Watch Shopping Guide - How to buy a watch

The Watch Shopping Guide – How To Buy A Watch

There’s an exceptional selection of timepieces, both new and vintage available via a network of authorized retailers and third party dealers around the world. With such a diverse selection, the level of experience and knowledge among sellers is as vast as the world is wide. As we continue our series on watches, it is imperative that we include a guide that can showcase where the consumer should look when making a purchase. Far too many buyers engage the advice of a local jeweler or consignment store, that overcharge or simply have no idea what it is they’re actually selling you. Just as you wouldn’t invest in a vehicle based solely on color, you shouldn’t invest in a timepiece based on how “pretty” it is or how fancy the dealership looks.

“The salesman knows nothing of what he is selling save that he is charging a great deal too much for it.” 

– Oscar Wilde

Giveaway: Complete this survey for a chance to win one of three limited edition copies of The Watch Book worth $150 each.

THE 3 RULES FOR WATCH BUYING

Bulgari minute repeater

Bulgari minute repeater

Rule 1: Avoid the Mall

If a teenager is buying friendship bracelets at the same store you’re looking for a watch, that’s your first clue to leave. Jewelry and watch stores in malls cater to the mass population. They carry everything from engagement rings to lockets, from earrings to accessories. Watches tend to be a small part of their business. Chances are the salesman’s idea of a ‘luxury watch’ is a Movado or a Tag and at the very most they may be an authorized Rolex or Breitling dealer. These stores hire the lowest earning sales staff, give them basic training on all of their products and feed them to the wolves. Trusting their staff to lead you in the direction of an impeccable find, is akin to trusting a teenage girl with your credit card on Rodeo Drive. You might as well have the word “imbecile” tattooed on your forehead.

If you’re in the market for a simple everyday find like a Timex, Skagen or Bulova, by all means utilize these stores for your purchase. However, if you’re looking for something a little more distinctive or luxurious, than hitting the mall is nothing more than a waste of time and money.

Rule 2: Never Buy on Impulse

If you’re looking for a remarkable timepiece the last thing you should do is buy on impulse; especially from a retail store. While it’s never a bad idea to try things on, before you buy at the very least pull out your smart phone and search the net for a better price. Ideally, you should ask the salesman for their card and have them write the model number on the back. In most cases, you’ll save about 30% buying online from a trusted source rather than in person at a jewelry store. At the same time, it is not gentlemanly to try on watches at a store just to buy them somewhere else.

Of course,  the physical appearance of a watch is important, but purchasing based solely on aesthetics is a dangerous game to play. While it make look pretty at first, if you don’t take the time to research the movement it could end up being nothing more than a very expensive bracelet.

Before pulling out your credit card to pay, take some time and look into the watch, read reviews and gain more information from other people who have owned that model as well as horologists.

Jean Richard terrascope

Jean Richard terrascope

Rule 3: Make a List

Before deciding on a watch, make a list for yourself detailing your preferences as well as where you plan to wear it, how often and in what scenarios or environments. Determine what your requirements are of the watch and what features you can live without. This will help you to narrow down what it is you’re looking for, and pick a timepiece that will be worth the price you spend. 

CONSIDERATIONS

When looking at a variety of watches, it’s important to understand what makes a quality watch.

Rendez-Vous Tourbillon Wild $136,000

Rendez-Vous Tourbillon Wild $136,000

The Outside

The outer makeup of a timepiece is something that should be taken into consideration when determining a budget, the type of watch and the environment you plan to wear it in.

The Case

This is where your costs can rise like water. I always recommend two things regardless of how much you want to spend. First being to avoid gold plated watches, as the shine never lasts and two, to avoid fake gems or jewels as they almost always look tacky and if improperly placed are sure to fall out.

In addition to those standard rules, it’s also important to take into account how you plan to wear the watch. Consider smaller, simpler cases for a dress watch, avoiding plastics and sticking with durable metals that aren’t bulky or oversized for your wrist. Be sure to ask about the metal used, what it’s quality is and if it’s prone to dings, scratches, abrasions or rust. It’s equally important to ask if it’s mixed with an alloy and if so, what the percentages are. Find out about plating and filling, and don’t be afraid to handle or examine it yourself.

The Dial

If you plan to wear the watch during the day try choosing a lighter face such as whites and creams. Dark dials including black and browns should be saved for evening wear and should be avoided when formal dress codes are in effect. Ask about the materials used in the dial, what the hands are made of and how the dial was assembled. Look for imperfections and try and imagine yourself wearing it in its environment. Will the markers be difficult to see? Will it reflect glare from the sun? Does it match your style and the clothing you wear?

