“Watch overload.” “One of the best days in watches.” These are some of the phrases used to describe our afternoon watch shopping in Hong Kong. And these statements are all the more powerful coming from guys who look at and write about watches all day, not to mention that we had just come from Watches & Wonders 2015, where we got to play with and photograph all the Richemont Group brands’ haute novelties. What, then, got us so excited about these dingy little watch stores with hand-written price tags? Come along as aBlogtoWatch explores the cluttered streets and hidden watch stores of Hong Kong…
You may have heard that Hong Kong is a watch shopping paradise, but you may have also heard that the deep discounts the city was once known for are now a thing of the past. These are both true in a way. You will not simply find a lot of new watches at unbelievable prices, but you will find a preowned watch selection like nowhere else. We easily spent 45 minutes just freaking out in front of a long display window tightly packed with what can only be described as watch lovers’ wet dreams. Not seeing the shop’s entrance at first, I wondered aloud if it was a museum. When we had to tear ourselves away for a dinner meeting, we peeked around the corner only to see a hallway lined with more similar shops. Vowing to return the next day, we (Ariel Adams, David Bredan, and myself) continued to press our faces on the window of just about every shop along the way – and of course, visit the stores and chat with their owners.
We have previously discussed the topic of where the best places in the world to buy watches are, and I have remained convinced that the United States is one of them. So how does the tiny island of Hong Kong compare to other major watch markets? It has been noted that there is a particularly strong and widespread culture of watch respect and appreciation among the Chinese. In terms of boutiques and new watch retail, I have personally never seen such a density of watch stores and advertising as I did in Hong Kong, except perhaps in Singapore – Macau is also purported to be not lagging behind. In Hong Kong, though, these multiple districts seem to be both large and many.
Hong Kong also has policies along with location and economy that make it favorable for business and commerce in general – for more on Hong Kong and China’s role in the larger watch industry, see David Bredan’s report on the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair here. Firstly, Hong Kong has no sales tax – I can imagine how cheap and convenient it must be for the many Chinese shoppers coming from the mainland where watch prices are highly inflated due to import taxes, and that dynamic only bolsters Hong Kong’s watch scene. It is easy to say that Hong Kong has everything, from mainstream to niche, all the way down to the guys standing outside the high-end watch boutiques aggressively hawking replicas of what’s inside. So, while there is a lot to look at in terms of new watches in Hong Kong, we are here today primarily to talk about pre-owned watches. What do you think happens to all those crazy watches that are sold when their owners get tired of them? Many end up here, is the answer – and we reckon many more are yet to come.
Pre-owned watches, as we know, can be a tricky thing. But while the wonderful Internet has served to equalize secondhand watch prices through information and education, it has also been a force in making buying safer, with more aware buyers and more accountable sellers. Most of those selling fakes and replicas seem to be upfront about what they are selling nowadays, anyway. In any market, fakes and “frankenwatches” remain a concern, of course, and while we cannot make any unequivocal guarantees about what you may encounter, we judged most of what we saw to be legit.
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A crazy, crazy spot on earth for the WIS: remember that watch store window in Hong Kong we showed you a few days ago? Here's a video of us walking along *half* of it. Reasonable concerns were raised by some of you regarding the authenticity of the watches but everything we scrutinized in the window was real — in this video we are walking past minute repeaters, astrotourbillons, limited run watches from most all major watch brands, as well as tons of main collection luxury watches.
So what did we see? Far too much to enumerate here, but in general, a lot of diamonds and tourbillons would be one way to sum it up. We were surprised to see so many high-end, rare, and just plain “expensive” watches in a pre-owned retail setting – all at once, and often kind of in a jumbled heap. Although the usual suspects (Rolex, Panerai, Patek, Cartier…) were aplenty, among them were pre-owned Urwerks, an Ikepod tourbillon, rare Omega Speedmasters and Rolexes, truly limited and hard-to-find Audemars Piguet and Hublot models, and so on… And we are mostly talking about recent models, as opposed to vintage. We posited that the number of people who can even appreciate what we saw must be extremely limited, as very specific knowledge is required (there was certainly a lot that I, at least, didn’t recognize). Many, many of these pieces are each deserving of individual hands-on articles of their own.
It was cool to see, for instance, a pre-owned Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore End Of Days watch, which, as Arnold Schwarzenegger himself related the story to Ariel, was originally produced as a nonfunctioning prop for his 1999 movie End of Days, and the watch was so well received that Audemars Piguet decided to produce a (functioning) 500-piece limited edition – and here one was just nestled among hundreds of other rare and expensive pieces. In discussing amongst ourselves, we took the approach of asking “what didn’t we see?” because the list would actually be shorter than what we did.
So, of course, you want to know precisely where we went (if you’re a Hong Kong local, you may have already guessed). Tsim Sha Tsui district, Nathan Road… “under the Holiday Inn,” we were told. These are exactly the kind of local tips I love. In that area, just walking around, we also found a vast variety of stores, including clusters of pre-owned and vintage watch shops, alongside places selling watch accessories and camera equipment. After our first trip there, we prepared our strategy for the next day and discussed what we would buy. I was personally hoping to find, perhaps, an affordable Moonwatch.
But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be this time, as many of the stores were shuttered when we returned the following afternoon. It was a rainy Sunday, after all, not to mention the cyclone warning that delayed our planes. In our brief time there, though, it seemed like good prices among very high-end pieces were certainly there, while deals on relatively regular-wear watches might require more digging. We found that prices were sometimes stiff and seemed eerily consistent among the stores, and our experiences with the shopkeepers and salespeople were mixed. We had even prepared budgets and were dead-serious about each walking away with a new toy on our wrist, but instead, the experience has left us with a lot of curiosity and a strong impetus to return soon.
We know aBlogtoWatch has a significant readership in Hong Kong, and we would love to hear from you in the comments below about your experiences and recommendations. Also, what places in the world have our readers had interesting watch shopping/buying experiences? Heck, we also just want to check out the best places to buy watches.