Some people will tell you buying watches online, especially luxury ones, is a bad idea, while others will give it a green light if the seller has a brick-and-mortar store as well.
As enthusiasts who have been selling and buying watches online for years, we think it’s a fantastic way to view a greater selection and get better pricing, but no doubt, you want to take steps to protect yourself while you do it.
Below, we’ll go over the tips we use and why they’re important, so you can have great experiences while you build your collection too.
Buy from a Reputable Source
A “reputable source” can be any type of entity, be it an individual, dealer, store, or marketplace, but you need to know who you’re working with and who actually holds the timepiece at that moment.
For example, at Value Your Watch, we do provide authentication services, but you’re purchasing from an individual seller, which may be a dealer/ store or another individual collector.
The same is true on many platforms, though it isn’t always as clear who the actual seller is as it is on Value Your Watch.
Once you know who the seller is, run searches for them by name and look for reviews of that entity.
It’s also a good idea to look for online reviews of the site, itself.
Bear in mind, one or two bad reviews is not a deal breaker when someone deals with the public a lot, but you should be able to identify trends in how a seller treats customers.
Do Your Research
Start by comparing the seller’s description to the images provided to ensure the timepiece is as described, but don’t rely on the seller’s description alone.
Compare what you’re being told to original product info from the manufacture or from other reputable sites as well.
Take care to ensure you’re looking at the exact same model. In this day and age, many brands have brought out stripped-down models which look nearly identical to the original but may be missing features or be quartz rather than mechanical.
Armed with the original product info and images gathered elsewhere, do comparisons to see if each item matches up. If the seller isn’t providing many images, request more. When you’re buying watches online, particularly in the luxury market, a reputable seller should have no trouble at all snapping a couple extra photos for you even if you’re asking for specific angles to capture features you need to compare.
This stage will help you determine if the piece is authentic, if it’s had work done using off-brand/ unauthentic parts, or if there’s damage to the to the timepiece.
Use an Escrow and Authentication Service
With an authentication service, a third-party expert collects the timepiece from the seller and runs checks on it to make sure it is genuine.
When it clears the inspection, the timepiece is sent directly to the buyer.
This can be helpful because, when you’re buying watches online, sometimes even the seller doesn’t know a whole lot about the timepiece he’s offering.
By using an authentication service, you can rest assured you’re getting the real deal, sparing you the heartache of picking up a replica or counterfeit timepiece that was either intentionally or unintentionally put up for sale.
An escrow service works in a similar capacity, but handles the money.
The escrow service will collect from you and not pay the seller until you receive the timepiece, thus eliminating concerns about being ghosted after payment is sent.
Depending on who you’re purchasing from and the tools offered, escrow may be separate from authentication or they may be combined.
Again, not every seller will have all the answers you want, particularly if you’re purchasing from someone who is simply selling off pieces he doesn’t need or wear anymore.
However, even the casual seller should be happy to answer all your questions to the best of his ability.
If you’re purchasing from a dealer or shop, you can set the bar a bit higher.
The questions below do not constitute a definitive list, but they will get the ball rolling.
If you choose to ask your own questions, try to make them open-ended like the ones outlined here to encourage a more descriptive response rather than yes/ no answers.
What is the history of the watch?
This is a fair starter question if you’re purchasing from an individual rather than a dealer.
Chances are a dealer isn’t going to know the history of a timepiece, but he will be able to answer questions about its condition now.
However, an individual collector will likely be able to provide you with all sorts of details about the timepiece, including things you didn’t even think of to ask.
What’s the timepiece’s servicing history?
This question may be more telling than asking about the history of the timepiece.
After all, if it has been recently serviced, none of the history really matters.
You’re getting a timepiece that has recently been opened, checked, and damaged or worn parts have been replaced.
Individual sellers don’t always service their timepieces before they sell them, and you shouldn’t necessarily expect them to.
However, the pricing should reflect this because you’ll want to service it after you purchase it.
On the flip side, most dealers will service a timepiece if they can’t verify it has been recently serviced.
