenever there is money to be made, people with not the best of intentions tend to get involved.
The first two pieces of advice that every collector will give you is buy something you like and buy the seller. Give it a bit of time, do some research and get something that speaks to you and something that you will feel comfortable wearing. There is no point in getting a watch as an investment piece if you don't really fancy it; you will soon find that, same as with every other hobby, the interest tends to fade away if certain choices do not express your taste.
As far as sellers are concerned try to get some feedback on them. Buying from an AD probably guarantees the authenticity of the watch but does not guarantee the level of the service they offer. Research them online, see what other buyers have to say about their services, learn how they dealt with returns or with warranty issues. Whenever you deal with an AD everything should feel effortless and seamless.
If you buy through eBay check the seller's feedback, it might be 100% but that shouldn’t put your mind at ease. They might have achieved 100% feedback as buyers of low value goods. Have a look at the add, you can tell a lot from the way it is written. Does it offer details? Does it seem genuine? Have a look at the pictures, are they blurry? Is the seller trying to hide something? Do a google image search, do the same images pop up? Ask about the serial number and perform a google search. Fakes seem to have the same serial numbers. It has often been said that if it feels too good to be true it probably isn’t. Thankfully, ebay and paypal tend to offer some form of protection but do not rely solely on it. There are ways around it. If you have just received something you are not comfortable with, reach out to the seller, express your concerns, ask if you can have the watch authenticated by someone you both agree on. Every honourable seller should be fine with it.
Gumtree and similar platforms do not offer the same kind of protection that eBay does, you could still use paypal protection if you use it as a method of payment but keep in mind that fees apply. Communication with the seller is key. Good sellers respond promptly and tend to respond to questions accurately. If a face to face deal is a possibility, and you are comfortable with that, go for it! I have met a lot of interesting individuals this way! Of course, be sensible; do not carry large amounts of cash with you; do not agree on a meeting in a back alley in a deprived area. There are always coffee shops with CCTV systems around!
In order to gain access to the sales corner on some of the forums you need to show commitment and genuine interest. This is always nice to see. Whenever I buy something from a fellow member I check their history, their feedback from previous deals, their posts etc. You can always get a good idea from things like that. The fact that you are buying from a fellow member does not guarantee success so use the tips that were offered above. I have found that I prefer smaller forums with unmoderated sales threads. The community tends to chip in if something seems wrong and this protects the more inexperienced members. Watchuseek for example is huge, and no comments are allowed in the sales section so be careful when dealing in there. Please keep in mind that accounts can be hacked so always apply some due diligence. A lot of genuine forum members will not accept paypal as a method of payment. This is because paypal offers much more protection to the buyer than the seller and a lot of people have lost their watches to buyers claiming that they received a package with a rock rather than a watch! When dealing through a forum, trust is key.
There are a few other platforms that accommodate watch selling and buying. I have used chrono24 a few times and never had a problem with it. I always choose to use a trusted seller. Again, remember that being a trusted seller does not guarantee that everything on offer is correct. It just means that the seller has verified transactions through the platform. I have seen overpolished, incorrect examples offered from trusted sellers so again, compare your find to other correct examples and make a decision.
A powerful tool that interested buyers can use are tagged pics. Ask a potential seller to set the time according to your request and place the watch on a handwritten note mentioning both the seller's and the buyer's details. When buying a chronograph you can ask for the chrono function to be paused at a specific time. When buying a diver or a pilot's watch you can ask for the bezel to be rotated to a specific time. If the watch has a date ask for that to be set to something you want to see. You can always ask for some form of identification. A picture with the watch next to a driver's license or a passport is a possibility. Only send the funds to an account registered to the buyer. Every seller should be able to provide such pictures. If they claim that the watch is packaged and ready to go, just walk away. Once again, a tagged picture only shows that a seller has the watch on hand. It does not guarantee that the watch will be sent after payment is made.
One of the most recent scams is some kind of escrow service supposedly offered by paypal. Please keep in mind that paypal does not offer such a service. Always check the email address you receive something from. Some other sellers may suggest sending both their watch and your money to a third party and then if both parties are satisfied continue with the transaction. I have never tried that and I just believe that it adds a whole new step into an already complicated procedure. It is up to you to decide whether you trust the third party or not.
If you follow most of the advice offered above you are on track to successfully completing a deal. All the above is collective knowledge and experience that has been gained by watch collectors the last few years. The watch community is evolving and getting better in avoiding possible scums but please keep in mind that scammers are also evolving and are finding new ways to deceit other individuals. In the off chance that you have applied all the above and still feel uncomfortable with a potential deal do not hesitate to walk away. There is always the next watch around the corner!
Being a watch collector is not always about buying! Tastes and interests change as we move into deeper waters so flipping, trading and selling tend to make our lives easier! In a future entry I will try to offer some advice for 1st time sellers as well.