A common theme among watch people is to share stories of one’s and others’ mistakes when buying, owning, and selling watches. The more money involved, the rarer the piece or the higher the stupidity, the more interesting the conversation goes. Here’s a brief post on five common and generic mistakes, and how to avoid them. There are, obviously, many more to choose from…
Mistake No. 1: Sloppy research
The one mistake that I think prevails as one of the most common is to not know what you’re buying. This applies to both new and used purchases, and predominantly for beginners. The consequence is typically a parting of a larger amount of coins than what the watch would warrant otherwise.
Just like the bank’s salespeople are called “Client Managers” or some other fancy, non-sales related word, the AD is there to do business. The AD will almost always take an opportunity to sell at a higher price is possible. Therefore, many buyers – especially those new to the game – pay premium prices on less sought-after pieces or know on which watches / brands a good deal can be made.
A recent example from one of my watch groups was a guy admitting he bought a new watch for the first time in over a decade and paid full retail price on a limited-edition chronograph that never really took off in popularity. The impulsive purchase was made during a layover on a Middle Eastern airport, meaning that the AD had little to lose with a disgruntled client finding out about the going price for the piece.
The problem might be even bigger when buying used. How do you assess the true second-hand value? This can and will go both ways. People pay too much and sometime people lose out on great bargains.
I’ve done this mistake several times, and consistently for less common but also quite inexpensive watches. The annoyance with finding out that one has paid a bit more than one should’ve grows with the monetary difference. However, missing out on a good deal is perhaps even more irritating.
A guy posted a brand new, almost two-year-old but completely unworn Tudor Pelagos at the price level of an equivalent but older and used piece. A little procrastination was all it took to miss out on the deal. Another personal example is when I inexplicably offered my Sinn U1 S E to a fellow watchman at a very attractive price. Him being a frequent seller/buyer started haggling and after enough rounds back and forth, I had enough and withdrew my offer. He was surprised and offered to pay up my initial price (which, in fact was a very good deal), but I’d had enough. I’m glad it turned that way; I love the watch too much to part with it!
How to avoid
The due diligence on the right price for a specific piece is easier than for used watches. A few minutes of Mr. Google’s help will quickly give you an idea of what the going price is for a watch. Spend more time doing research, and you might get to know all you need to get the right price. Just avoid the gray market, though.
When buying used, try to browse watch forums and communities with marketplaces to see what the watch has been going for secondhand. In said communities, there are almost always one or more enthusiasts that know that specific brand or model and have a good hunch about the going rates. Reach out to them – they will almost always be happy to help. Enthusiast to enthusiast.
Mistake No. 2: Going Gray
On a weekly basis, someone will ask about any of the gray marketplaces: legitimacy, experience, or technical questions. Who can blame them when the watches are listed far below retail (or in the case of the crown above but available)?
The gray market needs to respect applicable consumer rights. However, a brand warranty is not mandatory and often applicable only if the watch is bought through an AD. The more serious gray market players offer their own warranty or paid insurance, which may or may not be effective in practice.
What customer service?
Many times, a gray market purchase goes smooth; perhaps even most. However, when they don’t, many disgruntled customers attest to absent, inadequate, or simply disappointing customer service. The frustration of having an issue and at the same time a significant amount of money invested can turn a wonderful experience into the opposite. In fact, even if everything is sorted out with the watch, in the end it may only remind the owner of the bad experience. Not really what one is after when buying a watch.
What may seem as a solid retailer, the web-based gray market companies don’t stock any of the watches listed. Instead, they are the resort for AD’s that have unsold inventory that they want to push sub-retail but aren’t allowed to. Instead, they sell the inventory to another company (the gray market player that has lined up a customer) thereby circumventing the bar. That’s why the delivery times listed on the gray market often are expressed in weeks. That’s also why sometimes the gray market retailer can’t source the piece that they have sold. And since there’s no inventory or any relationships with the actual brands, the gray market retailer can’t promise a new delivery.
How to avoid
Simply avoid the gray market. If the difference in gray market compared to retail price is two-digit, use this as a clue to get a bargain with your local AD. Not only will you get the AD experience; you will also have a security of having the AD around when/if something goes wrong with the watch. As a bonus, the AD relationship might also be useful in the future, if you happen to consider a new purchase.
Alternatively, buy used. You may get an even better deal for a practically new watch.
Mistake No. 3: Used condition
Not applying to new watches, the condition is one of the major pitfalls when buying used. When buying things secondhand online, thereunder watches, the physical condition is one of the major potentials for disappointment.
Hairlines, scratches, marks, and nicks – what to expect and accept?
Any used watch will have so-called hairlines when used. Hairlines are thin, shallow scratches that don’t affect the physical appearance in any notable way. In contrast, a scratch is more visible and can be sensed. Nicks are even worse – a chunk of steel deformed or missing. Marks and scratches on sapphire crystal glass are rare, but not inexistent.
For obvious reasons, the seller might want to downplay the appearance and importance of these; either by not describing them in writing, or by showing too flattering pictures. Sometimes the seller isn’t even aware of a cosmetic issue with the watch.
Hairlines can and shall always be accepted. If the seller states “hairlines from regular use” in the add or description, this is okay. Everything else shall and needs to be described either in writing or photography (or both). As a buyer, any scratches on the buckle or clasp shall be considered as equal to hairlines on the watch – one cannot wear a watch without exposing the clasp/buckle.
