So you want to know how to prepare a luxury watch for sale?
1. Put Yourself In the Watch Buyer’s Shoes
When the time comes to sell a watch, it is best for owners to assume the perspective of a watch buyer.
When seeking to buy a watch, collectors want three assurances. First, the watch should be in excellent physical condition. Second, the watch should be in excellent mechanical condition. Finally, the watch should include as many original factory accessories, documents, and post-sale service records as possible. Regardless of a watch’s market value range, an owner will place his watch towards the top of the market for his given make and model by meeting these criteria.
Watch appraisal always begins by identifying a range of market values for a given model, and reaching the high end of this range should be the goal when preparing a watch to be sold.
Second only to authenticity, physical condition is the most obvious and compelling feature that watch buyers check when considering a purchase. Case components, bracelets and straps, dials and hands, and crystals are the focal points of a buyer’s questions when determining the proper price to pay for a watch.
Case components include the bezel that frames the crystal, the case and caseback, and the crown or pushers. Luxury watches should feature factory parts that are correct to the make and model on which they are fitted. Check that the crown bears the proper signature of its manufacturer; make reference to photos on collector forums if the watch is no longer in production.
The ideal condition of case component finish is a state indistinguishable from factory appearance. If a watch features dents or scratches, a buyer (dealer or private party) will “buy down” that watch on the basis of future case refinishing expenses. With the exception of vintage watches, generally it is worthwhile for an owner to inquire about refinishing a watch prior to sale; this can allow the owner to sell a watch without having to haggle over how much value is lost due to case marks.
Two exceptions to refinishing apply; vintage watches and dented watches. Due to collector preference for vintage watches that are as close to factory condition as possible, many buyers of vintage watches prefer that case marks not be refinished. Their philosophy holds that case marks are unfortunate, but attempting to refinish the metal will pull the watch farther still from its original factory condition; they prefer to buy vintage watches with marks and all.
Dented watches generally require a specialized type of refinishing called laser welding. Unlike reductive “polishing,” laser welding adds material at a point of the case where a deep dent has been created. Watch owners should consider skipping the refinishing process or finding a qualified specialist when laser welding is necessary. Attempting to have a conventional “polish” applied to fix a dent may remove so much metal that the case becomes permanently deformed.
Crystals, dials, and hands should be in excellent condition at the time of sale. Modern watches almost always are equipped with synthetic sapphire crystals. While they do not scratch easily like older thermoplastic units, sapphire crystals can chip and shatter. Moreover, any physical damage to a sapphire crystal leaves it vulnerable to failure and may affect its ability to maintain a water resistant seal. As with case condition, it often pays for a watch seller to have a damaged crystal remedied prior to selling a watch.
Hands and dials are critical components that immediately betray damage to the eyes of prospective watch buyers. Due to the prominence of hands on the face of a watch, indelicate handling by unqualified watchmakers almost always results in buy-down requests from watch buyers and collectors. The marginal savings from skipping a factory service and choosing a budget option often dissipate when cut-rate service results in cut-rate results.
Dial damage is a grave signal to buyers; dials are expensive components to replace, and dial damage often leads watch buyers to suspect incompetent handling of the movement. When a dial is damaged by shoddy service or water intrusion, collectors and dealers alike will assume movement compromises in addition. As with refinishing and mechanical service, qualified service and parts replacement prior to sale will simplify the ultimate sales process.
Be advised; vintage watch dials and hands with marks should be retained in all instances of condition that does not impede use of the watch. Refinished or replacement dials often reduce the value of a vintage timepiece. Check with online collector reports to confirm whether factory service for a specific brand of watch will involve dial replacement. If this is the case, service one’s vintage watch exclusively with a vintage watch specialist.
Bracelets and straps are important features of a watch’s originality and condition. The best way to obtain the maximum price for a watch is to offer it on its original bracelet with all removable factory links present and the finish in immaculate condition. If a watch has been placed on an aftermarket strap, place it back on the original factory unit or buy a new factory replacement; most watch buyers will buy-down a watch on the wrong strap by a margin greater than the cost of the factory part.
