It’s official: thanks to the Internet and a robust world economy, collecting vintage and modern pre-owned wristwatches has become more popular than ever before.
Traditional auction houses such as Sotheby’s regularly conduct sales in New York, Geneva and Hong Kong which generate millions of dollars in revenue and are attended by the world’s most prominent dealers and collectors. Indeed, it was at a Sotheby’s auction in December of 1999 that an ultra-complicated Patek Philippe pocket watch commissioned by American businessman Henry Graves in 1933 sold for an astonishing $11 million – a new world record.
On the Internet, "cyber-auctions" such as eBay have generated enormous interest in collecting fine wristwatches as well. It’s a big business: last year, over $37 million worth of watches were sold on-line. Because the start-up costs associated with selling on the Internet are relatively modest – no need to rent office space or pay employees – a new generation of collector/dealers has emerged to help meet the demand for vintage wristwatches.
In addition, several Internet sites are now devoted to serving watch collectors with content ranging from discussion forums to product reviews. Needless to say, the wealth of information offered by these sites has allowed collectors to gain a horological education much faster than ever before and has resulted in a new breed of watch buyer – sophisticated, educated, focused and market-savvy.
Last but not least, watch shows and traditional watch dealers remain popular with those consumers still uncomfortable in the ways of E-commerce. Of course, watches purchased from retail stores will always cost more than buying from dealers who conduct business on the Internet, but many collectors prefer human interaction. However you prefer to do your shopping, whether it be in person or on-line, vintage watches can be found everywhere it seems, from the pages of fashion magazines to your local neighborhood jewelry store.
Yes, vintage and pre-owned modern wristwatches have undoubtedly emerged as one of the hottest collectibles of the 21st Century, but this was not always the case. As early as 1982, in fact, wristwatches were not considered collectible at all. Many industry insiders point to the 1982 NAWCC (National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors) National Convention in Boston as the first time that wristwatches were actively bought and sold. Prior to 1982, watch collectors focused mainly on pocket watches. American railroad watches and gold dress pocket watches were most avidly collected back then. However, as European collectors and dealers began snapping up wristwatches by high-end makers such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, prices skyrocketed and the vintage wristwatch hobby was born.
The Internet changed the rules of the game once again in the mid-late 1990’s by allowing collectors and dealers to communicate more efficiently. With the advent of inexpensive scanners and sophisticated Web site design software, it became possible for dealers and collectors to post crisp, full-color digital images of vintage and modern wristwatches they had for sale. As a result, whereas a dealer might have once needed several weeks to find the right buyer for a watch, now that same watch could be sold in a matter of hours or days.
While collectors were growing more sophisticated than ever, a new breed of watch dealer entered the industry via the Internet. Although many of these dealers were qualified to deal in vintage watches, others proved themselves amateurish and unprofessional. On a more ominous note, the Internet, with the anonymity it offers, became a magnet for criminals.
Now that some historical context has been provided, perhaps you will understand why finding a trustworthy, knowledgeable dealer has become so crucial for collectors. Even legitimate and well-intentioned dealers, however, lack extensive experience buying and selling watches. This should come as no surprise, given that collecting wristwatches is still in its infancy. Unlike more established hobbies such as numismatics, there is no such thing as third-party grading or weekly price lists for watches, and information on a particular model is often hard to come by. Price guides do exist, but the values can be inaccurate and/or outdated
In short, becoming a top-notch dealer requires more than just a price guide, a scanner and a computer: it requires knowledge of the marketplace, a passion for watches, and many years of experience.
