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The Ultimate Watch Buyer's Guide

November 11, 2020

Some of us like to collect as it’s our passion. Some of us like to buy and sell to make some money on watches, and some of us just like 1 excellent watch that they will keep forever. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you’re into watches for, if you are reading this guide then it probably means that you are looking to buy yourself or someone close to you a new piece of so-called ‘wrist candy’ or as we say on this side of the pond, a nice watch. Either way, if what you need is a good watch then you are in the right place, as buyers and sellers of potentially thousands of watches a year, we have loads of experience when it comes to picking timepieces out that we think could potentially make some money, so naturally we thought we’d share some of our handy tips for buying your perfect timepiece. Let’s start off with a general overview of how companies perform, because some watches flop on the secondary market despite being technically brilliant.

What’s hot

It’s simple really: Patek | Rolex | Patek | Rolex | Patek | Rolex etcetera, these are without a doubt the best companies right now for retaining their value. Their watches demand very high prices on the secondary market, with a few models from Rolex actually selling much higher on the pre-owned market than from the shops new. There is actually a simple reason for this, and it’s Rolex’ production levels, believe it or not on the old steel bezel Daytona watches Rolex themselves would restrict the amount of watches they made per year. It’s simple economics really and it’s very effective, because demand for the watches is high but their production is low they fetch enormous amounts of money and keep you the customer waiting as well. Even though it’s been out for well over a year some people are just now getting their Ceramic bezel Daytona they bought back when it was first unveiled.

Then we come onto the elephant in the room, so to speak. It’s a blue and black elephant to be precise, with a huge demand too. Of course I am referring to the Rolex GMT Master II BLNR edition, or as some of us know it the Batman GMT. With the BLNR bezel (that’s Bleu/Noir to you) it does catch the eye in all the right ways, in fact, it’s because of this it’s so hard to find one and yet you can buy the all black one from pretty much any authorised dealer. Yes, this is once again Rolex’ economics coming into play, scale back production and ramp up prices on the secondary market, simple but genius. Rolex also makes a white gold version with this colour split bezel, except the black is replaced by red. Fun fact, on that watch, the inside of the bezel that connects to the case and allows for movement is a different size to that of the BLNR, to stop people simply
switching them over to look like they bought a white gold one which is in fact steel, the more you know.

But, it’s not just Rolex and Patek Philippe that are guaranteed to make you a bit of cash if you need it, in fact, lots of other watches do but they need a lot more work to get that money, and you probably won’t get as much. For example, a good condition Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean bought at a low price might at least hold its value if not appreciate a little. Be careful of watches that have lots of different versions, specifically for Omega it’s the Speedmaster. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the Speedy is a great watch, but when you look at all of the ranges over the past few years they have become a little convoluted, with it feeling like there are more special editions than there are people on this planet at times. If you can’t afford to go to the ceramic models (which will either hold their value or depreciate a little, but with them it’s not too bad at the moment) then you need to stick to the Speedmaster Moonwatch in its most original form with the manual winding 1861 movement and hesalite crystal, they can usually perform well but their appreciation won’t be like that of a Patek or Rolex.

What’s not

Believe it or not, some exquisite watches just don’t sell well at all, or if they do it’s not at a particularly high price and certainly nowhere near the full retail value. The classic example companies I can think of from the top of my head are Breguet and Roger Dubuis. That’s a shame as they are some of my favourite watches, but you need to be careful to make sure you are spending the correct money for the watch. For example, Breguet is well known as the company whose founder invented the tourbillon and they have pretty much always had one in their lineup at some point, watches with this complication in tend to do well because of the serious level of craftsmanship that went into them and the fact they are extremely rare (once again due to low production, but this time it wasn’t restricted on purpose). But, if you look at the resale on watches such as their Type XX and Marine lines, they are ridiculously low.

It starts at the boutiques and authorised dealers which will give a discount if you just ask for it. That means that if you want to sell it on then you can’t charge full price as it would be better for the customer to just buy new and get the discount (that’s a tip we’ll discuss a bit later on, too). Another thing to watch out for is boutique companies in general, we’re not talking microscopic ones like Kari
Voutilainen whose production is so low there’s barely a market for them, but big holy trinity companies too. With technically the softest performing of the three being Vacheron Constantin, which doesn't have strong lines such as the Calatrava and Nautilus from Patek Philippe or the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore from Audemars Piguet. Sure, the Overseas is technically a great watch no doubt, but like its predecessor the 222 did in the seventies it just doesn’t cut the mustard in comparison.

Now, don’t go thinking it’s all doom and gloom with these companies or that they should be avoided like the plague, as if you did you would miss out on some real gems. The fact is, if you are not going to be buying a watch to make money on in the future and you’re okay with styles that are not akin to your classic Rolex or some such, then you can get some real bargains on the pre-owned market. One of my favourite companies that suffers from this a bit is Chopard, which make
some fantastic timepieces that sink really quickly, especially watches that are not from the L.U.C. line that are in precious metals. I observed a 2014 Mille Miglia GTXL Chronograph in yellow gold that was selling for roughly half its original sticker price. If you know where to look, what to look for and what you can expect to pay then you can pick up a horological wonder.

In order to help come up with some tips to keep you in the black I’ve asked one of the store team to give me a bit of a hand. These guys are used to buying and selling watches all day long and if they aren’t out ordering some weird sort of blueberry macchiato thing then they probably have their focus on a watch of some sort. In between his hectic schedule I managed to sit down with Lowry,
the sales director, and ask him some of his thoughts on how to go about buying watches, so here are our helpful hints when it comes to watch buying.

