What To Look For In Pre-Owned Watches

Buying a pre-owned watch can seem daunting if you don’t know what to look for.  Many times, people worry they are going to end up purchasing one that has major issues, or is a fake.  The truth of the matter is, if you know what to look for, buying pre-owned watches can be easy and very rewarding.  You can wear a beautiful luxury watch for free, for profit, and even grab one that is so mint it’s basically new.  So what should you be looking for in a pre-owned watch to determine if it’ll make for a good asset and last long?

Boxes, Papers, & Providence

When people purchase watches from authentic dealers, they typically get a receipt, warranty card(s), and a dealer stamp on their paperwork.

Sometimes when these folks own the watches for a longer period of time, or the watch has traded hands multiple times in the pre-owned market, original boxes and papers get lost or thrown out.  You don’t necessarily have to have boxes or papers when you purchase pre-owned.  However, when you do have someone who has them with the watch, it can make a big difference.   This is especially true when going to resell the watch for a flip.  Other buyers are weary of buying from private sellers if there is less proof that the watch is 100% authentic.  Having the full set of boxes and papers can put their mind at ease, and also help you command a premium on the sale.

Providence means the origination of where the timepiece was purchased.  This goes hand-in-hand with the boxes and papers, however, it is possible for people to have the other two, and not have purchased from an authentic source.  Some people buy boxes and make fake papers, then pair them up with a watch to try to sell it as a full set.  If you understand where the piece was originally bought, and you can track the history, this is a great sign.  This will also help you sell the piece easier, and give you piece of mind that the person you’re buying it from didn’t steal it, and is a legitimate owner.


Getting an understanding of what condition the watch is important.  The cool thing about buying pre-owned watches is that you don’t necessarily need to buy one in mint condition to enjoy them and profit.

You should know however what you’re getting into and know what to avoid entirely so you don’t end up paying a lot of money for service, parts, and other issues.

Always try to look at the watch as closely as possible.  If you can inspect the watch in person that is even better, but typically not an option.  Even if the seller has the condition and any issues on their listing, it’s a good idea to perform your own eye test.  If they have poor resolution photos, you should request high-resolution photos or at least better ones where you can see the dial, strap(s), case-back, crown, crown-guard, bezel, lugs, and crystal.  Use any small issues like nicks, scratches, swirls, or dings to your advantage when negotiating price.  Some issues that are small, like scratches on a stainless steel bracelet or bezel can easily be polished away.  Other issues, like water damage or cross-threading of the crown can be very expensive to repair and should be avoided.  It’s also a good idea to have the seller take a picture of the timepiece with the day’s date and time on it so you know it’s in their possession and not a fake listing.

Sometimes picking up a pre-owned watch in less than mint condition can be profitable if you have a good network of people to fix the small issues.  Otherwise, try to stick with buying a piece in prestigious condition as you will have less of a headache to deal with and a better sale down the line.

Signs of Authenticity

This can be challenging to assess yourself at first until you get used to what to look for in different luxury watch brands.  For example, signs of authenticity in Rolex watches are the serial number and reference model on each side of the case in between the lugs.  Also, they have a very specific movement when you open the case-back that has purple gears and Rolex engraving.  These are just a few of hundreds of different types of signs to look for in different watch brands.

We won’t cover every sign of authenticity here, but the internet is a great resource.  The watch forums (WatchUSeek, The Rolex Forums, Omega Forum) can be particularly helpful when you may have a question on whether a watch you’re looking to buy is authentic.  Also, the Watch Conspiracy Facebook group is always a great resource.

Looking at the seller’s reputation, feedback, and requesting references is another great way to get comfortable with the process.

Someone who has nothing to hide should be more than willing to provide you the information you need to make the purchase.  For example, you could request having a phone call with the person, adding them on social media, and sending each other pictures of licenses so if anything goes wrong, you can track them down.

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