Buying pre-owned watches can be a fun, affordable and exciting way to add to your collection, but many people are wary of buying anything other than new watches. There are many reasons to be cautious of pre-owned watches as you can't know for sure how they've been used or treated by previous owners. They might not come with the original paperwork and packaging or any indication of when they were last serviced and what time they keep.
One solution to this problem is to buy a certified pre-owned watch; one that has been through an authorised service centre of the brand in question and therefore has been guaranteed to be both the watch it is supposed to be and has a guarantee of accuracy following a service.
One of The Watch Collectors' Club Co-Founders' Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch, which he bought from a Certified Pre-Owned Dealer.
How to Buy a Pre-Owned Watch
There are many ways to buy a pre-owned watch. Firstly, remember that the category has many other names, including second-hand, vintage, antique and collectable. All of these terms mean a watch that's not being purchased brand new from a retailer or brand. There are a huge number of ways to buy one, including from dealers, online platforms, auction sites, auction houses, watch forums, and retailers with a pre-owned section.
We recommend caution when buying a pre-owned watch of any type or age, and of course, the more valuable or old the watch, the more caution needs to be taken. The older a watch, the more time has passed in which things could have gone wrong, or more dodgy things could have been done to the watch (for example the use of non-standard parts during a service). For very valuable watches, there is more incentive for unauthorised parts to be used, or even for the whole watch to be fake.
The most important thing to remember is the phrase "Buy the Seller not the Watch". Carefully analyse whether the seller seems credible, has a good track record and good reviews, and is accurately showing everything you need to know about the watch. Never be afraid to ask questions. If a seller is unwilling or unable to answer your questions, that may be a bad sign.
When it comes to dealers and retailers selling pre-owned watches, they will often have stores where you can go and look at the timepieces, and these stores lend a large amount of credibility to the sale. However, you still must do your research, make sure they do not have bad reviews or claims that they are selling dodgy watches, and satisfy yourself that they have a good reputation.
Two pre-owned, or vintage watches. One was bought at a live auction in London and one was bought on the online auction site eBay.
What is Certified Pre-Owned?
This is what we call a watch that has the highest possible guarantee of originality and value when it is pre-owned. This is for two reasons; the first is that the watch has been serviced in a service centre authorised by the same brand or manufacturer that made the watch. This means that the brand sets standards and processes the service centre must follow when servicing a watch under this scheme and then audits the service centre to make sure they are staying up to those standards. Every watch service is different, and the resulting standard depends on the type and age of the watch, but the brand standards indicate the level that should be achieved to maintain the brand's reputation. For example for Rolex, the testing that they do on a watch after a service using specialised and expensive machinery is to a higher standard than other brands.
The second is that watches serviced in an authorised service centre have to be authentic, and when serviced only authentic parts from that manufacturer can be used to repair it. This means that any watch that's gone through the process can be seen to be as close to 100% authentic as possible for a pre-owned watch.
The reason it is called Certified is that then the retailer is essentially offering a certificate of service to state that these two things are true. The watch is as close to 100% authentic as possible and it is fully serviced to the brand's standard for that model and age of watch.
The Section of a Watch Retailer in London called Bucherer that houses the Certified Pre-Owned Stock.
Where can you find Certified Pre-Owned Watches?
There are three main places to find these watches. The first is at certain brand boutiques themselves. For example, Vacheron Constantin have sold pre-owned models in some of their main boutiques for a while now, including in the London Bond Street boutique. The second is at authorised dealers that also have an authorised service centre for a brand. Longines have multiple authorised service centres across the UK. If you buy a pre-owned Longines watch from one of the Authorised Dealers that have an associated approved Longines service centre, then you can be sure the watch will be certified pre-owned. It will likely be sold with an official Longines service receipt, or you can ask to see it before buying.
Finally, there is a new scheme from Rolex, recently launched in conjunction with the retailer Bucherer. This scheme is important because while Bucherer has always offered officially authorised servicing of Rolex watches and a certified pre-owned service for the watches it sells from a variety of brands, the new scheme involves official Rolex paperwork and guarantees authenticity. Unlike many other watch brands, Rolex do not offer any extracts from their archives to authenticate a watch, or provide any way of authenticating a watch other than an official service. Rolex believes that this scheme will provide anyone looking for a pre-owned Rolex the best possible experience, and the scheme is simply called Rolex Certified Pre-Owned.
The new Rolex Certified Pre-Owned guarantee certificate that they issue to a watch that goes through the scheme to be sold.
Are they more expensive than other pre-owned watches?
Across the pre-owned market, watches trade at a premium for exceptional quality and the most interesting provenance (which means its ownership history). They also trade at a premium when they have the original box and papers, which means things like the original user manual, guarantee certificate, and even the receipt from the retailer they were bought from.
Similar to the watches themselves, all of these things get damaged or lost over the years, and they can be faked, so it is normal that a pre-owned watch of any age with the correct papers will be more valuable than one without.
If a watch has been serviced at an authorised service centre and is therefore known to be fully accurate and reliable, it will also trade at a premium to similar watches that have not been serviced at one. The new Rolex scheme comes with a new set of paperwork and tags that adds to this guarantee. It is therefore fair that these watches may trade at a premium to those of similar quality but without the certified servicing process.
Generally, the more that is known about a watch's past and service history the more valuable it will be compared to similar models. We see similar effects in markets for other pre-owned goods such as cars or antiques. The size of the premium will always be dependent on the market, but it is fair to say that the entire category of certified pre-owned watches should trade at some premium to the rest of the market.
A Pre-owned Rolex showing the new tag that Rolex apply to all watches that have gone through their Certified Pre-Owned Scheme. They also come with a new guarantee certificate.
Buying certified pre-owned is just one way to buy pre-owned watches and you should expect to pay a premium for a watch sold this way versus the same model sold in other channels. The Certified pre-owned market can certainly give the highest level of peace of mind, and the watch may not require servicing for many years. The Watch Collectors' Club is here to help those who love all kinds, of watches, new and old, certified or of uncertain provenance, and we are happy to run events that explore all different aspects of the watch world. If you have any further questions about buying certified pre-owned please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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