“Wearing a Rolex is like wearing your savings on your wrist”

This is a particularly good point to mention when it comes to Rolex watches, as I’ve mentioned, some models keep a really good value to them. Rolex isn’t unaware of its performance on the secondary market, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they were involved in artificially increasing the pre-owned prices a bit themselves buy buying a watch and then charging more for it than
others. When you buy a Rolex watch you aren’t really spending your money as such, because if you keep it in good condition and service it as necessary it won’t depreciate, you can sell it off and get your money back. It’s said that a Rolex is like putting money in the bank, and that’s essentially what it is except you get a cool watch to wear around as well, just don’t expect Rolex to be
interested in buying it back off of you unless it’s something worthy of their museum collection.

“Rolex increases its pricing annually”

One thing that people may not notice immediately but will often complain about is the fact that prices of things seem to be creeping upwards these days, and they aren’t wrong at all, in fact it’s completely deliberate. Every year Rolex will increase the sales prices of its brand new watches by 5% without fail, for some years this can jump up to 10%. Quite a number of people who buy directly from Rolex are aware of the performance of their watches on the secondary market, but when they suddenly have to pay a little bit more for their sparkly new watch they are naturally going to ask for a little bit more when they come to sell it on to someone else. This, along with the artificial buying method I mentioned earlier is one of the ways Rolex actually has control over its pre-owned pieces.

“If one expensive watch sells, this will increase the overall market price”

A little bit I’d add in here explains the way the market can be influenced in more detail. Say you bought a watch and you know at some point you are going to sell it. To get the most money out of it you will want to keep it in as pristine condition as possible of course, maybe keep it in a bank safe deposit box and only wear it on special occasions, that sort of thing. Then, 5 years down the line you decide it’s time to pass it on to someone else for a substantial amount of money, more money than other people are asking for. Initially, there may not be much interest because the price of the watch is indeed higher than other’s. But someone comes along and they’re desperate so they buy it at the price you offered, when other owners see how much extra money you got from selling that watch they decide they want some of it too, so their prices go up. The story goes on as they say, but you can see how sellers can be influenced as well and they want to make the most money they can, while a buyer will want to pay as little as possible.

“Don’t rule out some discontinued models just because they weren’t overly popular”

Here comes that whole supply and demand thing I was talking about earlier again. Not every watch Rolex has ever made sold in the millions you know, some of them were deliberately short lived while others didn’t sell well at all or were the wrong size (anyone see where the DayDate II went?), okay sure the DayDate II didn’t do too badly in the end, but when Rolex replaced it with the
DayDate 40 it sure made a lot of people wonder what on Earth they were doing. Because that sized watch isn’t made any more and is precious metals it could well appreciate a bit in value. Discontinued production means a highly limited supply for those who are looking to buy one, meaning they will be willing to spend more for it. Look at the Submariner Tropical dial, that’s a whole batch of watches which had a little defect making the dials change colour and now they’re worth a fortune because Rolex hasn’t made the same mistake again.

“There’s more pre-owned watches to choose from, and each one is unique”

No matter how many combinations of metals or straps or whatever manufactures make there will always be more choices of watches on the secondary market. It’s an entire treasure trove of watches that people just don’t want any more that could be yours for the taking. Each watch on the market is unique too, even if there’s hundreds of the same model selling at the same time. Each watch has a unique serial number that can never be replicated. Every scratch on every watch has come from a different adventure, whether it’s scaling Mount Everest or surfing on Perranporth beach, even if it’s just a result of a few bumps on a night out with the lads. For some scratches are something to hide via polishing or a replacement part, to others they are a story that a watch carries forever, that’s something that means a lot to those sentimental collectors who don’t flip between watches at a moment’s notice.

“Celebrities like watches and can influence manufactures with it”

While perhaps slightly off topic it’s always important to mention the expensive watches on the wrists of the rich and famous. Just as they like exotic cars a lot of them like exotic wristwatches too. As Wimbledon is on at the time of writing see how many watches you can recognise such as Rafael Nadal’s Richard Mille RM 27-03 Special Edition or Serena Williams’ Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. It’s not just TV and sports stars that wear glittering pieces though, how could we not mention Daniel Craig’s intense personal love for Omega timepieces, something which coincides with Omega’s partnership of the James Bond franchise. With Spectre’s release came two sets of limited edition watches which were Bond inspired, watches that he actually wore in the film as well, there’s no doubt that Craig’s influence in the movie has sold many Omegas to die hard movie fans and watch lovers alike. Celebrities are great ambassadors for products and have been for decades now, it’s no wonder they keep getting recognition from the industry as they can help shift loads of products that people didn’t even know they wanted.

Watch buying is a very tricky thing and there are going to be more articles from us in the future where we cover the nitty gritty, things like exact serial numbers and watch condition and such. One thing to remember if you plan on selling is never overspend, don’t forget that depending on where you live if the watch is overseas you may have to pay import charges and the buy may want you to
pay for shipping as well. If you’ve maxed your budget out on a watch you’ll be heartbroken if you find out it’s gonna cost a small fortune to import the watch into your home country. However, if you are buying purely for passion then you’ve probably been sold on that one watch already and will pay happily to have it. Even then, consider your budgeting depending on the watch, the ever
popular Royal Oak Offshore makes a great watch but if you are buying one that needs a service soon you’ll find out just how hefty the bill will be, it could be thousands just to get it looked at and generally serviced never mind whether it actually needs work done to it or replacement parts. If something seems too good to be true, you’re probably wrong… Wait that’s not it is it. If something
is too good to be true, it probably is.