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The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

This article was written by Bilal Khan, David Bredan, and Ariel Adams.

Buying a watch online is normally a very straightforward and simple process – provided you know exactly what you want to buy and precisely where you want to buy it. This guide is designed to help the many people who are understandably confused or even intimidated by the process of determining both how to choose a watch to buy online and some good options of where to buy it. This guide isn’t going to tell you the wristwatch decision that is right for you, nor is it going to recommend one retailer or sales channel where you’ll get the best service, price, or selection. Rather, the aBlogtoWatch guide to buying watches online is designed as a primer for helping you to understand the differences between various ways to shop online as well as pitfalls which are often easy to avoid if you know what to look out for.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

Some Opening Thoughts

Depending on the particular watch you are looking for, there could be literally dozens or more offers for the same watch model online at any given time, or you could find information and pricing information but no clear way to actually purchase the watch you are interested in. Even if you don’t actually perform a monetary transaction to purchase a watch on the internet, online watch shopping and research is relied upon by almost everyone who is interested in buying a watch these days. Not doing your research will typically lead to spending too much money, or simply passing up other watches that match your needs better than a timepiece you purchase impulsively. Having said that, with the amount of information available online today, we’d determined that the vast majority of luxury wristwatch buyers do at least some online research before buying anything.

As we said, this guide isn’t designed to help you choose exactly what watch to buy. If you are having difficulty first choosing a watch that you are interested in purchasing, a lot (and lots) of other information on aBlogtoWatch is designed to help you learn about interesting brands and models – some of which are bound to meet your taste and budget. When we talk about choosing what watch to buy in the context of this guide, what we are talking about are considerations such as whether to buy a new or used watch, one from an authorized dealer or one from an unauthorized secondary market dealer. While in theory all of these watches should be the same, not all watches come with complete paperwork and their original packaging, with a warranty, and some are checked for functionality before being sold while others are more or less in “as-is” condition.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

Not long before this guide was written, the aBlogtoWatch team performed a small experiment. We decided to take a few popular watches from some popular brands, and see how many options there were to purchase them online via various types of sales channels and retailers. The results were concerning if you consider that buyers like to feel confident when making a purchase decision from any given source. Without going into too much detail, we found that the most popular watches had more than 20 different offers available, from a range of retailers and channels all over the world. In most instances, we simply stopped counting offers after reaching about 20 of them. On top of there being so many potential places to buy a watch – making it hard to choose where to do business – the same watch was sometimes listed at vastly different prices. Yes, that does take into consideration both new and used watch prices, but in our opinion, most people will take immediate pause and probably decide not to purchase something if they feel they need to do more research about where to buy it at the wisest price.

The lowest price available online for a watch is not always the best price – though it can be. What we mean by that is when a timepiece’s price is lower than average, it can often mean that product has cosmetic or mechanical issues, or might even be stolen. Though only in rare situations is a watch someone believes to be real actually fake. Most of the time someone buys a fake watch, they know exactly what they are doing. With that said, certainly “self-serve” sales channels such as peer-to-peer forums and other non-retailer places to buy watches online can be dangerous for all but the most seasoned of watch collectors and buyers.

After reading the aBlogtoWatch guide to buying watches online you should be able to better understand the different types of places to buy watches online, as well as how to best understand the different watch conditions available in order to help you make the best possible decision. You’ll still have to do research, be patient, and in some instances take a bit of a risk. Though with some experience and education, taking advice from this guide will help many people avoid sour transactions that might otherwise taint the fun and rewarding hobby of collecting or merely owning nice watches.

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Buying A Watch Online Vs. In-Person

People who regularly visit aBlogtoWatch tend to fall in one of two categories – those who primarily purchase watches online and those who primarily purchase watches in “brick and mortar” stores. There doesn’t seem to be too many people who indiscriminately purchase from both of these watch sales channels equally. We believe this is because many of the more traditional watch buyers are loathe to give up the buying confidence and human relationship that comes with buying a watch from a store you can physically different. Emerging watch collectors (and many highly seasoned buyers) are increasingly preferring to do business online when the option exists. That makes sense not only because consumers are increasingly buying all manner of goods online, but also because buying a watch on the internet comes with the potential of a great price as well as tons of potential options.