Anything older than five years, and especially vintage, is subject to exaggerated service history claims. “A watch maker inspected the watch recently and attested that it’s in great condition” or “Last known service is [within five] years ago, but I lost the record when moving to a new home” are quite common and equally unacceptable claims. If it can’t be documented – it shan’t be accepted as a valid claim from the seller.
Out of the two typical scenarios when a watch hasn’t been serviced, one is rather bad for the prospective buyer. If the watch hasn’t been worn outside of the service life (e.g. the watch was bought eight years ago, but remained untouched for the last six years), the buyer only needs to factor in a service into the price before using the watch.
If, on the other hand, the watch has been used for much longer than the service interval, the condition of the movement may require more than just a regular service. It’s not the end of the world for anything with a regular ETA, SW or NH movement. However, an IWC caliber can and will be extremely costly to replace or repair, for example.
How to avoid
While there will always be room for debating whether a tine stripe is a hairline or a scratch; always make sure to ask for description and photos of the watch. The more expensive, the more information you should ask for. It’s completely okay to sell a watch that has been worn roughly if the buyer is clear about what to expect. And vice versa.
The service situation is trickier. If the watch is valuable enough, one way to mitigate the situation is by meeting the seller at a watchmaker and have the watch inspected. Unfortunately, that’s a bit cumbersome and probably happens too seldom.
Mistake No. 4: Not trying the watch
I know; the distance to the closest AD may be too long or the watch might not be available to purchase new any longer. Still, buying a watch you’re not familiar with unseen or untried, will always come with a risk. Or, more specifically, two risks.
Even if you are gifted with average-sized wrists, and even if you buy a watch of a very common size, there is a chance it won’t feel comfortable wearing. Case geometry, placement of the lug, weight, and combinations of dimensions may all contribute to this in a way that a picture rarely can convey. If your wrists and/or watch are significantly larger or smaller than average, the risk goes up.
One of the core elements of watches is the subjectivity that surrounds this form of art. Suppose the watch is comfortable and lives up to every other expectation, but still doesn’t feel right when put on. The term “flipping” is closely associated to the absence of thrill or emotional satisfaction of the watch one has worked hard to buy.
My personal experience has taught that a love for browsing pictures of classic flieger watches isn’t equivalent of loving wearing them. I had a similar experience with Mercedes hands. Ask any other watchman (or woman) and they’ll share their likes and dislikes. These preferences can be intangible and dynamic. In other words: they are unpredictable and change over time. This leads to both positive and negative surprises, or “experiences” as many watch people use to call it.
How to avoid
It’s easy to just small a “Try on the watch” but that would probably insult those that know this perfectly well but are forced to buy unseen pieces for various reasons. Here’s three more tangible tips.
If you’re keen on buying the watch new, consider buying it used to check it out. Unless you pay an exorbitant price, you should be able to pass it on at the same price before getting the new watch.
If not buying a piece to check it out, another option is to try or borrow one from somebody who’s got it. Use your community and fellow watch friends.
The final piece of advice is to know your “limits” in terms of size and case geometry. If you feel very comfortable with the size on paper, the risk is less when buying untried if the piece is well within your “limits”.
Mistake No. 5: Not buying the seller
Scams happen every day and on virtually every level. Dishonesty on any level may cause a negative gap between expectations and reality leading to disappointment. A few common pitfalls related to trust.
Flat out scams
Recently, an international buyer had paid the full amount in advance (as usual) for a meteorite GMT-Master II. This is north of 50 kEUR and the deal was made directly with the seller. When the shipment arrived, the complete set of box was received, except for the key ingredient: the watch itself and the warranty card.
It caused quite a lot of stir and some local watch communities were alerted. How did this happen? The buyer had made his due diligence and the seller seemed to have the references in place. The watch was posted on Chrono24 but the deal took place outside of the platform probably to save money. Had the Chrono24 payment setup been used, the buyer would have been insured and protected. Now it seems the money and watch are lost altogether.
A completely different set of problems arises when the timepiece is exposed to being a fake. Naturally, this normally refers to higher-end watches, but even lower mid-range brands experience this. This can happen both deliberately or not depending on the seller’s knowledge and capacity.
There’s a gray area that encompasses a number of potential questionable sales. Often they combine a beginner and a downside of being completely transparent. Closed auctions, referring to retail prices or confusing similar models are all potential pitfalls.
Poor customer service
As a private seller, one can create a better or worse experience for the buyer. For example, overselling a piece (ref mistake no. 1 above) will create a poor experience. As will late and/or inadequate communication. And here’s the thing: if the seller seems sloppy or inattentive – there’s a likelihood the experience will be the same.
Further explained; the buyer unknowingly may end up in a situation where the watch has been handled without care, not serviced properly, date changed during midnight hours, etc.
How to avoid
Gut feeling. If it doesn’t fell right, it’s not going to be right. The golden rule in the world of watches is that almost always the same/similar watch will appear again. Don’t get too tempted just because you’re able to get hold of the watch now if it doesn’t feel right. On the other hand… If the seller seems too customer oriented and too eager; take your precautions again.
Also make sure to follow the general due diligence: ask for pictures, documentation, agree on a secure way of verifying the watch and payment (if needed). For example; agree to meet up at an AD to get the watch verified. Use applicable platforms (e.g. Chrono24) to secure payment.
Due Diligence Summing up
There are countless of other smaller and larger mistakes that can and regularly are made. Either way, doing mistakes is also part of the journey of watches; the same way mistakes are part of any journey in life. The upside? Learning and experience. As Simon Bolivar said
“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement”.