5 lessons I learnt about buying from eBay
Oh, the bargain bin. Don't we all love a good barn find - that exquisite watch that's hidden behind cracked glass, stored away from the world by an unsuspecting grandpa only to have some stranger unearth it from its shallow drawer grave and present it to the vintage watch community for a princely profit.
And then there's eBay. A shallow grave for members of the vintage watch community full of unassuming "grandpas" who present watches hidden behind cracked glass that command you pay the pauper's price. It's a riot out there, but only because we made it so.
Collectors new and matured alike will visit the dust bowl of horology sometime in their journey. Some will strike gold and oil. Some will walk away unscathed. Most will have a story or twelve to tell about a watch they bought that they wish they hadn't.
This is my story.
It all begins with the number one, as does every list. But before I commence with the self loathe, I will now say that my list will be free from general advice about buying from eBay. There are dozens of guides written by more credible collectors that will offer you not just genuine, but professional advice.
Just google up "How do buy a vintage watch on eBay" or "Guide to buying a vintage watch on eBay" or "What to look out for when buying a watch on eBay" or "watch ebay vintage buying".
You know what I mean. Ok, NUMBER ONE!
1. Go in fast, go in strong, know when you're beat
There are typically two types of purchases on eBay. You can win either by bidding or by outright buying the item. May sellers who know they have something good on their hands will leave it to the hammer so that they can get the best deal out of the impulses of the buyers.
While I prefer the "Buy It Now" option, a lot of the fun of eBay comes from bidding (and winning) against the other collectors (or dealers) in an all out onslaught. Those willing to engage in this battle of fastest finger first best set their alarm clocks and be prepared for a heart racing end.
You'll want to get your bid in knowing what time the auction will end, set your alarms, and then do some research on the typical price a piece like that will cost. When that is done, drop your highest bid and wait for the end. If your bid is met way before the checkered flag, you'll probably know you have no chance and would be wise to go about your day.
2. Use PicClick
This service is a god send! Using your eBay login, you can view a lot more watches and their related content in the massive UI. Clicking on more details will direct you to the eBay page in general for you to do your eBay things like asking questions and bidding.
And speaking of asking questions...
3. Ask any questions
The most common questions I ask is "Do you ship to Singapore?", followed by "Are you willing to consider [insert price offer here]?"
For the first, you'll want to always confirm that the seller will ship, and is willing to ship to your country, and how much it'll actually cost ya. You can actually use the postal service online tools to get an estimate so that you won't be ripped off.
Next you'll need to realize that people are on eBay to sell stuff. Holding out to an insane price (yes I'm talking about you, Mr Holy Grail Omega Speedmaster) isn't really what most sellers will do. If you want to try your hand at a slight discount (note: 60% off is not SLIGHT, neither is 20%), you can always respectfully message the seller and see if he's open to an offer.
4. Imagine the watch without its glass
Now this one comes with experience, and as someone who owns more than 130 watches, and handled even more, I think I have a reasonably good amount of experience when it comes to judging the quality of a watch through its photos.
Typically I will imagine what the dial will look like if I remove its glass. Since most of the bargain bin items will come with a crystal that looks like it's been through a blender in a World War, you'll do yourself a big service if you are able to visualize what lies behind the glass.
Trust me, the results of this one will be amazing.
5. Always. ALWAYS. Expect to service the watch
Even when the seller swears that DuFour and the ghost of Gerald Genta got together to discuss and service his timepiece. I'm a risk adverse person and this is one method that I use to lower my expectations of a timepiece.
Of course there are super reliable and honest sellers out there, but those guys have websites and typically charge higher premiums for a serviced watch (hint: the cost of service is coming from you).
So for the uninitiated (here's looking at you, dude who reads too many watch websites and thinks eBay is a gold mine of vintage treasure), please be prepared to service the watch at times pretty much straight out of the box. Look I'm no cheapskate bargain hunting 'watch project' guy, and I've had watches with mainsprings give out on me, watches starting to run really fast, or outright refusing to start up at all.
"In working condition" in this case possibly means that there are gears and they were turning some time in their lifespan before someone drowned them in crude oil or *gasp* super glue.
So, service that eBay buy. Is it disappointing? Surely. Does it hamper the enjoyment of the watch? Definitely. But will I cry and be a big baby about having to service a watch I just bought?
Yes. COVID-19 means all the repairshops are closed and there's probably a waitlist as long as the one for the Patek Rolex Tiffany & Co. collab G-Shock.
I hope this quick and dirty sharing helps you on your eBay journey. Welcome to the club, the life vests are 6 watches and 4 return requests down the isle.
Now go download that sniping bot, you cheating asshole.