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The Case For Used Luxury Watches

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It hardly comes as shocking news that luxury watches tend to be expensive. PaneraisPatek Philippes, and Rolexes retail for thousands, if not tens of thousands, and are built to be passed down from generation to generation – which is wonderful if you’re ready to make a significant investment and less-than-wonderful if you’re just looking for a timepiece to flash around for a bit. High costs have traditionally led to prolonged windowshopping and capitulation (in the form of a trip to Casio), but new websites are now making the used watch market more transparent and accessible for first-time buyers.

“Before the Internet, people really didn’t know what their watch was worth, whether they were buying or selling,” says Paul Altieri, whose site, Bob’s Watches, lists Rolex timepieces with both buy and sell prices. “Dealers would sell $5,000 watches for $8,000 after buying them for $2,000.”

According to Altieri, more Rolexes (and more money) are now changing hands on eBay than in licensed dealerships. But a number of sellers on the site are actually dealers trying to muddy the waters by presenting themselves as collectors. Altieri’s elegant solution, extreme transparency – “the difference between the buy and sell number is our profit and some parts” – makes the simple arithmetic that justifies buying a used Rolex much clearer.

The math works like this: A watch that sells for $12,000 costs a dealer $7,000 wholesale new, meaning that if a watch enthusiast purchases a new GMT-Master II and wears it for a week, the timepiece has already lost roughly $5,000 in value (the buyer has parted with the money for sales tax as well). That said, certain vintage models go up in value as they become rarer and rarer. The short game doesn’t work and the long game is a gamble. The question is how exactly to make a mid-range investment.

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