Buying a new or vintage watch can be a very daunting experience. Without the correct preparation, it can even be risky.

To avoid all risks and ensure that the buying and ultimately the experience of owning your watch are as enjoyable as possible, we have collated our ten-step buyers guide to watches.

Step 1: Purpose

I think a good starting point for anyone looking to buy a watch is to have an idea of what you are looking to buy.

By this, we mean how often are you aiming to wear it and for which occasions. From doing this you will be able to pick the category of the watch.

You will then be able to continue with the other steps, but this is an incredibly important starting point for any potential buyer so that all the other stages follow suit.

Step 2: Price

What is your budget?
Is this budget realistic?

These are two questions that you should ask yourself.

Without making watches all about the financial aspect, they are often big purchases. Therefore, you should think of a realistic and affordable budget, whatever that may be.

Once you’ve decided on a budget that works for you, you will then be able to refine and work out what you can buy and what is available to you.

Step 3: Type

Type is different to purpose as it is slightly more distinguishable. The question here is, are you looking for a dive, dress, field watch, etc?

You may find yourself open to many different types of watches, which is perfectly normal. But it is important to have at least an idea in your mind of which types you would consider, or even which types, you wouldn’t consider.

It will make the trying-on, research and purchasing stages more efficient. One thing you don’t want to be is entirely indecisive and trying on the entire inventory of the shop. This will make the buying process more enjoyable as well.

Step 4: Brand

It is likely that you may be open to many brands, but it helps to have at least a selection in mind.

You can read up about brands, visit boutiques or ask people from the industry what brands they would recommend.

A brand can tell you a lot about a watch; it can represent heritage, craftsmanship and innovation, amongst many other elements.

Choosing the right brand is a personal decision, but through reading around each brand you will be able to work out which one will work for you, from a financial and taste standpoint.

A good way to pick between brands is via Instagram. Although this may seem a bit bizarre to some, it is a great way to see photos of the watch and determine whether you like their models.

You will also see content produced by other collectors meaning that you’ll get a feel for the community that you’re joining. At the end of the day, choosing a brand is the same as joining a community.

Step 5: Size

One size does not fit all when it comes to watches. It can be difficult to work out which size watch suits you simply from photographs. The important thing, therefore, is to try on different sizes and see which works best for your wrist size.

There’s no set-in-stone rule for watch sizing, it all comes down to preference. However, a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to see two links above and below the lugs when on your wrist.

If it’s a material band (leather or NATO for example), you could use the same method, but instead of two links, 1 cm is about the right measurement. That said, once you try on different watch sizes, you’ll instantly know what suits and fits you well.

Step 6: Comparison

This is an important step but can come under all of the above tips.

Comparison is incredibly important as it can give you a holistic view of all the options on the market. There is no better way to test out different watches, than a side-by-side, physical comparison.

Often, trying on different watches can help you to narrow down your tastes. It can also, in certain cases, provide you with a complete curveball consideration.

In short, it is vitally important before purchase, to try on and compare different models and brands to ensure you’re making the correct decision.

As mentioned earlier, Instagram can also be a good tool as people sometimes post watches side-by-side, allowing you to compare how they look.

Step 7: Research

Much like the comparison stage, this can happen throughout, but particular importance should be placed on research when considering vintage watches.

Although it is important to research modern watches, vintage requires another level of depth. There are also different elements to the research.

  • The brand
  • The model
  • The listing
  • The seller
  • The package

It’s not only important to research the type of watch and brand first, but also the particular listing you’re considering.

To avoid getting caught out, ensure that you do extensive research on the seller and the platform you are using. Don’t hesitate to reach out and question them on their selling history and the listing itself, to give you some peace of mind.

The final point is particularly important with second-hand and vintage watches; the packages, nuances and condition. Often collectors who are looking at buying rare pieces need to ensure that they are purchasing an ‘all-original’ piece.

You need to do your research and ensure that the papers and the date of the watch will be matching the particular collectable element. For example, if you’re looking to buy an underline Datejust and the papers are dating to 1990, then you’re unlikely to have a correct watch.