Having said that, many of the best watch deals are not published. Getting the best price for a watch is often a function of having a private conversation with the person selling it. That means whether you are in a store or buying from a private dealer – asking for their best price in private can sometimes get you a discount on the asking price. More and more however aggressive discounting is going away and the reasons for that are beyond the scope of this particular aBlogtoWatch guide.

The popularity of the internet for watch shopping began as a way for collectors to trade and sell watches between one another. Small-size watch brands and some minor watch dealers later began to focus their attention on the internet as a novel way to reach directly to the consumer. Watch collectors and later consumers in general then began to use the internet to not only research watches but also to price comparison shop.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

This latter use of the internet’s power to reach global audiences immediately had an unwelcome effect on the traditional luxury watch purchase that relied upon a consumer not easily being able to price shop. This made it challenging for consumers to feel that price shopping was strictly necessary as part of the watch buying process. What used to require driving all around town or traveling around the world to compare prices suddenly game as simple as a Google search on one’s mobile phone. The most modern change to the process of buying a fine watch is a major focus on price by the buyer.

A focus on pricing has changed the watch buying experience forever – with the consumer generally winning in the end. With that said, tenacious consumers can still benefit from doing their research and not assuming the price offered always represents fair market value. In fact, the convenience of price shopping online has removed part of the valuable personal process between watch retailer and buyer. One of the major differences between buying watches online and buying watches in stores is the human side of the purchase. Those who want to chat about watches, the best choice for them, and of course some price negotiation – connecting with a watch dealer is going to offer the most rewarding experience. That doesn’t mean buying a watch from an online dealer can’t offer the same rewarding experience, though you’ll have to take the conversation offline for that to happen.

Luxury watch stores can sometimes suffer from a bad reputation for snobbiness or lackluster customer service. It is true that a lot of watch salespeople could be better and this can tend to repel some customers from the in-store watch buying experience. Having said that, we recommend that those watch buyers should not entirely write off buying watches from stores just because of some poor experiences. Having a personal relationship with a retailer can be very rewarding for watch collectors.

We’ve purposefully not separated the in-store from online watch buying experience too much because the two once distinct watch retail outlets are quickly converging. As traditional brick and mortar stores increasingly also sell online the lines between buying watches in person or online will be increasingly blurred. What consumers need to remember is that buying luxury watches online will continue to increase in importance as times goes on with internet sales for watches becoming increasingly official and mainstream.

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Can You Return Watches Bought Online?

A word about returns and transaction reversals. It would probably be wise to consider most of your wristwatch purchases as non-returnable. That isn’t to say no stores accept returns, but it isn’t common and you’ll probably find resistance from the seller. It is good advice to really do a lot of homework before committing to something as expensive as a watch. Buying a watch sight-unseen via the internet makes this process just that much more stressful. What if you don’t like it? What if it simply doesn’t work with your body type or personality even if you otherwise love the design? What if the watch is exactly what you are looking for but the particular piece you have has some unstated (or simply overlooked) cosmetic or mechanical issues. These are all good reasons to return a watch, but much of the time you’ll really only have recourse if there is something wrong (that wasn’t stated in the sales posting) with the watch you are buying. What are the implications of this?

Buying a watch you’ve never actually put on your wrist is a gamble. That’s not to say the odds are against you, but like anything which is designed to be worn – you never really know how well it works until you get it on you. The lesson here is that whenever possible, try a watch on that you are curious about at a store or from someone who owns one prior to actually purchasing it. Pictures online of heavily doctored marketing photography or glamorously-styled images published on social media are certainly helpful – but not a replaced to wearing it for yourself. Unless you have the experience to very well judge a watch through media alone, it is often not a very good idea to purchase something that you can’t return if you aren’t really sure you’ll like it. This is especially true if you are laying down what is a large sum (for you) on a timepiece you’d like to buy online.