How was the piece authenticated?
There’s an old saying that goes, “buy the seller.”
If you’re purchasing from a reputable dealer, he knows what he has and it’s going to be authentic.
The trouble comes in more when you’re purchasing from individual collectors who may or may not have ever had the timepiece authenticated.
If the seller is not a dealer who handles timepieces day in and day out, then you should seek assurance that the piece has been inspected by a watchmaker or trusted source.
Not having it previously authenticated is not a deal breaker, but this is where you’ll want to involve an authentication service at the time of sale.
What damage or wear-and-tear does the timepiece have?
The photos may only tell part of the story.
Is the crystal scratched? Are there nicks, dents, scuffs, dings, or abrasions on the case or bracelet?
In these cases, issues can typically be polished out, but that also brings to light a second question: whether the piece has been over-polished.
Once timepieces hit a certain age, it’s almost a given that it has been polished at some point in time, but you’ll certainly want to know if the edges are still crisp and if the case has retained its original form.
What will it cost to get serviced?
Servicing prices run the gamut from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Again, this is something your casual collector may not know, especially if he never serviced the timepiece, but your dealer should be able to give you a ballpark.
It’s worthwhile to run comparison checks here too.
As a reminder, if the timepiece has not been recently serviced and the price does not reflect this, you do have a price negotiation point here.
However, it’s best to hold off on all price negotiations until after you’ve asked all your questions and you’re ready to make the actual buy.
As an aside, knowing the cost to service and the recommended intervals will help you determine if a timepiece is really within your price range or not.
For example, a Rolex can go ten years without servicing, but if you’re picking up a Panerai, you’d better be prepared to have it serviced every couple years.
What size wrist it will fit?
The larger your wrists are, the more important this question becomes.
If a bracelet started off short or was altered to fit an owner, you may need to hunt down extra links for it.
That’s not necessarily a deal breaker either, but it can certainly kill your enthusiasm when you go to put your new timepiece on and it doesn’t fit.
What is included in the sale?
A lot of ads will say that a timepiece comes with the “box and papers.” This is a great start.
You don’t necessarily need them, though again, having them can change the price some, but there’s more to it than that.
Are you getting the inner box or the outer box? Did the original timepiece come with any tools? Are those included? What about manuals or other add-ins the timepiece originally sold with?
What kind of warranty does it come with?
When you’re buying watches online, you’ll almost never get a warranty, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If it does come with one, find out what the warranty covers, how long it goes for, what the process for making a claim is, and other pertinent details.
What’s the return policy?
It’s much harder to get a return policy out of a peer-to-peer sale, but many dealers will give you at least a few days to check out the timepiece in person and allow you to return it if it somehow did not match the description or was not what you thought it would be.
How will you ship the watch?
This is almost a trick question because there are only two answers you should accept: UPS or FedEx. Items sent through the US mail can get misrouted, lost, or delayed, and then you’re stuck on the phone trying to get answers from a government agency.
Not fun. So, not only do you want your timepieces sent via UPS or FedEx, but you need the seller to set it up as a signature-required delivery and insure it for the full sales price.
Furthermore, you want the tracking number from the seller, so you can see where your timepiece is in transit without having to go back and forth.
Can you provide references?
References may not be necessary if you’ve researched the seller and he has online reviews already.
However, if you’re purchasing from an individual, you need to talk to someone (or multiple people) he has done business with.
What methods of payment do you accept?
Sometimes sellers are locked into specific forms of payment based on the platform/ marketplace they’re using.
It’s helpful to look into this before making an offer to ensure you can get the funds to him easily.
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Value Your Watch Makes Buying Watches Online Simple
At Value Your Watch, we make buying watches online transparent and add a multitude of layers of protection for you and the seller.
As you browse our marketplace, it’s easy to see who the seller is and what their reputation is like.
Unlike other marketplaces that hide their sellers behind a veil of secrecy, we eliminate barriers and give you open communication.
We also offer authentication and escrow services, so you can feel confident no matter who you’re working with. See our full selection of luxury timepieces now.