Where Are The Best Places In The World To Buy Watches?

 Zen L. in Bangkok, Thailand asks:

Where are the best and worst places to buy watches in terms of price/selection/legitimacy? Not that flying somewhere to buy a watch would be the cleverest way to save money, but you know, just for reference. I was in China until recently where watches are taxed heavily and it doesn't make much sense to buy there if you'll have a chance to go somewhere else. But people certainly do. And I hear that all that may be changing in China soon.

Now I'm in Bangkok, Thailand, but still not sure what the situation is here. It seems like the US is a good place to get all kinds of watches, from Swiss to Japanese. If, for instance, I found myself in Switzerland for some reason, will I find better deals there? Will Japanese watches actually be cheaper and have greater selection in Japan? What about Hong Kong? Should I be buying in duty free shops?? I imagine there are other world travelers out there who would benefit from this as well. Thanks!

This is a question I was recently wondering myself while in Hong Kong. For years, Hong Kong was considered a top world destination for watches when it came to price and selection. These days that is different because of a lot of factors. When it comes down to it, the perfect watch shopping destination will have good prices, a great selection, and a safe buying environment where consumers can trust in the quality of what they are buying. The problem is that these places continue to change, and with the Internet being a good place to shop, these issues become less salient.

However, buying a watch in person makes a lot of sense in many instances. First of all, you can see and touch the watch to make sure the quality is good and that you aren't dealing with a fake. Authorized retailers selling only new watches aren't going to have fakes, but some pre-owned dealers may have them mixed in with real stuff from time-to-time. In most instances, they aren't trying to trick anyone, it is just that they themselves don't know they have fakes in their stock. Also, and this is a factor to seriously consider, if you buy a watch from overseas and it needs to be shipped to you, there may be customs implications. Depending on where you live (and how honestly the shipper marks the package), you'll need to pay some type of duty on watches sent to you from other countries. There are tricks to this of course, but you always need to measure safety with cost.

Many people overseas tell me that the best place to buy a watch is the United States. Taxes are relatively fair, prices are good, and if you look in the right place there are bargains to be had. There are also ways of avoiding certain types of tax if watches are shipped over state lines. Though this isn't always "good practice." US retailers tend to be relatively honest, easy to work with, and happy to work with you. Selection of product in the US is pretty good, but finding rare or unique watches can be tough.

China (mainland) isn't a good place to get watches because of taxes, and the same reason applies to a lot of countries. One of the main reasons rich people go to the U.S., is to get luxury goods at cheaper prices. This is a main reason why many Latin Americans fly to Miami each day. Another good place to get luxury watches are many of the vacation destinations in the Caribbean. Not only are there a lot of tax advantages, but the selection is really good. But then again you may have to do a lot of Island hopping (which isn't always a bad thing).

Prices in Switzerland proper tend to be high, but so is selection. It is also not a deep part of Swiss culture to bargain or offer discounts. Middle Eastern and Chinese retailers are the ones who are the most used to customers who wish to negotiate. It might seem like a contradiction, but the more expensive someone's watch tastes are, the more they wish to haggle, it seems. So go for it, ask a retailer for the best price. Going back to Thailand, I do hear good things about the market when it comes to price and selection. A lot of the Japan-only exclusive watches can also be found a lot of the time in Hong Kong and Thailand, though if you really want the best selection of unique Japanese fare you need to go to Japan. Though, prices aren't particularly stellar there.

Yes, there are no clear "best places to shop for watches," and it really depends on the rareness of the watches you are looking for and what hassles you are willing to put up with to get what you want. Watches will forever be a complex and difficult-to-acquire commodity when it comes to getting the best stuff at the best price. Brands want you to pay full retail of course, but are at the whims of taxes and customs issues, much like consumers are in a lot of cases. So, if their watches aren't available in your country, there are usually reasons why.

We encourage aBlogtoWatch readers to share their own experiences and opinions on where the best places to shop for watches are around the world. Where have you found the best selections? Prices? Or most amenable shopping experiences? Comment below...

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  • ZL

    This is of course a complicated topic with lots of potential for further research and debate. I’m also interested in the what countries are good for buying online though. Again the US seems to be great for that also. In China the taxes are just crazy if it’s coming from abroad, but if you really do your research, buying from Chinese retailers online can be a decent option (had good experiences with g-shocks that way). Just have to be careful. I also hear they recently made a deal with the Swiss to seriously reduce the taxes making Swiss watches much cheaper in China in the near future. I will get back to you about Thailand.

