Wednesday, 27 June 2018 04:41

The Perils Of Buying A Vintage Wristwatch At An Online Auction

Written by Martin Trickett

The pre-owned watch market is undoubtedly enjoying something of a boom and advances in technology are helping to propel the market further. Online auctions are gaining popularity, but how safe and reliable are they?

The pre-owned watch market is undoubtedly enjoying something of a boom and advances in technology are helping to propel the market further. It used to be the auction rooms were obscure places full of dealers, in the know, picking up new inventory for their high street (or back street) stores. Thanks to the internet and the very warm embrace by auction houses of a whole new market opportunity, many more people from across the globe can now ‘attend’ the auction virtually and bid at will. Of course in days gone by telephone bidding also existed but was nevertheless a niche activity, a preserve of the insider. Internet bidding has gone mainstream.

The boon to the auction houses has been immense. More competition for pieces means higher hammer prices, which in turn means those house fees paid by winning bidders has rocketed too. A marvel for their bottom line.

But who vets the auction houses or keeps them on the straight and narrow? How do you know the genuine quality house from the sensing-a-bubbling-market-fly-by-night? How do previous bidders feel about the pieces they have ‘won’? How was the delivered item versus the photograph, or if you’re lucky, photographs? How does it measure to the description? Of course one will find huge variations in the quality of description and condition reports, some houses are too defensive, others perhaps deliberately vague. How does your item compare?

Take a look at the image below posted on a popular platform from a house that seems to move a great deal of inventory.

Catalogue Image

Looks good right? Picture a little hazy perhaps but clear enough. No major issues on the dial. Nicely aged. There are marks on the case, as one would expect for a piece this age. It has an unsigned strap, but that is no problem. One can easily see a few nicks on it - enough to feel that any other of old father times gentle reminders that no-one or no-thing shall age completely untouched are all visible. Always wanted a Baume et Mercier solid gold Chronographe? This looks like it.

How do you feel when, having done the deal, outbidding the competition in the process, wired the funds including buyers premium and shipping, and now taken delivery you receive this -

Delivered Item

Sure, It’s still a gold Baume et Mercier Chronographe with an unsigned black leather strap. But!

Heart sinking, you check the T’s & C’s. “All items are sold AS IS... ALL SALES ARE FINAL.“ They usually are.

You contact the house to complain regardless. There’s been a mistake. You didn’t receive the item photographed. The house insists there can be no mistake.

You complain again. You send photographs. You describe the faults that would have been present in the photographs... if they had photographed the actual item they auctioned, or at least dispatched.

You note the houses next auction. Low and behold, exactly the same item (photograph at least) is for sale again. How can that be? Pre-owned watches are all unique in some way. You note the same nick in the strap stitching. It’s undeniable - the watch you received - despite the protestations of the house - was not the item pictured, or else the next one for sale can’t be.

Of course the biggest online auctioneer of them all worked out early on that buyers needed a way to trust a seller. The online platforms - who are paid through commission on the hammer price by the houses - will catch up eventually, won’t they? I wouldn’t count on it.

You can chance the auctions, or perhaps your safest course is to find a dealer who will work with you on what you want. Who won’t take a one-off, transactional approach and run afterwards, but will work not only to find out what you want now, but will want to be remembered fondly enough to be there for when you want your next fine vintage wristwatch. There are lots of reliable dealers out there. Here at, we will be there for you too. Get in touch and let us know how we may help.

If you decide to go the auction route then be very careful, and we mean most genuinely, good luck!

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