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So You Want To Buy A Pre-owned Luxury Watch: Making The Case For Buying Vintage

May 26, 2018

BY Paul Altieri


In that far off mystical land of “money is no object”, everything we own would be sparkly and shiny and brand spanking new. In the same way that we all know nothing smells quite as good as a new car straight out of the showroom, is there anything to match the feeling of being the first person to snap the clasp on a box-fresh luxury watch? In reality, unfortunately, just as you can practically see a new car’s value plummet with each tick of the odometer, high-end luxury timepieces also suffer from a predictable, if not quite so dramatic, depreciation once they’ve left the shop floor. The discrepancy in cost between brand new and second hand has been driving a huge upsurge in the secondary market for the luxury watch market in the last few years, together with a few other excellent, and much less mercenary, reasons. And that’s why we’ve compiled this guide on what to look for when buying a pre-owned luxury watch.

It is rare for cars to retain value.

Just like most typical cars, with a few exceptions, most cars will depreciate. The story is the same with watches.

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The Pros Of Buying Pre-Owned Vs. Brand New

Let’s get the financial benefits out of the way first. When a watch goes from being ‘new’ to being ‘pre-owned’, it inherently depreciates. While that’s a bummer for the first owner, it’s good news for the savvy collector, who can let the other guy take that initial financial hit before buying the watch for a fraction of its original price. It means a wider world of more exotic pieces is open to you than would otherwise be possible if you had your heart set on only buying brand new.

The Rolex Daytona 116500 is a perfect example of a pre-owned luxury watch worth investing in

There are watches that sell at a higher price than retail. One example is the Daytona ref 116500.

Also, unlike cars, which (with a few ultra rare exceptions), drop off a fiscal cliff and just keep dropping, fine watches will generally lose a certain amount of their value and then level off. Buying pre-owned, when the worst of the depreciation has been shouldered by someone else, means there’s much less of a sting if you decide you want to sell your watch on again in the future.

Depending on a number of factors, such as rarity or the desirability of the brand, you could even find you’re selling the piece for more than you shelled out on it in the first place. The Rolex Daytona, some vintage Submariners, and a few other rare Rolex watches have increased dramatically in recent years.


Another great reason for opting to go the pre-owned route is there’s a much stronger chance of you ending up with a watch that no one else has. Various models drop out of production at different times, and the piece you’ve coveted for years might no longer be available as a brand new buy. The second-hand market then becomes the only place you’re going to find your favorite watch, and the extra effort it takes to track it down, plus the shortage of supply, makes it more unlikely you’ll meet anyone with a matching wrist.

What To Look For When Buying A Pre-owned Luxury Watch

As with anything involving high-value items, the soaring popularity of the pre-owned watch market has brought with it a soaring reputation for fakes and scams. Where there’s profit to be made, you can be assured that the less reputable element won’t be far behind.

Just as you wouldn’t (we hope!) buy a car or house without first doing a significant amount of research, it’s vital you approach the process of buying a pre-owned watch cautiously.

With counterfeit pieces being made that are now so convincing even trained watchmakers are having trouble spotting them, you have to be able to trust your vendor implicitly. Watches that come complete with the original box and papers are always preferable, as are those with a documented service history.

Real or fake rolex.

Here are two Rolex Watches. While this is a very obvious example, there are many replicas difficult to identify.

Even if the watch you’ve set your sights on is the genuine item, that doesn’t mean all your potential problems just disappear. When buying a used car, a gleaming paint job has disguised many a lemon and will do nothing to prevent the transmission dropping out the bottom five miles down the road. Similarly, just because your genuine pre-owned timepiece looks great, you don’t know what’s going on beneath the surface, and if you’re buying online, there’s no way to check.

From borrowed, inferior parts to water corrosion on the movement, this is another reason to steer clear of anything that seems too good to be true and stick only to recognized and well-established dealers.

At Bob’s Watches, all of our watches are certified as 100% authentic and serviced only with genuine Rolex parts, with a full refund guarantee.

Wear and Tear

When you’re buying a pre-owned watch, its age and type should tell you a lot about the number of dents and scratches you should expect to find. A 20-year old Submariner, for example, will likely have had a harder life than a 5 year-old Milgauss, and that will be reflected in the wear and tear on the case, as well as in the price. You will have to decide for yourself how many scuffs and scrapes are too many on your prospective pre-owned luxury watch, but always try to take emotion out of it. Any damage you can see on the outside could very easily have been felt on the inside too.

One of the benefits of buying a pre-owned luxury watch is the story behind it. Watches carry with them the stories of their owners, and their unique marking, patinas, and blemishes can actually add additional value as well. Just be sure the watch is in working order before investing your money in something so significant.

Some defects can actually add value to the watch

Some defects can actually add value to a pre-owned luxury watch, like this ghost bezel GMT

Careful examination is paramount as is, again, the reputation and reputability of the dealer. It’s also worth remembering that, compared to a brand new model, older watches will take more looking after and it’s a good idea to have them serviced more frequently than their modern day counterparts.

Summing Up

The advantages of buying a pre-owned luxury watch are pretty clear. An increase in buying power opens the door to options that would have remained otherwise closed, along with the chance of landing yourself a rare gem that you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Choose carefully, research thoroughly and you can end up with not only a stunning timepiece but a very sound investment as well.




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    Bob's Watches is an independent watch dealer and is not sponsored by, associated with and/or affiliated with Rolex, S.A. Bob's Watches only sells pre-owned Rolex watches and provides its own warranties on the watches it sells. Rolex, www.rolex.com, is under no obligation to warranty-service watches sold by Bob's Watches. Rolex Datejust, Rolex Day Date President, Submariner, Presidential, Explorer, Sea Dweller, Super President, GMT Master, GMT, YachtMaster, Prince, Milgauss, MasterPiece, Air King, Cosmograph Daytona, and PearlMaster are all registered trademarks of the Rolex Corporation ( Rolex USA, Rolex S.A.) To buy a new Rolex watch, please visit rolex.com for a list of authorized Rolex dealers near you.
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