Well, I already blew it, didn’t I? You buy a used car, but you buy a pre-owned watch. Or a vintage watch. But a rose by any other name smells as sweet. And so it is with pre-owned, or vintage, or yes, used watches.
Find a watch you can fall in love with that has been loved by someone else before it met you, and especially if you find it for considerably less than market value, and you’ve found the Holy Grail of watch collecting.
But how do you know it’s not a trap? Like people who’ve lived a while, watches with a past come with baggage. Some you can tolerate, even learn to love (like tropical dials or faded lume). Others, like replacement parts or over-polishing, put your relationship in jeopardy.
Let’s quit with the romance metaphor. What do you need to know when you’re buying a used watch? Well, not quite like real estate (location, location, location), the important factors of a watch are more like condition, provenance, and seller.
Just as when you look at a used car, check the watch for dents, dings, scratches, and general abuse. Some is OK, but you’d better understand the ramifications. Has the case been polished to within an inch of its life? All the (formerly) sharp edges rounded off? Wear isn’t bad, but all things considered, don’t you want to put the dings in your watch yourself?
And look under the hood. Is the movement the right one for the watch reference? In fact, inspecting the movement is one way to tell an out and out fake. Homework is key here folks. Educate yourself from a variety of resources. Is that a Mark 2 dial on a watch that should be a Mark 1 by serial number? If not, you’d better find out why not. It may still be OK, but you need to know the story.
For instance, most Rolex MilSubs and COMEX divers that were serviced at Rolex were upgraded routinely (actually, this happens with pretty much all Rolex watches sent to Rolex authorized service centers). Untouched examples are much more valuable, but those with upgrades (assuming the upgrades were on the up and up) are still valid.
And check the papers. Box, papers, sales and service receipts, gift letters, anything that proves the watch is what the seller claims it is, all add value and credence to the piece (of course, make sure they haven’t been forged). Often provenance is why a specific watch costs so much/ is so valuable. Remember Eric Clapton’s platinum Patek Philippe ref. 2499? Intrinsically valuable to be sure, but it was Clapton’s name on the papers that pushed it to $3.65 million at auction a few years ago.
And it should go without saying that you need to “buy” the seller before you buy the watch. Do all the due diligence you feel you need to do to check the guy out before you hand over your hard-earned Cash American Large. How long has he been in business? Who has he sold to? Will they testify for him? What’s his reputation in the marketplace? Things like that.
So educate yourself. Learn about the watch you want, and the marketplace and its players. The more you know, the better choice you’ll make.