Everything You Need to Know to Choose a Quality Timepiece
Have you found yourself glancing at wrists when you go in for a handshake a bit more lately? Maybe ogled a photo of Paul Newman’s iconic Rolex Daytona here and there? Do you find yourself wondering what it would take to budget for a timepiece a little nicer than the Casio you’ve had since college? Congratulations — you, like many others these days, are becoming a part of the Watch Wave.
In recent years, interest in timepieces has increased exponentially. Sales are up, especially on the vintage/resale markets, and more and more people seem to be taking an interest in them. If you’ve thought about dipping your toe into the watch world for the first time, here’s everything you need to know to make the right decision.
Why Is the Watch Boom Happening?
There’s rarely a concrete answer as to why certain trends or waves form, save for Top Gun: Maverick inspiring every single dude you know to at least give a mustache a shot over the summer.
The current state of the watch wave (which is in a complicated place as of writing) can ostensibly be chalked up to a few factors. The early years of the pandemic saw a great many people come into excess income thanks to relief checks and unemployment stipends. This also happened to coincide with the rise of cryptocurrency. We aren’t here to litigate the logistics, function, or ethics of crypto, so I’ll sum it up as such: a lot of people suddenly had a lot more money than they’d ever had in their lives.
When such a large influx of wealth occurs, people are gonna spend it accordingly. Both the pandemic and the crypto boom were happening at the same time as the sneaker surge hitting all-time highs (we can specifically point to the docuseries The Last Dance as the apex of that trend, with vintage sneaker prices on resale sites like StockX hitting all-time highs). Trends in fashion tend to be driven by a simple principle: people spend frivolously when there’s money to burn and pick their purchases a bit more carefully when it’s tighter. As the sneaker craze faded out, the presence of watches as status symbols began to rise again.
More recently, we’ve moved closer to a potential recession. When recessions happen, trendier items tend to be passed up for more timeless investment pieces (it’s no coincidence that our last recession gave way to the #Menswear movement, with a focus on selvedge denim and higher-quality less-is-more pieces). That brings us up to speed.
Watches are experiencing an unprecedented rise in popularity. There’s no telling how long it’ll last, but the good news is that unlike the latest pair of Air Jordans, a Rolex Submariner is going to look as good ten years from now as it does today.
Is This a Good Time to Buy a Watch?
In short? Yes, absolutely. Vintage watch prices are dropping across the board. Three years ago ago a vintage Rolex Submariner would set you back as much as $18K. Today you can pick one up for closer to $11K, a substantial drop. There are more watches than ever available on the resale market and there are an unprecedented number of ways to buy watches. You can go to a local authorized dealer or any number of online retailers, which are more reliable than ever these days thanks to the prominence of authentication services (more on those later).
Should You Buy New or Vintage?
Listen, ultimately the answer to this is subjective. What I can offer is this: right now it’s going to be far easier to get a vintage watch than it is a new one. With the exception of some of the more ubiquitous brands (Omega, Cartier) it’s actually a bit difficult to walk into, say, a Patek Phillipe authorized dealer and walk out with a Nautilus. It’s a simple issue of supply and demand: for years now watches have been growing in popularity and the manufacturers can only produce so many at the quality of work they guarantee per year. The result is lengthy waitlists that even the likes of famous watch collectors like Ed Sheeran can’t circumvent.
Vintage watches might not have that brand-new feel but they often have more character and feature a built-in patina (the natural aging of a watch). They’re also significantly easier to procure. There are no wait lists. You simply shop for what’s available and pay for it when you’ve made your selection.
Where Should You Buy a Watch?
Again, there’s a wide array of watch retailers you can choose from these days. Of the online watch marketplaces the one I’d personally recommend is Chrono24. Chrono24 is a simple consumer-to-consumer business. Users can list watches for auction or at a fixed price and wait for the right customer to come. The selection, as a result, is vast and if you can’t find the watch you’re looking for on Chrono24 you’re going to have trouble finding it anywhere.