  • Piero

    It might seem strange but in Tenerife, Playa de Las Americas last augusta it was full of reliable jewelry shops selling very expensive watches, offering also good discounts.

  • thanatcha

    I found New Zealand, if buying duty free from the very few official ADs  to be the best pace. Much better value than USA  for Omega and Rolex my Deep sea sea dweller   about  $8800 USA   (retails mostly for $12000 +  local tax  in USA  before bargaining but during my trip through USA most AD would only move around 5% ) My Omega planet Ocean Seamaster  crea god similar result!!

  • trickwheel

    Schiphol (Amsterdam) Airport. After security. Picked up a Tudor Black Bay at the Rolex Boutique. Cheaper than anywhere else I had seen in Europe and I didn’t have to wait in line to get my VAT back.

  • Fraser Petrick

    Las Vegas. Within a few city blocks you can see, in the flesh, just about everything, you’ve ever lusted after; watches, that is. Besides that, the ambience makes you feel Great Gatsby rich though you’re Dust Bowl poor. However, I did see some $300 Rollex’s at our Caribbean resort. At that price I got a couple. I guess they were $300 ’cause the guy back at the factory had had a bad spelling day with the label maker.

  • JuanC

    I purchased a panerai in Italy and saved about 20% over purchasing in the U.S.  Much better selection as well.

  • thanatcha

    new Zealand is best place to buy I tried in USA many places and aso in Hong kong but NZ much better prices when you bargain

  • RoyChronoPassion

    I went to Hong Kong recently and I tell you, guys, you can find great selections there from block to block. For instance, you can see a Breguet shop here and find another one just across the street! Prices are high though, maybe because of tax. But in terms of convenience, Hong Kong is a good place to shop for your dream watch. For people interested on going there, Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay is a good place to start. Happy hunting! ^_^

  • Roger888

    I’m new here, I read this article and that made me wonder. Countries like Andorra, Luxembourg and Sweden should be great countries to shop for watches. i know that many Spaniards and French people drive to Andorra to shop because of the low tax and the reason for the low tax is because you can fly or take the train to Andorra only bus or car . Luxembourg is known for it’s low taxes and the little capital has a wide range of luxury shops. Sweden because of it’s cheap currency but they have higher taxes.

  • romerobl

    I am in the US Navy and am deployed to the middle east. we have made
    port visits to Bahrain and Dubai. I will say, the malls in Dubai have an
    amazing selection of both luxury and more common watches such as
    Citizen, Casio and Seiko. Also a lot of Orient. I enjoyed spending my
    liberty window shopping no less than 15 watch stores. Being that the
    people that live in Dubai are all about luxury and wealth. it was
    amazing to see an Omega, Rolex, TAG, and Breitling store all in the same
    mall. Both Dubai and Bahrain have an amazing selection of “designer”
    and Luxury brands such as MontBlanc/Patek/Raymond Weil. along with the
    Gucci, Burberry and so on.  I was able to pick up a Tissot Visodate at
    the mall in Bahrain for $430.   looking online I couldn’t find it for
    less than about $448 without shipping.  It was the cheapest I had seen
    it, so i got it. i had been looking at it for some time. I am very happy
    with my purchase. It would be really easy to spend a lot of hard earned
    deployment money on a few watches when we pull into port. I have to
    keep reminding myself that I have a wedding to save for. You Better
    believe I will be wearing my new Tissot at my wedding though. 

    – Brandon

  • PrestoMan

    It seems locations that are associated with wealth typically offer optimal combinations of price and selection. I would have to assume this is because these places attract higher numbers of wealthy individuals to begin with and can afford to offer lower prices that don’t experience as much traffic. Of course you will exceptions such as Switzerland, which has a reputation to maintain so the prices there are understandably higher in accordance to brand representation and respect.

  • DG Cayse

    Fraser Petrick Another thing to consider in LV is the pawn shops.
    There a good reputable pawnbrokers who can provide the genuine item at a very good (Lower) price.

  • Fraser Petrick

    DG Cayse Fraser Petrick Good idea. I can imagine a wanna-be High Roller from Wawa suddenly needing a little cash before those large men with baseball bats turn up at his motel room. Besides, that Hublot Big Bang would look out of place back home at the blueberry farm.

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  • covert7

    The best I have seen is in Germany. Not only are the prices competitive, tourists to Europe can claim 20% VAT (tax) back when leaving Europe. When I have travelled to the USA, I was not aware of any similar tourist tax-back scheme.