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Survey Of Places To Buy Watches Online

Direct via e-commerce

After a period of resistance, more and more watch brands have an e-commerce presence now. For someone not interested in browsing around or navigating the uncertainties (perceived or real) of buying a watch online, this makes buying a watch about as easy as possible. While brands like Rolex haven’t joined the e-commerce world, we’ve had brands like Omega, Panerai, IWC, and Hamilton begin to sell watches online. It’s likely not a coincidence that brands owned by groups like Swatch or Richemont have been more eager to adapt to e-commerce. Obviously, this is because they have shareholders they report to and I can’t imagine even the most passably savvy shareholder being okay with ignoring online sales.

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Authorized Third Party Dealers

There are a host of third-party watch retailers who have until recently been brick and mortar retailers who sell numerous watch brands, who have created an online presence as of late. These are places like Westime in Los Angeles, Govberg in Pennsylvania, Bucherer (who recently acquired Tourneau), Topper Jewelers in Silicon Valley, and so many others.

Oftentimes these places have loyal customers since they often have been around for so many years, but many as of late also have a massive or growing pre-owned selection you can browse online. Govberg runs Watchbox as a pre-owned arm of the retailer, while places like Topper and Westime have a pre-owned tab on the homepage.

Now online-only third-party retailers like Mr. Porter have begun selling watches alongside high-end clothing, accessories, and shoes. This is the more “traditional” evolution of third-party retailers taking a bigger and bigger bite of the e-commerce pie. Note that Mr. Porter was acquired by the Richemont Group who own brands like Cartier, Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre and several others.

There are also more niche third-party retailers online, such as how Chrono24 (typically a listings site for pre-owned watches) has agreements to sell authorized watches from brands like Moritz Grossmann, Nomos, and Porsche Design among others. Truefacet, a pre-owned dealer has done something similar with their Brand Boutique, which makes them an authorized dealer of more niche brands like HYT, Bovet, and Arnold & Son.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

The Gray Market

Simply defined, the gray market refers to places where one can buy reliably real, brand-new watches sold from an unauthorized dealer. These have always been appealing because in many cases you can get a new watch for at a discount, with the tradeoff often involving no factory warranty. We have also heard many instances in which a transaction is placed, followed by unreasonably long wait times. This is because sourcing of gray market watches is, well, in a gray area. Oftentimes gray market watches are excess, unsold inventory that can be coming from anywhere in the world.

There are a lot of gray market dealers online, with more popping up. While we can’t personally speak to the experience of buying on all of these places, we can speak to generally positive transactions people have made on some of the huge gray market sites like Jomashop.

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eBay And Watch Auctions

The popularity of the online auction platform eBay (Check out our eBay buying guides here) helped encourage the growth of online watches to begin with. It continues to be one of the most popular places to both list watches for sale and to purchase them. eBay is not technically an auctioneer but rather hosts auctions for its users. eBay is currently the most efficient platform to buy and sell watches for those who have enough experience to confidently use the platform. eBay will also cost the least in regard to fees – which at other auction platforms can be much higher.

Auctions for watches have become increasingly popular over the last few years with more options becoming available all the time. Auctions, in theory, allow the market to dictate the price of goods but it tends to work best with rare or unique goods. Prices for otherwise easy to obtain watches can very often be higher on watch auction sites than other retailers who aren’t selling via an auction format. This is often because of difficult to assess buyer and seller premiums which are tacked on to final hammer prices. More so, auction houses which thrive tend to do so not because of the quality of their watches, but more due to marketing and inspired storytelling. Auction houses (as opposed to auction hosting platforms like eBay) tend to be the biggest winners when they sell a watch.

aBlogtoWatch’s official take on watch auctions is that buyers need to carefully practice the wisdom of caveat emptor. Watch auctions are often best used when the item they have for sale is unique or rare enough that it isn’t worth waiting for another piece to come on the market. Consumers interested in maintaining more control of the price they are willing to spend on a watch should use watch auctions house with caution.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

Forums & Market Places

There is a particular type of watch enthusiast (many aBlogtoWatch team members included) who habitually checks online forums and marketplaces even if they’re not particularly in the market for a new watch. Places like Watchuseek and Watchrecon have become internet town squares for peer to peer watch sales and trades, as well as a way for dealers to reach a larger audience by promoting their watches.

