What you Need to Know Before Buying a Vintage Watch Online

There are a number of good reasons to buy a vintage watch online, but it can be a bit confusing. Fear not, we have some tips and hints to help you out.

Today, more than ever, people are shopping online. The pandemic pushed us to a point where visiting retail stores just didn’t always seem safe. Additionally, with so much free time for those working from home and not making long commutes, there was a little “extra” time to indulge in one’s passions and to really browse the internet for the best prices – this is especially true in the world of vintage and second-hand watches. Because there is a plethora of information out there, self-education is easy, but there is also a huge selection of vintage watches online, which can be daunting. Here, we tell you where to look, what to look for, and offer some tips and hints when it comes to buying a vintage watch online.

What to look for When Buying a Vintage Watch Online

The most important aspect to buying a vintage watch online is self-education. If you are just getting started in the process of watch shopping, surf the web in a general manner first just to find some watches where the aesthetic appeals to you. Then do your homework on those brands and styles.  If you already know the brand and even the watch model you want, then you have probably already done your investigations and are familiar with the nuances of the collection. This is always the best place to start because you can never have too much information.

It can be stressful to buy a watch that you haven’t seen or touched or felt on your wrist. Keep this in mind and while shopping around, make note of the dimensions of the watches you are looking at. It can even help to cut out a piece of paper or cardboard to the diameter size and shape of the watches you are looking at to see how they will sit on your wrist.

When you are sure about the watch model you want to buy, whether it is quartz or mechanical, take a look around the internet to get a general feel for the average price. If you find something so low that it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Either way, it is a good idea to look at the condition of the watches you are seeing to compare prices. Don’t forget to compare apples to apples when looking at prices. Are they the same materials (i.e., titanium, gold, steel), do they have straps or bracelets, and what sort of clasp, etc.  Once you have a reliable range of prices, you can set your budget accordingly.

One of the biggest factors that come into play when buying vintage watches online is where to purchase from. Not all sites are trustworthy and most are not created equal.

Where to Shop and Buy your Vintage Watch

Just like with in-store buying of a watch, you want to shop where the source is reputable and trustworthy. It is difficult to find “authorized” pre-owned sites, but they are out there. We suggest you take a look at the following types of online shopping platforms.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers who have an online e-commerce site for their second-hand collections. Generally, these stores, such as a Tourneau, Bucherer, and the like, inspect the vintage and pre-owned watches they buy and often offer a certification with them.

Another great place to shop online is with the watch specialty sites that have become very popular and that are known for their customer service, as well as for their good reputations. Some of the best sites include Chrono24, WatchBox, Crown & Caliber, Hodinkee, Analog Shift, and Bob’s Watches.

Because of the incredible uptick in the idea of buying vintage watches online, this area of the watch world is regularly shifting and growing. For instance, Hodinkee (a watch site for all things horology from a blog to creating its own collections with partner brands, its own watch accessories, and its own insurance program) sells vintage watches on its site. However, recognizing that this was not their specialty, the company reached out and acquired one of the largest and most reputable sellers of vintage watches: Crown & Caliber. Crown & Caliber has its own watchmaking department where watches are inspected when they come in and checked for authenticity.

Similarly, Watches of Switzerland retail group in America just purchased another top vintage watch site, Analog Shift, to give it more credibility in the pre-owned watch market.  Global site WatchBox is already owned by a US retailer, Govberg, and has a team that specializes in buying and selling pre-owned and even certified-pre-owned watches. If you’re in the market for a Rolex, you may want to take a look at Bob’s Watches. While the company sells many pre-owned brands, its forte is Rolex.

Each of these sources does business a little differently and offers various buyer protection programs, certifications, and more. So, it is worth doing due diligence on each site to know what the buying (or selling) process is.

Lastly, you can buy from reputable auction houses which not only execute live auctions on a regular basis but also have online auctions. Such houses include Phillips in Association with Bacs and Russo, Antiquorum, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s, among others. Auction houses generally authenticate every piece they sell.  Potentially another source for vintage watches,  e-bay hosts auctions for its users, but is not an auction house in and of itself.  The fees may be less than with other sources, but you must investigate the seller and the watch, as well as determine your return rights. Of course, you can always check out your local reputable jewelers who have a second-hand watch department.  All of the same guidelines apply whether online or in stores.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Vintage Watch Online 

When buying vintage watches online, you may also want to consider getting answers to questions such as:

Other Things to Consider When Buying a Vintage Watch

There are also a few other things to consider when buying a watch sight unseen. Among them:

As mentioned, buying a watch online can be very fruitful and you often can find your best prices for pre-owned pieces here. Just do your homework and be prepared.

About the Author

Roberta Naas - Watch Journalist
Roberta Naas

Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.

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