Buying a luxury timepiece can be an expensive and often overwhelming experience. There are so many options to consider, variables to balance, models and brands to explore.
With the popularity of pre-owned on the rise and vintage cooler than ever, the real question is – Where do you begin?
In this post, we discuss new vs pre-owned. Do you want the security of a manufacturer’s warranty? The thrill of owning the latest ‘must have’ accessory? Or are you gripped by the romance and history of pre-owned? We explore all the options below.
is a new watch for me?
The attraction of investing in a new watch is exactly that, it’s new. The appeal of a fresh, out of the box timepiece is hard to beat. The experience is intoxicating. From the smell of never before worn leather to an overwhelming sense of prestige and luxury. For many buyers, new is the only way to go.
Often, I have customers who cannot wait to get home to wear their new watch. They slip on their purchase then and there, anxious to show off their latest accessory.
They experience the satisfying feeling of finally owning a coveted prize. A prize they have worked hard for or promised themselves for a long time. Their new buy comes with the certainty of a warranty, proof of ownership and the safety net of support should something go wrong.
Buying new often means you have the opportunity to own the latest trend. A watch supported by a celebrity brand ambassador, made more exclusive by long waiting lists and coveted by fashion forward types the world over. For some, this is a vital part of owning a luxury timepiece.
do you buy a watch with your Heart or your Head?
In the many years I have worked within the industry, I have met watch purchasers who fall into two distinct categories; those buying from the heart and those buying from the head.
Buying from the heart is the easier of the two scenarios. The buyer is driven by love of a certain timepiece or the desire to celebrate an occasion. Often the purchaser has a strong sense of what they like. They are familiar with the look of the watch and have some brand knowledge.
Ultimately, though, the watch is chosen for aesthetic appeal or brand loyalty. The buyer wants good value for money but it is not a driving factor in the purchase. The customer has an emotional connection to the whole experience.
The latter group is the harder to address. The purchaser who buys with their head is driven by money, value and a sense of ‘investment’. They may feel a strong attraction to a watch or even be buying to mark a special occasion but it is not their primary motivation. They are often “self-purchasers."
Is a watch a good investment?
This is a tricky subject. The dreaded “Which watch is going to hold their value?” question. The honest answer is, I don’t know, I wish I did! I use my expertise to provide an educated guess but I cannot predict the future.
A great example of this difficult to grasp subject is the return of Tudor to the UK market. Tudor returned after a long absence. The ‘Heritage Black Bay’ was released between 2013 and 2015 in three colour ways.
It was impossible to predict that a few years later Tudor would produce an in-house calibre for this model meaning the ETA version was discontinued. The ETA black model suddenly became incredibly rare and coveted. You should expect to pay £2,500 for one in the pre-owned market, representing an impressive 7% yield on the original retail price.
This is, however, most definitely the exception and not the rule. This example brings together the ideal conditions of a limited production run and timeless aesthetic. In most cases viewing a watch as an investment simply doesn’t work. They operate like a new car, depreciating in value over time.
which watches hold their value?
Below is a table of some of the most ‘iconic’ watches around. Some of these classics are so popular they remain available to buy new today.
There are very few models that will provide instant interest on your purchase. It is more likely the rate of depreciation will eventually slow to a point where it may hold.
On rare occasions, models which have been fully discontinued or redesigned may suddenly become very desirable. Other models gain value due to their year of production or special event that coincides with their release.
A great example is the OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch. The watch as it was during the year of the landing is virtually identical to the model available to buy today. The events of July 1969 elevated the watch to iconic status. If you are fortunate enough to own a ’69 Moonwatch you can expect a resale value between £5,500 and £7,000.