You can find a bevy of watch types on these sites. Looking at the homepage of Watch Recon, there are new listings for a vintage Rolex Daytona asking $105,000 side by side with a $50 Timex, a handful of Panerais, and several diverse offerings in between.

There are more specialized forums as well such as Omega Forums and Rolex Forums which, obviously, focus on these brands (but have threads for peer brands as well). Of course, you must have an account and preferably some good reviews from other users. The reason for this is obvious since if there were repeated complaints of misleading listings or fraud, the reputation of the forums would be ruined.

The Essential Guide To Buying Watches Online Featured Articles

Specialist preowned watch stores

Anyone who has searched for a pre-owned Rolex online has inevitably ended up on Bob’s Watches who are one of the biggest authentic dealers of Rolexes online. While Bob’s focuses on Rolex, they also carry other luxury watch brands but they’re far from the only game in town when it comes to specialist preowned watch stores. Places like Analog Shift and Bulang & Sons are popular and reputable destinations for more vintage watches. On the other hand, Crown & Caliber is much broader and sells almost every kind of preowned watch out there that one can imagine.

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  • Steven Butler

    Well done! Thank you

  • Lincolnshire Poacher

    Watchuseek with it’s reputation building system is invaluable. Bought and sold many watches there.
    Watchrecon, Chrono24, ebay are all good for research, and carefully vetted purchases.
    Otherwise established online retailers, grey and brand stores are good too.

    It’s all in the research. Make sure you want a watch for at least three months before you buy it, so that it’s not just a passing fancy – which I have hundreds of. There are very few watches that I still really want after three months. Saves a ton of money

    • Joe

      Limited Editions are particularly dangerous. I should know 😛
      They give you the perception (sometimes true) that you only have a small window of time in which to make the purchase decision, so 3 months is preferable but not always possible 🙂

    • Mikita

      “Make sure you want a watch for at least three months before you buy it,
      so that it’s not just a passing fancy – which I have hundreds of”

      What he said. Had this problem for damn too long.

  • SuperStrapper

    While I always prefer buying a watch in person (enough cant be said for going out with the intent to find a new watch, trying it on, settling on a price, paying it, and going home wearing the watch all in the same day) I’m also not afraid to buy a watch online. My collection is probably 50/50. I use a simple plan for buying watches online, regardless of nuance (Ebay, ecommerce AD, forum, grey market, etc) and it starts with drawing a line in the sand on affordability. That is a moving target depending on the buyer so mentioning numbers is futile but when I’m ready to ‘enhance the collection’ I decide at that time the break between ‘easily affordable’ and ‘purchase needs additional consideration’. If the watch I want is in the former category, look online for best all-in deals (after many years of ecommerce adoption I always consider the complete, to-the-door cost. So many times you think you find a good deal only to realise that shipping, handling, customers, duty, freighter nuisance fees, etc, etc, etc can just keep piling up) and complete purchase to initiate waiting game. If I’m aiming at something more lofty, I’ll agree to buy it online but only as part of a showrooming strategy. It is a hard rule that I argue with myself on often, but it has served me well. I either try it on first or move on. This has absolutely kept me out of a few watch buying ‘opportunities’ to be sure (notably a remarkable price on a very cool de Grisogono, but I just couldn’t find anywhere to see it in person first and ultimately passed) but I don’t want to start creating hard to manage caveats on this stuff, and at the end of the day no watch purchase is a necessity.

  • Joe

    When you get an itch, “research” is actually dangerous.
    Too much research can result in a purchase.

    There are so many people posting amazing photos of their watches on social media 🙁

  • Tony NW

    I purchased my Christoper Ward C5 Malvern Aviator Mk II around a decade ago, sight unseen, via eCommerce… it was (and is) the only way Ward rolls; they were very early on that train. And it has been my favorite of many watches.

