Whether they’re searching for their first, or seeking out the next piece for their collection, luxury watch aficionados must always ask themselves a question:
“Should I buy new, or save some money and go for pre-owned?”
Though pre-owned timepieces indeed tend to be cheaper, this is not the only aspect that one should consider before shelling out the cash for a watch. And judging by the millions of new watches sold every year, it’s clear that watch collectors aren’t either.
Buying New vs. Pre-Owned Watches
So, what else should you be taking into account before taking the plunge and buying a watch? We’ve put together this guide to answer just that:
The links above will allow you to jump down to a specific section. Otherwise, keep scrolling to read this guide in its entirety.
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If neophyte and experienced watch collectors only have one thing in common, it’s that both are concerned for the condition of the watch they want to purchase. This is, of course, to be expected, and more of a worry when going the pre-owned route than when shopping for new.
Condition Of A New Watch
When you buy a watch brand new from an authorized dealer or brand boutique, there is absolutely no question as to the condition of the watch – it is new. More specifically, the watch should have all of the factory stickers still attached.
If you’re not familiar with them, these protective stickers are like the ones on a new fridge, for example. And yes, they are just as satisfying, if not more, to peel off.
A new watch should have no scratches whatsoever, on any of its surfaces. Regardless, you should do your due diligence and inspect the watch carefully before walking out of the store.
Similarly, the functions should work perfectly. If you’re not sure how to set the watch, or are not completely familiar with all its functions, then have the sales associate teach you.
We discuss this topic a bit further down the page, but when buying a new watch, the experience should be a luxurious one. All questions should be answered to your satisfaction, and any worries should be eased. A significant component of the premium paid for a new watch lies in the boutique experience, so make sure you’re receiving it, or go to another store who will gladly provide it.
Condition Of A Pre-Owned Watch
Pre-owned watches, particularly when talking condition, tend to get a pretty bad rep. Those who have never purchased a watch secondhand may think that the watch will be beat up or maybe even non-functional upon delivery.
This could not be further from the truth.
It will all depend on who you’re purchasing from. A small pre-owned seller will probably not have the proper facilities, but the largest pre-owned watch dealers tend to have watchmakers and polishers in-house.
For instance, Bob’s Watches is one of our preferred retailers who deal almost entirely online through their website.
This entails that any watch that is being listed for sale has been mechanically inspected, repaired if needed, and usually refinished to bring it close to new condition.
In fact, it takes an experienced eye to be able to tell a pre-owned watch that has been polished to like-new condition as opposed to a brand new one.
The instances in which this may not be the case is when talking vintage models. Dealers will usually not refinish these, although they will probably offer to do so upon request from the new owner.
In most other cases, pre-owned watch dealers will do their best to bring the watch back to factory specifications, both cosmetically and mechanically.
Considering that a pre-owned example can sell at a 40% or greater discount than the same model new, it can quickly sound like pre-owned is the obvious path to take. So, what else should you be taking into account?
When referring to accessories for a watch, we are talking about the box set and all of the trinkets that often come within it. These can be as noteworthy as a special edition winder box set, or as simple as extra straps and a strap-changing tool.
Naturally, a less expensive watch is likely to be accompanied by a more sterile box set.
There’s something to be said about how much you will actually use the accessories accompanying the watch. Straps are very likely to see some daylight, as is a strap-changing tool, and maybe even a loupe. Outside of these, the varied accessories that watch manufacturers pair with their timepiece often go untouched.
Nevertheless, they have a clear effect on the price of the watch.
If you’re purchasing a watch in new condition, you’re guaranteed to receive a complete box set with all of the gadgets inside. On the other hand, if you’re buying pre-owned, often times these accessories are lost by previous owners and will not be included.
With how meticulous watch collectors can be, you’d be surprised to learn how many of them lose components of the box set, and even the box itself. These are misplaced in storage units, if not completely left behind in hotels during vacation stays.
If you’re buying pre-owned, and want to make sure you’re getting a complete box set, you may have to do some digging. Call various dealers and ask them to specify what’s actually present in the box, and what you can expect to receive.
In some cases, there may only be one of the desired watch available for sale in the pre-owned market, and it may have an incomplete box set. It’s completely up to you whether to go through with the purchase or not.
Generally, we don’t recommend stressing about the accessories, especially if they’re just going to be sitting in the box.
The watch itself should be the focus, and you can be certain that you’ll find just as much enjoyment with an incomplete or nonexistent box set as with a complete one. Your wallet will thank you, too.
Aside from the price, which we discuss next, the warranty is probably one of the biggest points of contention for buying a watch brand new from an authorized dealer.
It’s certainly true that most pre-owned watch dealers will offer a warranty with your purchase. Unfortunately, this usually means that their in-house watchmakers will take care of any necessary warranty repairs. In very few cases is the watch sent to the manufacturer to be repaired when exercising a pre-owned dealer warranty.
In the case of the manufacturer’s warranty, any kind of warranty repair will be handled by one of the brand’s own watchmakers in their specialized facilities.
That’s not to say that an independent watchmaker is lesser than one employed by a watch manufacturer, but it certainly inspires confidence knowing that the brand itself is standing behind the timepiece and any work completed. If anything goes wrong, the brand is most likely to make things right for their customer.