Hindsight offers perfect vision but people purchasing watches in 1967, ‘68 and early ’69 had no idea of this future surge in value. They simply bought a watch from the heart unaware that 60 years later they would be looking at an immense financial gain. Sometimes you take a risk, enjoy your watch and hope for the best.
|Model||Current RRP||2-5 years old**||App or Dep %||Rare Versions||Pre-owned price|
|Rolex Submariner 116610LN||£6,250||£6,090||-2.50%||Rolex Submariner "Meters First" 1967 model||£9,500|
|Rolex Datejust 116233||£7,700||£5,899||-23%|
|Tudor Black Bay Black 79220N||£2,330||£2,495||7%||Tudor Submariner 1950's||Circa £6,000|
|Breitling Navitimer 42mm||£6,780||£4,495||-34%||Breitling Navitimer AOPA 1960's||£6,500|
|Tag Heuer Monaco CAW2111.FC6183||£4,200||£2,590||-38%||Tag Heuer Monaco "Gulf" 2007 model||£5,000|
|Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 322.214.171.124.01.005||£3,520||£2,995||-15%||Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 1969 model (year of landing)||£5,500 - £7,000|
|Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch "Snoopy" 3126.96.36.199.04.003||£4,880||£11,490||135%|
Can a limited edition protect your investment?
One way of hedging your bets and lowering the risk of depreciation is to choose limited editions or limited production runs. Small batch limited editions will often ride the ‘investment band’ more successfully than widely produced models.
Anniversary editions or models produced in rarer materials will often have limited productions - think full ceramic or bronze cases. It is important to remember that value is unlikely to spike immediately. Like all investments, a watch takes time to develop.
Pros & Cons of Buying a Pre-Owned Watch
YOU'RE NOT THE FIRST person to wear it
You aren’t the first person to own this watch. It has had a life, a history, adventures. For some people, this simply feels uncomfortable. They want something fresh and shiny, that they can put their own mark on. Of course, for many people the thought of a ‘vintage’ piece actually ups the appeal.
it will need more maintenance
Pre-owned does, unfortunately, come with a little more hard work than most modern watches. Services are likely to be more often and more expensive.
You should be prepared for them to never quite fully perform as they should. Older models may not be water resistant, bracelets may be slack and have kinks in places. This is what makes pre-loved watched unique. They come with battle scars.
The best way to buffer against the risk of depreciation is to buy pre-owned. Pre-owned watches have become hugely popular in recent years due to the rise in inflation (and Brexit) causing significant price increases on new luxury products.
Just like a brand new car, a brand new watch depreciates the moment you take it home, but a pre-owned Rolex has already depreciated to the near maximum by the time you buy it.
More Accessible Pricing
Pre-owned watches can provide access to luxury brands for purchasers with a more modest budget. If you are keen to own a Breitling or TAG Heuer but can’t afford to go new, the pre-owned sector could be the answer.
Watches can drop as much as 30% to 40% below the retail price for a model that is only a few years old. This will, however, depend on condition and rarity. And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.
The pre-owned market provides a valuable space for collectors and enthusiasts to uncover sought after models. The joy of tracking down a watch you have coveted for years is hard to beat. Getting your hands on that rare Rolex Submariner or elusive steel Daytona is exhilarating.
Tips for Buying a Pre-Owned Watch
Ask lots of questions
Treat buying a pre-owned watch like you would a car. This means asking lots of questions. Age? Condition? Service history? If the seller can’t provide answers or makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t proceed.
Box and Papers
A box and papers can be invaluable in validating the authenticity of a timepiece. Sometimes, though, especially with older watches they will be missing. If you like the watch and you feel everything points to an authentic model this is no reason not to proceed. The lack of papers should be reflected in the price. Never feel pressured to purchase and always trust your gut instinct.
buy from a Bricks and Mortar Retailer
Buying from an established bricks and mortar retailer is often the safest way to buy. They will usually offer at least a 12-month warranty for pre-owned watches and give you the opportunity to view the timepiece in person before you commit.
Many retailers working within the pre-owned market will service and refurbish pre-owned models before display, giving you greater confidence your second-hand watch will perform like new.
So What’s the Verdict?
It depends entirely on what you want and need from your timepiece. How much you are prepared to spend and what tops your list of priorities? A watch’s value is determined by what it is worth to a buyer and this can be a very subjective thing.
For pre-owned, this means being willing to work harder to find what you want and keep it maintained. It means judging the emotional value of a specific model that may represent an important time period or relationship in your life. It means being prepared for a timepiece with a past.
For new buyers, it means weighing investment concerns with the security of a brand new, perfect watch complete with warranty. It means choosing to indulge yourself in a hard won treat and having the unique experience of being the very first person to wear a luxury timepiece.
There is no right or wrong here just different priorities. For me, I’m afraid, my heart most definitely rules my head!