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A Beginner’s Guide To Buying A Second-Hand Watch

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A watch can be your wardrobe’s most bank balance-busting element. Although going by the basic cost-per-wear calculation you might do to justify your outlay (“I’ll probably wear this every day for 100 years, right?”), its longevity means it probably offers a better return on investment than most fast fashion pieces.

Still, you don’t always need to stump up the sticker price. Thanks to many timepieces’ lengthy shelf life and other watch fans’ fluctuating tastes (and fortunes), your money often goes further in the pre-owned market.

Yet opting for second-hand isn’t just about boosted buying power. “You can find an individual, unique timepiece that’s rarely available,” says Laura Warrilow, Watches of Switzerland’s head of pre-owned watches. “You can’t just pick up the phone and order ten of the same thing.”

But searching the pre-owned market for a steal does come with its risks. Most of us know not to buy even the most competitively priced ‘Batek Bhilippe’ from a guy in a trench coat, but what about that snip of a Rolex Submariner you snared on eBay? We hate to say it, but the real victim is not the guy on the other end, despite that ‘original’ packaging, paperwork and serial number.

Future Past

For all their claims of enhanced accuracy and engineering ingenuity, mechanical watches are retro. As we’ve discussed previously, cogs and gears are redundant technology – so why buy a modern version of something old, when you could have the original?

“Vintage watches were at the forefront of technology in their day,” says The Watch Magazineeditor, Andrew Morgan. “A new Rolex today is a nice watch, a luxury piece, but it’s nothing more than a nostalgia fix or a bit of wrist branding. A vintage watch is the technology that people used to wear, and that carries a lot of strength for some people.”

Equally enticing are the discounts which can be had on designs that brands are increasingly revisiting in order to create modern iterations. Take, for example, the glut of 1950s- and 1960s-style timepieces released in recent years, including the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra. Did you know you could stand to save thousands by hunting down one of the originals instead? A vintage Seamaster is around an eighth of the price of the re-release, according to Andrew Morgan.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra

The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra has been re-released, but you can save thousands on the vintage market.

There are also size considerations. Modern watches tend towards the alarm clock, but dial back forty years and faces rarely exceeded 40mm. “It can be more appealing for someone who enjoys watches but who doesn’t want people ogling what’s on their wrist,” says Morgan.

If you’re daintier of arm, plumping for pre-owned could mean you actually find a watch that fits, rather than wearing something that makes you look as if you might’ve just nicked your dad’s.

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