Simply put, the manufacturer’s warranty is worth its weight in gold. Pre-owned watch dealer warranties can be reassuring, especially considering the lower price you’re likely to pay as opposed to buying new, but they’re not at the level of the actual watch manufacturer itself.
Without beating around the bush, we can confidently say that, for models which are still available in new and pre-owned condition, the difference in price is the reason why someone would chose to buy pre-owned rather than new.
How substantial is this difference? It depends on the brand, but a good rule of thumb is that you are likely to buy a watch at a discount of at least 30% off the MSRP if you choose the pre-owned path.
When the context is thousand-dollar watches, the math very quickly begins to make sense. A watch purchased for $10,000 at an authorized dealer can be purchased “next door” in pre-owned condition for $7,000 if not less.
The difference in condition will be minimal, if it’s at all noticeable. Even when it is, the $1,000+ savings will often justify it.
The Gray Market & “Unworn” Watches
The gray market is the segment of the watch industry which sells watches in what is known as “unworn” condition. These watches are essentially new, except they were never sold by an authorized dealer.
Behind closed doors, the brand will offload these slow movers to buyers on the secondhand market. Down the line, the resellers are not allowed to advertise the timepieces as being in “new” condition, so they are often labeled as “unworn”.
These gray market pieces will generally come with a complete box set, a blank warranty card, and often times with the protective stickers still attached. In other instances, they may have some slight scratches or scuffs known as “case wear”, from when they were previously handled by sales associates.
Once more, these pieces can sell for 30% or more below the actual retail price of the watch. So you get an unworn watch, almost as if bought from an authorized dealer, for significantly less.
Whether a brand will honor the manufacturer’s warranty on a gray market watch is a different question. Since the card is usually blank, it’s easy for the manufacturer to claim that it was never activated and is therefore not valid.
There is an inherent risk here, but it does not come without the advantage of substantial savings.
The previous section on price and this current section have some overlap, but we wanted to make some clear points with regards to depreciation that we believe you’ll find valuable.
Maybe you’ve heard the popular American saying that goes something like: “A car will lose 15-20% of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot.”
Well, the same is true for most luxury watches. In fact, the effect can be even more pronounced than with a vehicle. Depending on the brand, you may lose as much as 40-50% of the value of the watch soon after purchasing.
How is this calculated? You have to consider what someone else would be willing to pay you to take the watch off your hands, given that very few brands do “buy-backs” or accept trade-ins towards new pieces. In most cases, a watch buyer will not pay anything close to the retail price for a pre-owned timepiece.
It could be true that the watch has only been worn once after purchasing from the boutique; regrettably, this will not make a difference. The secondhand watch market, like any free market, is driven by the forces of supply and demand.
Many brands have put themselves in a position where they manufacture many more watches than the market actually demands. Consistently, this large supply more than satiates the existing demand, driving down pre-owned prices.
Unfortunately, these poor choices on behalf of the brand really only affect the loyal customers who buy their watches new. Even then, many of the biggest offenders have not yet reacted to the situation.
This, in turn, has led many previously devoted customers to seek out the better deals found on the pre-owned market, taking profits away from the brands themselves.
The buying experience is one of the aspects that the new segment possesses which the pre-owned market has not yet been able to match.
When you purchase from an authorized dealer or boutique, you get the whole treatment. It can be described as being treated like a king. Sales associates are usually very knowledgeable and glad to talk shop (watches) with you.
If you’re able to visit a physical location, you also have the ability of trying on as many watches as you like. This is just not possible with an online pre-owned dealer.
Likewise, when buying new, you’re dealing with a concierge whom you can speak with face-to-face. Call it old style, but we think that an in-person buying experience will always top an over-the-phone purchase. There’s really nothing as satisfying as good customer service, which a store associate can provide in a way that a phone salesperson cannot.
At the end of the day, the choice and power is in your, the watch buyer’s, hands. The points provided in this guide are meant to be taken into consideration, but they should not deter you from buying a watch in the way you are most comfortable.
For some, the in-person buying experience is extremely rewarding, and can literally change how they perceive a watch for as long as they wear it. On the other hand, those with a tighter budget may not be concerned with visiting a physical location, and are only looking to purchase a watch for the lowest amount possible.
It’s all about your personal preferences. We believe watches are very emotional purchases, and not always driven by logic. So if the avenue through which you’re buying is not fulfilling you, then be sure change it. Once you find what and who is right for you as a collector, then you will really begin to reap the rewards of the watch hobby.
More Guides & Articles
If you’ve found our guide on buying new vs. pre-owned helpful, or have any additional questions, make sure to let us know in the comments. Otherwise, if you’re looking for other guides to peruse, jump into our most popular ones below:
- Why Collect Luxury Watches & How To Get Started On Your Own Collection
- Browse Bob’s Watches For Certified Pre-Owned Watches
- The True Cost Of Owning A Mechanical Timepiece
- What Are The Cheapest Rolex Watches You Can Buy Today?
- Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage
"A great guide on the varied points to consider when buying a new or used watch. Anyone in the market for a watch needs to see this!"Rating: 5.0★★★★★