Buckles and clasps should be treated like bracelet and case components. Attempting to sell a watch without the original factory pin buckle will result in lower offers for the watch; selling the watch without its original deployant clasp sharply reduces watch value due to the higher cost of folding buckles relative to pin buckles. The condition of clasps and buckles matters; their factory finish patterns, material volume, and line definition should appear as original as possible in order to ensure maximum value when selling a watch.
Cleanliness and hygiene matter when preparing a watch for sale. Even a watch in perfect condition with immaculate finish and a spotless dial will invite reduced purchase offers if it is covered in dried sweat, dead skin cells, and dirt. This may sound elementary, but $10,000+ U.S. watches are offered for sale every day across the Internet with crusty links, caked cases, and soiled straps. Use common sense and clean a watch carefully or ask a qualified watchmaker to do the same prior to attempting to sell a watch.
The second installment of this series will discuss the importance of ensuring water resistance and mechanical condition when preparing to sell a watch.
2. Determine Luxury Watch Operation
Proper operation is a core factor that a watch collector should consider prior to selling a watch. This facet of condition encompasses both water resistance and mechanical functions. Water resistance is easy to evaluate; take the watch to a qualified watchmaker for a dry hermeticity test. If the watch meets its factory-rated resistance depth, then water resistance likely will not be a factor in the sale of the watch.
However, if the watch fails, it is worthwhile to pay for the seals to be replaced or re-lubricated prior to offering the watch for sale. Rest assured, a pre-owned watch dealer will check this before tendering an offer to buy your watch.
Mechanical functions include the precision of the watch, its balance amplitude, power reserve, and complication operability. Precision is simple; if the watch is losing more than eight seconds per day or gaining more than ten, it needs to be regulated or overhauled (chronometers should run -4/+6 or better).
Balance amplitude concerns the vigor of the movement, and low amplitude means that the watch is approaching its service interval.
“Amplitude” is a measure – out of 360 degrees – of how far the watch’s balance “bounces” in each direction as it is impulsed by the drivetrain of the watch. Low amplitude (generally 250 and lower) indicates dried lubricants in the drive train, dried lubricants on the mainspring, mainspring damage, or worn pivots in the train. All of these require a full service by a qualified watchmaker, and the longer a watch is allowed to run with low amplitude, the more likely the watch is to require replacement parts during the eventual service.
Moreover, a watch that cannot reach its factory-rated running time – its “power reserve” – likely requires a full service. Reduced mainspring lubrication often is a factor, but any drive train drag can play a role. When an automatic winding system is failing, a watch may not be able to sustain operation in day-to-day use. All of these symptoms indicate a need for mechanical attention.
All complications should function. If a date disc does not jump within three hours of midnight or does not jump squarely into its window, that is a malfunction. If a chronograph does not start, stop, and reset precisely, that is a malfunction. If a chronograph stops the entire movement when it is engaged, then that is a malfunction. All complications should operate as designed, and none of them should halt or alter the operation of the time-telling core of the watch.
Ensure that the above functions are checked by a qualified watchmaker. Daily time variations of 30 to 60 seconds are signs of seriously unhealthy watches, but even these may not be tangible to an owner. Major functional flaws such as low amplitude, several hours of lost power reserve, and water resistance may defy evaluation by an owner, so a trusted professional should be engaged to check a watch prior to sale.
Factory service is not always the cheapest option for restoring the condition of a watch, but it is the most complete and respected route.
Buyers place great emphasis on service sheets that prove recent factory overhauls have taken place. Not only will a factory properly restore function, correctly refinish cases, and replace any strap, crystal, hand, or damaged dial with precisely the right parts, but factory service also carries the force of warranty for a period between one and two years depending on brand. Finally, a factory service document accompanying a serviced and warrantied watch is regarded as a statement of authenticity by watch buyers. In short, a factory service is a significant step that owners can take to prepare watches for sale.
Service documentation is part of a class of factory paperwork and accessories that can provide a significant boost to the value of a watch prior to sale. The next installment of this series will explore the value of peripheral articles when preparing a watch for sale.
3. Prepare Luxury Watch Documentation & Watch Packaging
When asking, “How do I prepare my watch for sale?” it is important to prepare every document, box, and accessory that would have been delivered at the original dealer’s showroom. Any subsequent service records should be included for good measure.
