Used Watch Buying Guide - Part 1

Mike HeitzkeApril 25, 2015

If you’re here, you’ve probably experienced (or heard) a horror story concerning a used watch purchase. Maybe it was a fake, could have been that the pictures misrepresented the watch, or worse, it showed up completely faulty.

Your friends at The Second Hander are here to help you. We’ve prepared a guide that should give you some handy tips when dealing with that questionable eBay seller, and arm you with the right questions to ask that forum seller.

Tip #1: Buy the Seller

This tip is likely to be the most obvious: buy the seller. If you’re considering an expensive purchase, of any kind, you need to consider mostly the seller. However, sellers who seem reputable may not always seem so. Consider these elements when buying the seller:

Feedback (auction sites). If you’re shopping on an auction site, or any internet marketplace, you will most likely have seller feedback at your disposal for review. But make sure that seller hasn’t only established a number of positive reviews as a buyer. Many nefarious sellers will open an eBay account and buy a number of cheap items only to show a healthy positive feedback score – then it is scam city (and you’re the target).

Feedback (forums). Hobbyist community forums are a wonderful place to track down that grail. But don’t jump on that ‘too good to be true’ priced Submariner on the for sale forum just yet. Can the seller offer references? Do they have transaction history in a feedback area of the forum?

Limited History. Often, users shy away from forum posters or eBay sellers who lack significant feedback. However, taking such a stance may cause a buyer to miss out on a good deal. Most forums show when a member joined and a post count showing how active that user might be. If a user is selling an expensive watch for an unbelievable price and just joined the forum (or eBay), run…run quickly. A user with a low post or feedback who has been around for a year or more, however, is most likely legitimate.

Seller’s Knowledge. This one is the key to avoid those who are unknowingly selling fakes. Consider a successful seller of various clothing or jewelry items on eBay: could have high feedback, a long history, and communicate well with you. Yet, because that seller doesn’t know anything about watches, they could be well meaning – but selling a big ol fake. Do your homework, and buy from sellers who are knowledgeable about watches – it’s too big of a risk to take.

Communication. Many times, you can spot a foul deal by simply communicating with the seller.

Tip #2: Consider All Elements - To Find The Right Price

You’ve found a watch you like, you’re comfortable with the seller, and the price is right – time to pull the trigger, right? Maybe, maybe not. There’s more to buying a watch than just a bottom line price:

Is Paperwork Included? The inclusion of paperwork does more than ensure legitimacy of the watch – it raises the value of it. Paperwork must be presented in a warranty claim, helps authenticate a watch, and gives buyers that ‘warm and fuzzy.’ Should you require paperwork – and avoid watches that don’t have it? That’s up to you. You’ll likely pay a slight premium for it, but you’d also get more in potential a re-sale. Paperwork can be faked, so it’s not always a sure bet for authentication. But it does help. The absence of paperwork should almost always result in a lower price than market rate. Use that to your benefit in price negotiations – or even when determining whether or not the price is right.

What about Boxes, Manuals, Hangtags? These ancillary items may seem trivial, but their absence is surely going to devalue your watch. If the box isn’t important to you, often sellers will be willing to negotiate a lower price if they can keep it. Make sure, when comparing the price to others, that you factor in whether these items are included. They’ll help you with a re-sale as well. Remember, buyers are visual – if you can stage a watch with pictures of all the other ‘stuff’ it comes with – you’re going to get better offers.

Does the watch you're eyeing come "full kit" with box, manuals, and warranty card? If not, make sure you negotiate the price accordingly.

Are All Bracelet Links Included? This is a big one, and it almost always goes unnoticed. Bracelet links can be expensive – sometimes $50-$100 a pop. Sellers often take one or two links out of their watches and sell them separately to maximize profit on the watch. Even if you have small wrists, it’s worth noting the number of links in a bracelet. And if you forget, you’ll find out the hard way should you ever re-sell your watch.

Watch Service History. Has the watch been serviced recently? If so, it would greatly affect the price – especially if it’s an older piece. If it hasn’t been serviced, or there’s no record, ask the seller how many seconds per day the watch is gaining or losing each day. A Swiss model that’s well outside the bounds of +/- 20 seconds could be due for a service – and that could cost $300-$800. (However, it may just need a regulation)

Is the Seller International? International sellers can provide a good value – just be careful. There may be significant import duties you’d be forced to pay should you purchase from an international seller – turning that great price into pricey.

Tip #3: Know The Differences

You’d be surprised how much of an impact incremental model changes have on market value of a timepiece. Is that Omega Planet Ocean you’re considering globe-engraved? Does it have a red or blue dot? How about blue AR coating vs clear? Does the Submariner you’re eyeing have a ceramic bezel insert or steel?

Believe it or not, these seemingly tiny differences allow buyers to date a watch within the model’s lifecycle. Two watches that look nearly identical side-by-side, could have hundreds or even thousands of dollars separating their market value due to simple changes. So before you go shopping – arm yourself with knowledge of the differences among the model line. Use those differences to your advantage when negotiating price.

tl;dr; Version

Buy the seller. Make sure that high feedback score is associated with selling and not simply buying. Ask forum sellers for references.

Consider everything. Is the paperwork included? If the bracelet is sized, are extra links included? Make sure boxes, hangtags, etc are present – if not, negotiate lower than market price. Ask about watch service history and how many seconds a watch is gaining or losing per day.

Know the differences. Small differences such as a security engraving or case material within the same model line can cause huge swings in valuation. Make sure to do your homework before searching for your next watch.


Mike, a UI/UX specialist might love cars even more than he loves watches. While he's eyeballing his next watch from Ball, he's also trying to find his next car - with enough horsepower to keep things interesting.