The hub offers significant protection against counterfeit watches, often building a relationship with sellers over the course of years so as to guarantee authenticity. Your purchases are fully protected if the watch that arrives doesn’t resemble the one you purchased and they have a zero-tolerance policy for sellers who list fake watches.
One of the great legs up Chrono24 has on the competition is a function on the site that tracks the sale of each watch in its listings over time, not unlike StockX’s chart that serves the same purpose for sneakers. This means you can see if it’s a good time to buy the specific watch you’re interested in by tracking its average sale price over the course of years.
What About eBay?
What about eBay, indeed? The platform has doubled down on the watch business over the last few years, taking significant measures to become as reputable a platform for prospective sellers and buyers as possible. They offer an Authenticity Guarantee and every watch sold for over $2K comes with it automatically (cheaper watches can be authenticated for $80).
Let’s address some controversy first: eBay is a massive platform and sells more watches every day than any specialty retailer could ever hope to move. They currently offer authentication through a single facility in Ohio. That’s a lot of watches being moved through a single location with a limited staff of experts on hand.
The result is that eBay is home to its fair share of watch-buying horror stories. It’s not uncommon for a vintage watch to make it through authentication with replacement parts or even infamous Frankensteins (watches assembled from the parts of a variety of different watch models and being passed off as something authentic).
It’s important here to clarify something: actual counterfeits rarely make it through authentication for any of these platforms. It’s incredibly hard to pass off a Canal Street Fauxlex for the real thing and it usually takes no more than a fleeting glance for any sort of expert to recognize what’s real and what’s fake.
The concern the watch community holds for eBay has far more to do with those aforementioned replacement parts. When someone is spending $10K or more on a watch, oftentimes they have a very specific idea of what they want to be buying, and often that means they want the original watch with all original parts. Many watch companies for decades now have offered free and easy repairs for authorized owners, meaning you can send your Rolex in for a new crystal, dial, or hand if necessary. To a certain kind of watch buyer, the value of a watch is decreased when it contains these replacement parts. And it’s these replacement parts that often aren’t caught in the authentication process for eBay.
However, that shouldn’t totally discourage you. The selection of watches available on eBay right now is pretty vast, and for every horror story there are countless successes. The brand has made significant strides to tighten up their authentication services over the last few years and as long as you know what you’re looking for and how to spot a replacement dial on a Rolex, you shouldn’t hesitate to utilize their services. Do your research and cover your ass and you should be just fine.
In the interest of full disclosure, I purchased a vintage 1972 Rolex Oysterdate from eBay as part of the process of researching this story. The watch that arrived looked authentic, worked like a dream, and was identical to the one pictured in the listing. I couldn’t be happier with the piece. I took it to a local expert for verification and he confirmed that the watch was authentic. However, he noticed that one of the pins in the bracelet’s clasp didn’t match the brand’s standards, meaning it was an off-brand replacement. Is this the sort of thing eBay’s authentication services should perhaps crack down on in the future? Yeah, absolutely. The devil is in the details, whether it’s an entry-level 4-figure Rolex or a Daytona coming in at $70K. Still, it was hardly a dealbreaker for me, speaking personally.
What Kind of Watch Should You Get?
This is the fun part, and the one I can’t give you an answer to. The watch you buy is your decision to make. There are a ton of cool pieces out there and only you know which one’s going to make you happy. What I can offer you is this: do your research. If you’re going to spend a nice chunk of change on a watch, know what you’re buying. This is both practical and sentimental. In terms of the former, knowing what you’re buying makes it easier to make sure that you’re buying the best possible version of it. It’s hard to get ripped off when you know the watch you’re looking for well enough to notice. In terms of sentimentality, watches and the brands that make them come with rich histories. Knowing the heritage of what you’re wearing is so much of the joy of wearing a watch. It’s why I’m fixated on the watches I want to buy in the future, ones featured in James Bond films or worn by Steve McQueen. Ultimately, don’t buy a watch as an investment or with the intention of treating it as an asset. That’s how markets crash and trends die. Pick something you want to wear every day, and then when you buy it, do just that.
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