As it happens in other durable goods markets, the watch market is not only made up of the sales the watch manufacturers make to the public.
A considerable part of the exchanges is composed of secondhand watches, or as they are often called, second-wrist watches, that are bought and sold among enthusiasts and traders who specialize in this field. So let’s see what it is and how to deal with it together.
What is a secondhand watch?
A pre-owned watch is a watch that has been used by someone else, and therefore it is a used timepiece. This term is often used to refer to pretty recent watches that are usually still in production. However, when timepieces stop being produced, horology collectors prefer to refer to them as vintage.
For the sake of completeness, however, an important distinction must be made: there is another meaning of the term “second hand” in a watch, and that is to indicate the hand showing the seconds.
Today, virtually all watches have a second hand, but etiquette would instead call for watches without this hand for more formal occasions. However, when we talk about secondhand, the most popular meaning is normally that of a watch that is no longer new.
A particular niche of secondhand watches is composed of so-called NOS watches: this acronym stands for New Old Stock, meaning watches that have never been worn but are no longer in production. Generally, these watches come from stocks purchased from watch stores that have closed and are selling the accumulated inventory.
Be that as it may, all watches that are not new are part of this enlarged market, into which private watch collectors are also entering overwhelmingly. As the business consulting company Deloitte affirms in a survey, it will represent a CHF 35 million market by 2030.
Is it okay to buy secondhand watches?
Buying secondhand watches is perfectly legal, but since it is rather difficult to trace the ownership of a watch, you must arm yourself with patience and proceed with some caution. It is indeed possible that the bargain watch we are purchasing turns out to be a stolen watch: but the law does not admit ignorance. If found out, the timepiece will be confiscated and returned to its rightful owner if discovered to be of illicit origin.
This is why it is highly advisable to take steps to protect ourselves and our money when buying a pre-owned watch, which we will comment on below.
Why are second hand watches so cheap?
A legitimately sourced secondhand watch is seldom cheap. In particular, there are instances, such as Rolex’s Professional line in steel, where second-wrist prices exceed those of the Maison’s list price. We admit this is an exception, but a secondhand watch in good order, with its original box and papers, typically represents a saving over the list price, but not that much.
If you are faced with an incredible bargain, something is most likely going on. As the old adage goes, free cheese is only found in mousetraps.
When it comes to vintage, on the other hand, things change: very often, fashions mean that many watches, very much in vogue at a particular time, now no longer meet the public’s taste. We are talking, for example, about the steel and gold watches that were very much in vogue in the 1980s, which nowadays are in low demand, and thus have lower prices than their steel-only counterparts. This allows watch connoisseurs to purchase watches that, as happens with all cases of fashion, will sooner or later be “rediscovered” and acquire value.
What should I look for in a used watch?
The main problem with pre-owned watches is the need to understand their originality. There are many cases of so-called Franken, that is, watches that assemble several pieces, old and new, combined to create a perhaps valuable timepiece. And this is the main pitfall facing new collectors: puzzling out the originality of the watches they will buy.
Moreover, the watch market is overflowing with copies, often so well made that they can fool even the most experienced. Furthermore, these watches have often undergone restoration work of dubious quality, which sometimes compromises their characteristics and value, which needs to be understood by non-experts. To explain in detail the criteria for buying a second wristwatch would require far more space than one article.
However, when buying a second wrist timepiece from an unofficial source, unlike from an official dealer of a certain Maison, the most important thing is to do some research to establish the seller’s degree of reliability. Fortunately, today the Internet makes it easier to perform this check.
If you are not an expert in the field, it is advisable to rely on an expert: the best advice when buying a second-wrist watch comes from your trusted watchmaker, who can best instruct you to select the right timepiece for your needs. And, also, do not forget to take a look at our watch value guide.
Best places to buy used luxury watches
As we said, buying a watch should be done carefully, and it is helpful to maximize your chances of getting an original watch in good condition by buying it from a reliable source, especially when dealing with something coming from the internet world.
The cyberverse might look flashy and glitzy, but unlike the physical watch shops, where you can walk in, strap a watch on your wrist and check how it feels (remember, a proper sizing of a watch on your body frame is important), it does not offer this luxury, so you need to proceed with caution. We have rounded up a list of the most common sales channels.
Forums and communities
Communities of enthusiasts gathered in a forum or site are very important for the support theycan provide in any field. Often, they offer special sections where users can buy and sell watches-and since each user is unique, and their profile shows their activity, it is easy to check their history and reliability since this data is publicly shared. Probably the best-known site of this type is Watchuseek.
Unmonitored online marketplaces
These types of sites, which include Craigslist, eBay, Etsy, and Facebook, are not recommended, asthere is no validation of the watches for sale: each seller (there are individuals and companies) is free to place their ad without a check from the site.
So if you find a timepiece you like on sites like these, be warned that not all that glitters is gold.
Monitored online marketplaces
These kinds of sites, on the other hand, offer control over the pieces sold and purchased and a payment system where there is protection for the buyer in case of problems. Therefore, as is logical, they are preferable to unmonitored ones, although you can also experience difficulties on these sites. Popular ones include Chrono24 and Chronext, and other sites linked with well-known web magazines such as Crown & Caliber and Hodinkee.
Online and physical auction houses
There are several auction houses that auction watches. These auctions, often conducted online, routinely feature a validation of the watches on auction, which becomes more rigorous as their value increases. They also provide a buyer protection service if the item does not conform to the original description. Even though there is the possibility of getting rip-offs, the system is overall quite reliable. Among the most famous names, we can mention Catawiki and 1stdibs.
Online sales portals
Several retailers, large and small, specialize in selling used or secondhand watches. In this case, the retailer puts its reputation and guarantees that the watch for sale is original. Naturally, this results in a price usually higher than that of other sales channels, but on the other hand, the quality of the watches is guaranteed by watch experts who have a reputation to defend. Among the different retailers, we can mention Jomashop, Bob’s Watches, and Luxurybazaar.
How to pay for a second wristwatch?
The best way to buy a second wristwatch is to proceed securely using traceable payment methods. This means wire transfers or credit card purchases with a valid and regular justification.
This is essential should disputes of any kind arise. In addition, when dealing with a valuable watch, it is always a good idea to ask fora statement of sale, in case you are dealing with a private party, which includes the personal details of the seller and buyer, and outlines the characteristics of the watch, the serial number (if any) and the price paid. This document testifies to the item’s ownership and who sold it to us. However, consulting a lawyer might be a good idea if you have doubts about the best way to proceed with the transaction. Better be safe than sorry.
The world of secondhand and vintage watches is in great growth as more and more people discover, or rediscover, the pleasure of wearing a traditional watch. And turning to the second-hand market generally results in timepieces with substantial savings over new ones, with great pleasure for those who are starting to build a watch collection.
Obviously, like all human activities, buying and selling watches is a transaction with some risk, but there is no question that the benefits outweigh the risks. The best way to proceed is prudently and without overdoing it. Above all, avoid giving in to haste: even if we miss an opportunity, it will likely come up again in the future. In watch collecting, trains often pass twice or more.