Every luxury watch is delivered from the manufacturer with at least one shipping box and a warranty document. Additional boxes intended for display and travel may be included with more expensive timepieces. In each case, expect enthusiasts of the brand and specialist pre-owned watch buyers to ask specifically for these accouterments. Watches offered without these accessories meet buyer skepticism regarding the owner’s care for the timepiece; lower purchase offers are the result.
Unique accessories such as diving buoys, watch winders, custom pens, engraved plaques, wooden chests, spare Plexiglas crystals, alternate dials, strap-changing tools, 22+ kilogram commemorative books, and edition-specific straps have been included in special boxed sets for luxury watches. The more unique the accessory, the more likely a collector or pre-owned watch buyer will be to request the item; be prepared.
Operator’s manuals, bills of sale, company catalogs, loaded USB drives, registration paperwork for extended warranties, hangtags, and origin certificates comprise other set pieces that a buyer will expect to receive.
Each one of these items says something about the owner’s stewardship of the watch. Retained operator’s manuals are considered critical to proper use of complications and meeting the correct service intervals of all timepieces; retained hangtags and purchase receipts suggest a detail-oriented owner. These accessories are worth digging out of attics, vacation houses, and garages.
While all of these articles are desirable and worth recovering, recovery is not always possible. Sometimes, a watch will be purchased on vacation at a duty-free shop, aboard a cruise liner, or on an island vacation, and the owner will take delivery of the watch alone before departing. Alternatively, boxed sets and documents can be lost in moves, flooding, fire, and theft. When this happens, the owner does have certain recourses to rebuild the provenance of his watch.
The most basic way to restore the accessory set of a watch is to start a new paper trail at the original manufacturer. A factory service always is a prudent measure when preparing to sell a watch. When a watch returns from the factory, the service receipts, the factory’s written service documentation of work performed, and the ubiquitous “service return pouch” create value for a watch buyer.
The returned timepiece will be protected by factory warranty; the receipts will prove recent factory maintenance; the warranty document will name the watch’s serial number thus restoring something like a factory-blessed authenticity statement. Furthermore, collectors and buyers of luxury watches know that all factories will seize and destroy counterfeits sent to their offices, and most will refuse to service a watch without replacing any inauthentic parts discovered in process. All of this improves the appeal of a luxury timepiece to a watch buyer.
While manufacturer maintenance papers will not recover all elements of the original factory set, factory service is a great start. However an archive extract or certificate of origin provides another way to restore an undocumented watch’s history. Different manufacturers offer different levels of service along these lines.
For example, Jaeger-LeCoultre offers an “Extract From the Archives” for 250 Swiss Francs. It requires a photograph of one’s case serial number and movement serial number.
While it isn’t the same as a “Certificate of Authenticity,” an archival extract provides confirmation that a specific combination of case serial, movement serial, and reference number matching your watch was recorded as having been built by the factory on a date listed in the “Extract.” In combination with a factory service receipt, this document is a potent supporting argument when you profess your watch’s integrity to a watch collector or pre-owned watch buyer.
Patek Philippe customer services also offers an “Archival Extract.” The “Extract” serves the same purpose as the Jaeger-LeCoultre equivalent; both brands will refuse to deliver an “Extract” if the codes on a customer’s watch do not match company archives.
However, boutique brands are not the only ones that offer these services; Omega and Longines offer comparable documentation for more accessible timepieces. Always check to see if an archival document can be obtained when preparing to sell an otherwise undocumented watch.
Longines, for example, is able to offer more than Patek or JLC; the company issues a true “Certificate of Authenticity.” While a conventional “Extract” also is available, Longines will provide a true factory-backed statement of a specific watch’s authenticity in every respect, and the document is signed by the company’s president. Moreover, Longines offers both services for free; only the cost of shipping the watch to and from the Longines offices will apply to the watch’s owner.
Due to the documentation value of factory service, archival extracts, and – when available – certificates of authenticity, the owner of an otherwise undocumented watch should pursue one or all of these options in order to prepare a luxury watch for sale. When the original boxes and papers are lost, the foregoing services provide the best way of maximizing a buyer’s appraisal of a watch.