  • Daniel Mata

    i had a good purchase in China in May .  Luxury watches there , http://www.crestbuy.se  .  the only complaint is that i got my package with 14 days , but Alex who is a good guy said to me that i would get my items within 10 days , this delay made me lost one client .

  • manuelondon

    Daniel Mata hi , guy , where are you from ? 

    i am very interested in your stuffs , could you tell me if it is a realiable place to buy? 

    i am from USA , how much the shipping cost will be if i buy more ?   thanks

  • Pexu_D

    Well you have a point there however a cheap alternative for me suits best because 1)i’m not a big fan 2) i only buy as a gift so don’t want to spend much and 3) they are a great alternative i have found a watch that i purchased for my wife 2 years ago and still works as new it was cheap even though i told her i spent a lot more (andh she belived it hihihi) here i think my wife’s confidence maked that watch to rezist for that long. This is the watch

  • ScottMacmillan

    If you do a stopover in Dubai when you are travelling  to the Orient the choices and low prices will overwhelm you.

  • jmajun51

    America has no VAT tax. Americans purchasing watches from U.S.-based Internet sites whose registered address is outside the purchaser’s own state are not being charged sales tax by the vendor as far as I am aware. State governments have long recognized how much money they are losing in sales tax revenues because of the Internet, so things are beginning to shift: merchants are under increasing pressure to charge whatever tax might be required by the purchaser’s state just as if the sale were taking place where the buyer lives. Amazon is already doing this in cases where they maintain a physical presence–shipment center, other facility–in the purchaser’s state. As for foreigners who make watch purchases in the U.S., they will be paying whatever sales tax may be in effect where they buy the watch, since there is no mechanism in place to recoup the tax as the foreign buyer is departing the country for home. if this last is incorrect, I welcome contradictory information.

  • cheshiresoundlab

    St. Maarten was great for me. The jeweler first offered me a Heineken as “it was hot out there” then discounted the piece right off the top to within the range you can buy from an authorized (Ball) dealer online or on eBay. The price dropped further when I asked to “bundle” the purchase with a modest tennis bracelet for the Mrs. It dropped even further when I asked for the “green cash” price for an additional discount in excess of the 2-4% credit card fee he would have incurred for the transaction. He then threw in a ball cap (or Ball cap, as it were), a nice thick book on the history and technology of Ball watches, a jewelry pouch for the Mrs. and another beer for the road.

  • PrakashRadhakrishnan

    I run a logistics company in the UK with a huge global reach and tend to travel to many places making my personal hunt for watches rather fun and I have to say that after scouring places like Hong Kong, Dubai and the Caribbean, the cheapest place turned out to be on my doorstep! Well, not really but still a British part of the world. I’m talking about Gibraltar, that little Rock on the edge of Spain.The place is a sweet spot for mainstream Swiss watch brands like Rolex, Omega, Cartier and Breitling with several outlets for each brand at tax free / VAT free and duty free prices. Actually I think there was only one official Rolex Dealer but there were a couple of pre-owned dealers who had some nice pieces.I’ve been lusted after an Omega Dark Side of the Moon since it’s release and have always resisted buying it abroad even though prices are better than home. However I felt very comfortable picking it up from the AD in Gibraltar! The team there were extremely professional and I took great comfort in paying in British pounds. Their price ended up being the cheapest compared to all the AD’sI’d visited over the past few months. So if you are thinking about getting a good deal, check it out.

  • nemrut dagi

    In my experience, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, offers a great choice at reasonable (but not sensational) prices. Istanbul, Turkey, offers less choice, but more space for negotiation while purchasing (30% discounts can be obtained).

  • JubJub

    The Internets.

  • EricChandra

    I think every person has a different perception of fair price in their mind. I have known some people that are willing to pay extra just for the piece of mind of buying from an AD. I once bought a luxury brand watch at 30% discount from a guy i met on the internet, i however asked him to meet me at an authorized dealer and only transfer the money as soon as the watch is confirmed to be genuine. This turns out to be a great experience for me and i would gladly do it again. 

    I have checked out Grand Seiko’s price in Bangkok, Singapore and Hongkong, found out that it is more expensive than buying online, so is Rolex and Omega. The best price I can find online is from Jomashop or Ebay seller based in USA, of course you have to take account the risk involved from buying online and the taxes you have to pay when it is delivered.

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