    All of my vintage pick-ups, particularly mechanical alarms (MemoVox, Seiko Bell-Matics) were purchased over the internet from individuals, sometimes from eBay. They did have reputation though. One thing you didn’t mention, which is both a pro and a con, for eBay is the FrankenWatch – the watch equivalent of a retitled total. All of my experiences have been stellar, but you have to remember to buy the seller, meaning investigate their reputation.

    You cover several advantages of the “gray (sic) market” (hereafter the correct “grey” ;), such as the significant tax savings and some discounting. Another huge advantage is simple availability. For example, that Rolex you want may be six weeks out – if you can get on the list – but immediately available through a grey marketer. With no reduction in warranty, despite your fears… check seller reputation, but good grey marketers are more like proxies than dealers… the full warranty card filled out by the original seller is included and dated with the initial transfer.

  • rcrdofjrdo

    This is a great article and the points made are really useful, particularly for less experienced enthusiasts like myself. I have had good luck mixing ebay with shops and I think the article captures my best advice: Going to the shop and try the watch, speak to the people in store and, if possible, even take a photograph (your own photo on your own wrist) so that you can ponder about it a bit longer. This is easily done in airport shops as you are expected to be there killing time.
    The general rule as a matter of fact, and it is what I consider most important is, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Someone here already mentioned frankenwatches… I mean, if you really think that you can get a $12 Seiko automatic watch or a $50 Oris, then you are a bit in denial and need to do more research and understand that an offer like that will never be for the product you actually want.
    The final thing I would say is that as you get more experience in this area, try first with brands and models that are less likely to be reproduced as a replica/fake. If you start with Rolex or Omega and you don’t really want to do the research, the likelihood you’ll end up with a bad watch is fairly high. You’ll have to do less research with the likes of Sinn, Junghans or Longines and you’ll almost go for sure with popular, but lower end brands like Tissot, Laco or Hamilton, while still getting amazing deals and, of course, beautiful watches.

  • Independent_George

    I will and have bought online but I prefer brick and mortar ADs because I can try on watches and compare. Some watches/watchmakers photograph poorly, others look glam when they are anything but. Wrist shots can be deceiving, watches often wear bigger or smaller and I would have guessed from the wrist shot. Sometimes I think I like watch “A”, then I compare to watch “B”, and watch “B” wins. Also, colorful watches that “pop” in photographs online often look stupid with my middle aged attire and against my middle aged wrist — i.e. Tudor Heritage Chrono.

    My favorite AD isn’t a car dealer, so she’ll spend time with me (within reason), see what I am drawn to, figure out the limit of my price tolerances, and make suggestions. I can get AD discounts on most brands, and they will work with me regarding avoiding sales tax.

    I pair my watch with what I am wearing that day, so I wear the clothes to the AD that I plan to pair with the watch.

    I also learn about industry secrets (Breitling employs secret shoppers to make sure ADs aren’t discounting), what watches and brands to avoid, and what is a good value. The relationship is good enough so I can tell them that AD “X” out-of-state is offering Brand “Y” for a certain percentage off and ask if it’s a good value, even if my AD carries the same brand. Yesterday, this happened and my AD said “go for it.”

    Granted, none of this happens without actually buying things from them.

  • Tan Kok Kien

    I bought most of my watches online, from Glashutte Original, JLC, to Jaquet Droz etc. The reason i bought them online is I can get huge discount for pre-owned or displayed set online compared to ADs. I do a lot of research on the watches i intend to buy and thanks to Google, i can easily find all the specs, prices, reviews, images, even videos to compare to the listed ones . If i still cannot find enough information, i can always ask around watch forums for opinions and advises. Dont be shy to ask around, they are a lot of experienced, helpful watch maniacs out there who are more than willing to share their’s 2 cents.

  • Troy Dyall

    How about duty free in airports?? whats the procedure??

  • Troy Dyall

    Eh??