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.
1. 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.
2. If it sounds too good...
It may sound counterintuitive after telling you to buy something that pulls at your heart, but be sure not to be taken in by a slick salesperson. Nicholas Biebuyck, senior specialist, watches, at Christie’s Hong Kong, has some words of wisdom when it comes to that steal of a deal.
“If it looks too good to be true, it is. If it’s an unbelievable deal, there is always a reason for it. Whether the watch was put together, has a refinished dial or has incorrect parts, there is a reason it is strangely cheap and should not be bought.”
3. 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.”
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.”
7. Beware the facelift
“Correctness and desirability are two different things,” Biebuyck advises. “There are some combinations of parts and patinas that are very hard to prove are correct that are pursued relentlessly by some collectors, but just because it is attractive does not mean it was born that way."
8. 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.”
9. Bite the bullet
When the time is right, the time is right. If you’ve followed the expert advice so far and done your homework, then you will recognise an opportunity when it presents itself. So don’t be afraid to follow your instincts and take home a watch that is screaming your name. “Try to grasp the opportunity when you see unique pieces,” Kang says. You never know, the next buyer may be looking over your shoulder just waiting for you to pass.
10. 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