“eBay remains one of the riskiest places to buy a luxury watch online,” dmarge.com‘s Jamie Weiss writes, “and most watch fans would tell you to steer well clear of the site.” It’s too bad Mr. Weiss can’t come right out and say it: eBay watch sales are inherently dangerous. He certainly steers readers in that direction, quoting Dutch watch authenticator Relleb . . .
Identifying fake watches from pictures alone is nearly impossible… Although the company initiated an authentication service in the US, ‘custom’ watches are not eligible, and these custom watches are almost always fake watches.
Just so we’re clear, eBay defines a custom watch as one where “original brand parts have been replaced with non-brand parts (with the exception of straps, bracelets, spring bars, and gaskets) or parts not original to the model, or components that are modified from the original design.”
As a buyer you’ve got to read the product description carefully. If it uses the word custom or mentions any non-original parts, you get what you paid for – and that’s it. You only have redress if the watch you buy doesn’t match its online description. If the watch simply sucks – rusts, falls apart, stops working, etc. – eBay isn’t liable. Or, indeed, interested.
eBay watch sales also offer “authenticated” timepieces – indicated by a blue checkmark on the listing. The internet behemoth refuses to reveal the authenticator or authenticators. Here’s what these unnamed “partners” do . . .
The Authentication Partner will inspect the item within two (2) business days of receipt by checking logos, tags, materials, hardware, quality, and more as applicable, and for accuracy against the item listing; however Authentication Partner will not inspect the watch for waterproofing of the watch or the accuracy of the timekeeping.
There’s only way to know if a watch’s movement is as it should be (i.e., contains the correct parts, has been properly lubricated and functions according to the manufacturer’s specifications): an expert has to open it up, inspect it and check its accuracy. Then seal it up, let it run and check it again.
We’ve contacted one of eBay’s authenticators: Stoll & Co. They authenticate “several hundred” watches per day. They open the vast majority of the watches sent for authentication (around 90 percent) and examine new watches with exhibition casebacks through the caseback. But, as eBay says, they do not check watches for accuracy.
When it comes to vintage watches, accuracy is an important factor. Equally, eBay allows that they “may contain replacement parts that are not from the original manufacturer if the original manufacturer no longer makes that part.” Do authenticators have the knowledge to make that determination for thousands of different watches? We’re investigating . . .
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, if you go to eBay watch sales to buy a dive watch with factory spec water resistance note that eBay’s authenticators aren’t playing. Your new/old watch’s water resistance isn’t authenticated or guaranteed.
According to watchpro.com, eBay’s authentication service has triggered a massive increase in sales. “The category saw acceleration of 38% in Q1, as opposed to growth of 16% in Q4 of 2020.”
eBay’s authentication service is only available for U.S. consumers buying or selling watches listed above two grand. While everything under two grand qualifies for eBay’s Buyer Protection Plan, again, that only protects you against an inaccurate listing (and only when the watch is purchased via PayPal or approved credit cards).
And now we get to eBay’s latest attempt to woo high end watch buyers: their just launched escrow service.
“Buying a luxury watch is an exciting, once in a lifetime experience, which is why Escrow.com has partnered with eBay Watches to offer online buyers and sellers peace of mind. Buyers will be sure the watch in their hands is authentic, and sellers can be confident they will receive the funds they’re owed,” Escrow.com GM Jackson Elsegood tells watchpro.com.
Yes, well, the new deal only applies to watches above $10k. More importantly, the escrow service is only to ensure authenticity and the money has to be paid by a bank wire.
So even if eBay’s online watch sales have protections against fake watches, there are still a lot of ways it can go wrong. Which it did for me when a dealer sent the wrong watch (on purpose). The ultimately successful back-and-forth was a major PITA.
Bottom line: eBay’s new policies still aren’t a patch on chrono24.com’s Buyer Protection Plan.
It verifies all watch dealers and most private sellers, provides an escrow account for the majority of its transactions (around 80 percent), uses trusted checkout (all major credit cards accepted), provides 24-hour telephone support and crucially, requires all verified dealers to adhere to a 14-day no-questions-asked return policy (for watches returned in their original condition). Oh and all shipments are insured.
The most important aspect of all this: eBay doesn’t offer a “try before you buy” facility. So while it’s safe to buy on eBay – if you shop carefully from watches covered by their authenticity guarantees/escrow service – there are far more responsive and secure places to spend your money. And in case you forgot, physical dealers are still a thing.