Q: I know that vintage watches can fetch fortunes, but I don’t hear much about used watches. What’s the difference between the two, and how do I find a good used watch?
A: Your question hits on a hot-button development that has the potential to disrupt the watch industry: the selling of used watches on new online marketplaces.
First let’s establish what constitutes a “used” watch versus a “vintage” watch. Vintage, watch experts generally agree, refers to pieces manufactured between 1920 and 1985. Watches manufactured from 1985 to the present qualify as contemporary. (In 1985, watchmakers began using computers in their craft.) A contemporary watch is considered “used” or “preowned” immediately after its first sale.
Historically there hasn’t been a reliable secondary market for watches. Unlike car manufacturers, most watch brands do not offer trade-in and buyback deals or approved preowned timepieces. And since the ’80s, buying habits have changed, with more folks purchasing multiple watches in their lifetimes rather than just one. Switzerland has exported over 130 million watches since 1985. While some are worn regularly, hordes of these watches languish in dark places, from the safe-deposit boxes of Saudi princes to, perhaps, your sock drawer. Mechanical watches are made to last centuries, so it was only a matter of time before a good way to resell this huge inventory emerged.
Replacing the inefficient and insecure old methods of buying used watches, which included local jewelers and eBay , a host of new online marketplaces is changing used-watch shopping, just as resale sites like the RealReal (which has a growing watch section) have altered fashion retail. The best of these startups offer authenticity guarantees, respectable warranties and solid return policies, along with servicing by Swiss-trained watchmakers. Three sites worth investigating: Crown & Caliber, established in 2013, TrueFacet, launched in 2014 and WatchBox, which made its debut in 2017.
While many old-school watch buffs wouldn’t dream of acquiring a timepiece online, a new generation has grown up buying everything from blenders to Berluti bags on the internet. “The sites are particularly popular with younger buyers who, may not feel the need to go into a retailer and try on a watch,” said Michael Thompson, the editor of the International Watch website.
‘A host of new online marketplaces is changing used-watch shopping.’
Even if you’re not a click-happy millennial, the deals on these sites are worth a gander. On New York-based website TrueFacet I found a stainless steel Omega Speedmaster chronograph for $3,361, a watch that sells new today for around $7,000. Another good deal appeared on Atlanta’s Crown & Caliber website: a Longines Master Collection watch for $2,250, about $1,650 less than a new model. Philadelphia’s Govberg Jewelers, an authorized dealer for over 40 watch brands, started the site WatchBox, where I discovered a Jaeger-LeCoultre rose gold Reverso Grand Classique for $9,950. Brand new Classiques sell for about $16,000.
The more preowned watches there are available for sale from honest sellers, the more choice for consumers. The more choice for consumers, the lower prices for preowned and even, potentially, new watches. More choice, lower prices—that’s the best sort of disruption.