A lot of people spend a lot of time deciding which pre-owned watch to add to their collection. One of the most important considerations for any second-hand watch purchase: the seller. There are two different kinds: a watch dealer in the business of buying and selling watches and private sellers (individual looking to sell pieces from their own collection). Which one’s best? . . .
Buying from a Watch Dealer
There’s a strong case to be made for buying from a dealer, whether authorized or online. Dealers are [supposed to be] professionals. You’re more likely to get authenticity verification, a warranty and a return policy. When you buy from a dealer, you’re paying for the watch and a service.
Buying from a dealer is not without risk. Just as there are legitimate private sellers and shady private sellers there are legitimate dealers and shady dealers. Buying from a “good” dealer – often a well-known quantity – reduces certain concerns such as payment processing and returns.
No matter which watch dealer has caught your eye, always check their transaction history on Amazon, eBay, The Better Business Bureau, online forums, etc.If you’re buying on the community sales forums, you can use WatcCharts’ RepCheck tool to quickly vet sellers on WatchExchange, Watchuseek, and RolexForums.
Watch Dealer Markups Revealed
There’s no getting around it: buying from a dealer is generally more expensive than buying from a private seller. To find out, how much more expensive we analyzed hundreds of thousands of listings from the past year (2019). We broke down the data by brand and model, and compared the prices of listings on community forums versus listings from dealer-driven sites. The results may surprise you.
On average, a dealer asks 27 percent more than a private seller for the same watch. There’s a caveat: watches from dealers are generally newer/in better condition. Adjusted for this, the average dealer markup is likely to be between 10 percent an 20 percent.
The following graph shows the average dealer markup for the top 25 most popular brands in our database.
Watch Dealer Markups (sorted by brand popularity)
Watch Dealer Markups (sorted by markup percentage)
The average dealer markup for a pre-owned/gray market watch is 27 percent. As you can see, the markup varies greatly brand by brand. Grand Seiko has the lowest markup: 13 percent on average. Bulova is the highest, with a 44 percent average dealer markup.
Bulova, Hamilton, Tissot, Seiko, and TAG Heuer are the brands with the highest dealer premium. These are all brands that generally trade in the sub-$1,000 range on the secondary market. This trend indicates that the dealer markup is higher for more affordable brands.
The Benefits and Dangers of Private Sellers
I recommend private sales between members of the community. Trading within the community allows you to find the best deals, bar none. Watchchart aggregates listings from the most popular online watch sales forums: Reddit WatchExchange, Watchuseek and more.
If you’re new to the watch hobby, buying from a private party is a good way to become part of a watch community, to get to know other collectors. Be aware: private sellers may be hesitant about selling to first-time buyers. It helps to have some feedback or transaction history on eBay or other platforms to show you’re trustworthy. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be for watches.
Even if you have no prior private sales history on the internet, you can still buy private party by doing the transaction locally in person, or by paying in a non-refundable manner (e.g., a wire transfer or Zelle). This proves to the seller that you’re trustworthy, but it’s also risky; there’s not much recourse if something goes wrong. Talk to the seller beforehand. Make sure you’re both comfortable.
Comparison: Watch Dealer vs. Private Sale
Rolex is a classic brand that many people prefer to buy from dealers. They’re commonly faked and the dealer markup is relatively lower since the market is more liquid.
You might want to buy your Rolex Submariner (or similar) from a dealer if you value a generous return policy or pre-owned warranty. Again, these services are only as good as the entity backing them.
If you’re in the fortunate position where a dealer premium isn’t a concern buying from a dealer will generally allow you to get the watch in your hands in the fastest manner.
If you’re looking for the best deal on a Rolex, you should look to purchase from a private seller. Although it’s not impossible that a dealer might sell a watch for less than a private seller, the chances are low.
Another example: the Seiko SARB035. It’s a great value-for-money watch at the entry-level price point. As of the time of writing, you can save nearly 25 percent by buying the Japanese watch from a private party.
No matter who you’re buying from, don’t spend any money that you can’t afford to lose. Watches are a hobby after all; the money you spend should be discretionary. Getting started buying private party can be daunting. I recommend starting with lower value transactions. Over time, you’ll find buying privately to be a more rewarding experience, and not just financially.
Buying used, at least buying vintage mechanical or automatic watches, is such a roll of the dice. With other purchases, there is at least an upside if things don’t quite pan out as expected. I’ve been burned a couple of times on vintage comic books, and in the worst case scenario, when there was more damage than expected, at least I had a decent reading copy of something I wanted. If that vintage Zodiac stops working a week after I bought it, that’s $50 done the drain with nothing to show for it.
I agree that buying vintage watches can be a different story. By and large, the private sales community is dominated by modern watches, so the markups that we calculated are more reflective of that market segment. It’s also way harder to put a number on the market value of vintage watches in general, since there’s so much potential variation between examples.
Particularly for vintage, there are also dealers such as kabaclyde (https://watchcharts.com/repcheck/user/kabaclyde?source=reddit) that sell within the community who I’ve heard nothing but good things about.
I can’t help but feel that the dealer markup chart illustrates the disconnect between vendor and buyer opinions of various brands.
That definitely could have something to do with it. The other thing I noticed is that many of the brands with the highest markup are in the affordable price range. This makes sense as a dealer needs a higher margin on a lower value watch to offset base costs.
Thanks Charles. If these % markups on pre-owned watches are comparing dealers with private sellers, do you have the percentage markups/markdowns comparing to the equivalent new watch? Thank you
Hi, do you mean gray market dealers who are selling the watch new, or the comparison to the retail price?
Hi. Comparison To the retail market. To get an idea of brands/models that move up/down in seconds market. Thank you.
We haven’t done that sort of analysis yet, as information about retail pricing is actually not that easy to find for a lot of brands. Anecdotally, I would guess most watches depreciate anywhere from 30-50% from retail, even more if they are in precious metal. Of course, there are certain exceptions – Tudor and Grand Seiko seem to hold their value relatively well, and obviously Rolex, Patek, and AP frequently trade over retail.
Thanks Charles. That would make for a great comparison though. Regards.