This is where you should read around to ensure that if you will be paying a premium, you’re doing so for the right watch. Caveat Emptor!

Step 8: Condition and Authenticity

Condition and Authenticity is a detailed subject all on its own. However, there are key signs to look for when assessing the condition of a watch.

  • Firstly, you can tell authenticity quite easily from the papers. If papers aren’t available, then your next option is an authenticity guarantee from a dealer.
  • If neither of these options is available, which is rare, then you could always ask to take the watch to a dealer to authenticate the watch. This may be the case if you are purchasing from an individual seller rather than a dealer.
  • Condition is not as clear online and therefore it is advisable to see the watch in person, particularly if it is second-hand. Although tell-tale signs vary depending on the brands and models, there are some key signs that you can look for when examining a watch.
  • Are there any scratches or dents? Some collectors care less so about scratches if the watch is in all original condition, however, if you’re looking for a pristine piece, ensure you check for any marks on the case, crystal, dial and bracelet.
  • Another contentious element is polishing. Particularly if you’re buying a vintage watch, polishing may damage the value of the watch. Over-polishing is another subject in itself, but if the dealer has extensively polished the watch it can misshape the watch. Aside from asking whether it has been polished, look to see if the condition is consistent. If one part is very clean and another part has scratches, then the polishing hasn’t been undertaken consistently.
  • Again, the bracelet condition is something that mostly applies to vintage watches. Something called bracelet stretch can occur when a watch has been worn extensively. This implies that the links are loose and weakened. To tell how tight, or indeed loose, the bracelet is, grasp the case by the crown and the opposite side and hold it sideways. This will allow you to determine the condition of the bracelet, and indeed how much the watch has been worn. If the case is not showing lots of wear, but the bracelet is very loose, then you may either have a polished case or an interchanged bracelet.
  • The final step to assess the condition of a watch is checking the movement. You can ask to test the beat error and the amplitude to see whether the watch is running accurately. You can conduct these tests using a timegrapher, but most dealers should have one and therefore be able to provide you with the information. A tip here is to ask for a picture with the watch on the timegrapher which shows the results, that way you can be sure of the accuracy.

Step 9: Package

When buying a watch, it is often advisable to consider the overall package being offered.

Does it come with a box or papers, both or neither?

In addition to this sometimes you may come across a full set with original extras. For example, some Rolex watches may come with swing tags and the outer sleeve for the box, this would be considered as more desirable when reselling.

The overall package links back to the initial point of ‘purpose’. It depends entirely on what your purpose is for the watch.

If you’re looking to sell it, it will sell quicker as a full set than if it comes with just a box or papers. However, if you don’t plan on selling it then box and papers aren’t always crucial factors when deciding which watch to buy.

Step 10: Location and Purchase Method

This element is an important consideration.

If you’re comfortable buying internationally then you can find yourself some great deals. However, especially if you’re buying from someone unknown the risk does exist, as you may be unable to view the watch.

Another point to consider when buying internationally is the import costs when shipping the watch. In some cases, it may add a reasonable amount to the overall cost of your watch. You may have to accommodate this added cost in your budget.

The purchase method is also important. Are you looking to buy from a dealer, from an individual or perhaps even bid in an auction?

Whichever method you prefer, ensure you do extensive research and know how the process works. There may be hidden benefits from each method of purchasing, but without research, there may also be some added considerations.

Before going ahead with any of the options, contrast and compare to ensure you feel comfortable with it.

Overall Verdict

Watch buying is an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.

With time you will become more comfortable and find your own preferences and habits. If you’re starting out though, the above considerations will provide you with all the possible tips needed when purchasing a watch.

Risks may exist but you can reduce them by ensuring that you know what you are doing and what exactly you’re purchasing.

At the end of the day, you’ll probably buy and sell a few times to find your taste, so be prepared for this journey to be somewhat transitional.

Always keep your eyes open to other options as you’ll possibly find something completely different that you like. But ultimately, the aim is to buy what you like and like what you buy.