Regarding cyber-auctions and watch shows: they can sometimes be a useful means of acquiring watches for a collection, but a collector must always proceed with caution. If you ask any experienced collector his or her advice about buying on eBay or at a local watch show, the reply will usually be: Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware). Here are a few thoughts concerning eBay and watch shows (these guidelines are especially true if one is new to collecting wristwatches):
To its enormous credit, eBay has revolutionized the way collectibles are bought and sold all over the world. With over half a million auctions every day, individuals, businesses and dealers can use eBay to buy and sell virtually anything – coins, stamps, Pokeman cards, Beanie babies, and of course, watches. Most people selling on eBay, however, also sell a variety of different things: there are few eBay sellers who specialize only in watches. As a result, when you buy a watch off eBay, there is not always the guarantee that you will get what you paid for. Furthermore, because most eBay sellers do not offer a return policy, if the watch needs an expensive repair or has been otherwise misrepresented, the collector is usually out of luck.
The issue of replicas is an even more serious problem. Replicas, especially of high-end makers such as Rolex and Patek Philippe, are often encountered on eBay. In all fairness, many of these replica watches are truthfully represented as fakes and fill a niche within the eBay universe. However, many sellers unknowingly sell fakes as originals due to the fact that counterfeiters in Asia and Europe have gotten so good at what they do, that they are producing counterfeit watches capable of fooling even the experts.
With vintage watches, the problem is even more acute. There have been many instances in which a movement from watch A is "married" to a case from watch B. When the watch is discovered to be a "recase", its value drops dramatically. No matter what the situation, common sense dictates that no seller in his right mind sells a genuine Rolex bubbleback for $329 with no reserve. So if you see the telltale, "I don’t know if it is real," guess what? It’s not.
Watch shows can be a great place to meet fellow collectors and learn more about the hobby, but they can also be a frustrating experience. For one thing, "bargains" usually turn out to be anything but. Refinished dials, damaged cases and movements requiring expensive overhauls are just a few of the pitfalls that can turn your "bargain" into a money pit. Moreover, dealers typically have first shot at each other’s inventory the night before the show opens to the public. As a result, any under priced Rolexes will be long gone or sporting higher price tags by the time you arrive at the show.
In addition, because the majority of the desirable vintage watches are being sold via the Internet, you’ll find fewer quality vintage watches at shows as collectors purchase these fine collectibles and dealer inventories are depleted. Attending a watch show is most productive when you know what you are looking for, but the pickings are slim these days, even for the professionals who make their living buying and selling watches.
Buying From Finer Times
Why buy from FinerTimes.com?
It’s true that you could buy from an individual selling on eBay, a stranger at a watch show, or your local dealer. It’s true that you could pay less for unrestored watches and take a chance that you’ll be able to restore a watch easily. And it’s certainly true that you could buy from a dealer who cares more about money than about watches. You could do all of these things…but why would you want to?
Finertimes.com, pioneered the concept of buying and selling watches on the Internet. Partners since 1995, Finertimes.com prides
itself in offering the very finest in pre-owned modern and vintage wristwatches. Every single watch offered for sale by Finertimes.com is guaranteed to be 100% genuine and in as close to its original condition, both mechanically and cosmetically, as possible. Finertimes.com will not sacrifice cosmetic appearance for the sake of originality, however.
Finertimes.com realizes that certain watches lend themselves to restoration, while others are best left original. With this in mind, Finertimes.com offers watches for both the discriminating collector seeking absolute originality, as well as watches that can be worn casually and have been restored to look like new. As far as restoration goes, Finertimes.com replates cases and refinishes dials only when necessary, and with an eye toward maintaining the watch’s original appearance. Either way, you can be rest assured that every watch sold by Finertimes.com is a vintage timepiece you can be proud to wear.
Finer Times has been in business since 1988 and does not employ commissioned salespeople or rent fancy office space.
We purposefully keep our overhead low so that we can pass the savings on to our
customers. Collecting wristwatches doesn’t have to be difficult anymore. Whether you are a veteran collector or completely new to the hobby, please contact
Finertimes.com and find out why Finertimes.com was twice voted one of the Internet’s "Best Website" by Forbes Magazine.
We are always available to answer your questions and look forward to hearing from you soon!