Buying and selling vintage watches online, my story
COVID-19 hit the world hard. Watch collectors who liked to meet up and try on the watches before they bought them were faced with a new challenge - figuring out how a particular watch wore and looked on our wrists before paying a stranger up front.
There are plenty of guides written online, and the main advice still stands - buy the seller, ask ask ask, and avoid wire transfers. Advice is never far away, so I decided to share my personal experience in online buying and selling watches online.
It seems like a wild wild west, but from my experience it's a fun ride and a great way to expand your collection meaningfully once you get past some of your initial fears and stereotypes about online buying.
The first one which is the fact that you're dealing with complete strangers whom you have not met, and will probably never meet. Watches are a personal thing to me, and initially having to buy and sell to people I can't see if a strange sensation. Coming from a beginning where I would scout vintage watch stores and pick up conversations (and watches!) from their owners, this was a daunting aspect.
I started selling a lot of Seiko 5 watches - in a bid to find out how a mechanical watch works I gathered a whole bunch of them and started picking at them and putting them together. I got pretty good with the basic movements like your 7S26, 7008, 6309. They're pretty easy to work on and work generally well after a good cleaning in the ultrasonic machine followed by oiling.
Long story short, I got my hands on a lot of Seiko 5, and sold what I was done with cheap on a local listing platform that allowed me to meet up with my buyers. Being able to meet up with local collectors expanded by experience in checking and buying watches.
But I digress. Transiting to online sales and purchases for me simply meant asking a few more questions before the purchase and even asking for videos before you buy. It'll be good if the seller can show you the watch in a video so that you can meet the watch "in the metal". It also gives you a glimpse into the sort of watch person the seller is by how he handles the watch.
I've seen sellers manhandle watches, especially the crowns and chronograph pushers. I've also seen sellers who wear gloves and dainty manipulate the watches. It's not just for show, mind you - watches that are taken care of will have less chance of meeting a repairer.
Another thing I had to deal with was the fact that I could no longer try on the watches for myself before making a decision.
My usual experience with vintage watches saw me sauntering into a store, looking at display cases and then asking the owner if I could try on a few of them. This lets me really feel the watch I'm about to purchase and make a few friends along the way.
With the proliferation of online buying, there's not really a chance for me to slip one on. I've left to alter the way I think about watch buying. In this respect, the sellers can actually make the experience a whole lot better.
First of all by listing the correct dimensions and by using photos that show the watch on someone's wrist. The general saying goes - if a watch looks good on someone else's wrist, it'll probably look good on yours.
Knowing the exact dimensions of the watch also gives me a good mental picture of how it'll look when it arrives. Case in point, congrats to all the Hamilton x Hodinkee owners of a 46mm watch.
Again, videos will help a lot here. Asking the seller for a short video of him wearing the watch increases your understanding of how it'll look on your wrist, as well as getting up close with the condition of a watch that's not photo-edited. This is perhaps the only time I'd tolerate a wrist roll.
Collectors who buy watches without reading the specifications clearly are going to be in for a big shock.
So you've done your homework, annoyed the seller with several video requests, and am pretty sure that the watch is the one for you. Now comes the next biggest hurdle - paying for the watch upfront.
The most common mode of payment for me is ye' old Paypal account. While I might not agree with the recent change in fee and refund structure, it remains one of the safest methods of making payment. There's always the option of dispute if I should ever get into a disagreement with the seller.
To all of my sellers' credits, I've never had to use it yet. Remember to do your homework so that you'll know what's to come in the mail.
Another method I've been trying, especially with sellers in Indonesia, is TransferWise. The service is a straight-to-bank wire service that has a whole lot less fees that Paypal. Despite the fancy name and lower fees, it IS still a wire service. This means getting a charge back or filing a dispute is harder.
Next in line is another tried and tested method - credit card payment. I usually do this through Paypal if I don't have enough credits in my account. This gives me another option of filing a charge back if the seller isn't responding.
Knowing a little more about the seller will always make the payment process a lot more palatable.
My general advice is to get to know the seller before you make a purchase. While they may seem a little curt at first (imagine answering dozens of DMs with "Price? Box? Papers?") the good ones eventually open up.
Another question I get a lot (they're rude by the way) is where I get my watches. A collector seldom reveals his exact source (because #allthewatches), but there really isn't a lot of places you can get a vintage watch to begin with... and asking a question like that really shows how much homework you've done (answer: none).
For the sole purpose of directing future queries to this exact blog post, I'm going to list down a few places you can shop around. If you get to know me better perhaps I'll share my browser bookmarks.
Local Listings In my country we have this app called 'Carousell' where we can list items for sale and have potential buyers ask annoying questions like whether this 40 year-old Seiko 5 comes with box, papers, sales receipt and a warranty.
Local Stores This is fast being a relic. With rising rent and a decrease of good stock moving around because of travel restrictions, local stores look to transit to a hang out place for collectors to meet, talk and trade.
Watch Websites Plenty of people are cashing in on the vintage craze. They range from collectors with too many watches (me!) to local stores expanding their businesses. Some are watch lovers, some are business men. Talk to them to find out.
"Sourcing" Sites Chrono24, PicClick, Watch Recon and TimePeaks are some of these sort of sites that allow you to search for your preferred type of watches. Good to go to when you know exactly what you're hunting for.
Instagram Go where the demand is. Instragram is fast becoming one of the best places for watch collectors to share and sell their collection. While prices here might be a little higher, you kind of know you're getting a watch that's appreciate and a part of someone's collection instead of stock.
Forums Not a fan because I don't typically like to talk watch in a forum, but I've heard of rare watches from collectors being put up for sale in these places.
Sofas in Garage Sales Because why not. Bring hand sanitizer.
From what I know from the old time collectors, it's a lot more fun being a part of the community now. The knowledge base is forever broadening and information is just a click away, you can connect with like-minded people all over the world for your hobby, and the avenues to buy and expand your collection is as endless as your willingness to pursue it.
While many of us might fear their watch collecting hobby ruined by the cold and realistic world of the internet, the reverse may actually be true.
I hope this guide has helped in understanding my personal journey and experiences in watch collecting. And as a further bonus, you can always feel free to contact me for discussions and if you have any questions about a watch you'd like to purchase from and outside of the site. Just don't ask me to appraise anything ok?