The Crystal

There a few options here but ideally you should always look for a sapphire crystal over mineral or acrylic. If your budget doesn’t allow for sapphire, consider saving a little more or going with the next best option, being mineral.

Vacheron Constantin Florilege

Vacheron Constantin Florilege

Linea Pink Baume Mercier

Linea Pink Baume Mercier

The Band, Strap or Bracelet

When choosing a band, strap or bracelet, consider finer materials for a dress watch such as leather and rugged materials like rubber and metal for sports watches. Ensure that you’re comfortable in the band and make sure it fits and suits the watch if you’ve bought it separately. Because it’s forever being opened and closed, try and pick a band that will withstand wear and tear. Again, it’s important to avoid plated bands as they almost always look cheap after significant use.

The Inside

As the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Here are a few things to ask about and consider when making your purchase.

The Movement

Obviously price has to be a consideration for most people, so try and research the movement as much as you can. Ask about the caliber and don’t settle for short answers. If the jeweler responds with simply “it’s mechanical” that should be a clue he knows very little about the watch. When answering this question, you’re looking for the salesman to tell you who made the movement, where it was made, how it compares to similar movements and what makes it so special. Ask for the model number of the caliber and research it online by typing the caliber into Google and simply hitting enter. This is a must, as you want to make sure that the watch will continue to work seamlessly over time and not breakdown a week after the warranty expires.

Piaget Minute Repeater

Piaget Minute Repeater

The Complications

If your watch does anything more than just tell the time it’s a complication. Be sure to research each function that your watch performs and ask questions about them. Try and determine if you’ll actually use those functions as each add on can significantly impact the price. For whatever reason, chronographs are very popular amongst young professionals, yet a large percentage of those who wear them will never use that function. In fact, about half of them don’t even know what a chronograph is.

Qualifying Questions

One thing I always recommend to inexperienced buyers is to ask qualifying questions to the salesman to ensure you’re not getting screwed around by someone with limited knowledge and experience.

By asking these questions and expecting more than just a quick answer, you can weed out the salesmen only after a quick buck. These questions, when properly asked, can ensure you’re getting the right information from a knowledgable and professional expert.

“Is the entire watch designed and made in-house?”

This question is one you want the answer for in advance. Many watch companies will have other companies manufacture the parts and a third party design it. Very few companies actually produce the watch from design to completion in house. This question will often throw off a novice salesman and his answer will be very easy to confirm online.

“How many jewels does this watch have and what are they made of?”

Most mechanical watches have at least 17 jewels. While even a novice may know the number of jewels, try asking him what they do. This will easily separate the novice from the expert and in most cases will let you know their experience level. Just don’t settle for a number. He should explain that the advantages of the jewel bearings in a mechanical or automatic watch are higher accuracy, a decrease in weight and friction as well as stability in various temperatures without relying on lubrication. If he just knows the number, probe him or ask to speak with someone else.

“Tell me about the movement”

You’re not looking for “mechanical” or “quartz” as the answer. You’re looking for more information. If the watch you’re considering is a Rolex Submariner than you want an answer that explains how the watch may be equipped with a calibre 3135 self-winding mechanical movement. That it’s a certified Swiss chronometer fitted with a parachrom hairspring which makes it more resistant to shocks and temperature variations. If the salesman can’t at least explain that, he’s not worth his salt and you should find someone else to guide you.

To learn more about watch parts, read our extensive watch parts guide.

Frederique Constant Slimline Joaillerie

Frederique Constant Slimline Joaillerie

RESOURCES

There are a variety of reliable and completely unreliable resources available on and off the world wide web. From websites touting Panerai and Tag Heuer as go-to luxury watches to the more ‘educated’ bloggers who will encourage you to consider other brands; here is a short-list of some of the more reliable and informative places to find watch related advice and information both online and off:

Hodinkee.com

Benjamin Clymer has certainly made a name for himself in the watch world. Having written for Esquire, GQ, Men’s Journal, Details, QP Magazine, and several other publications, he created Hodinkee which serves to educate prospective buyers through reviews, articles and in-depth reports on some of the world’s finest timepieces.

aBlogtoWatch.com

Ariel Adams is one of the foremost experts in the watch world. He’s written for Forbes, AskMen and Departures and Centurion, among others. As the owner of aBlogtoWatch, Adams reviews timepieces daily and spends his waking hours helping to educate buyers and prospects.

WatchUSeek.com

An online forum for watch lovers and collectors, Watchuseek is one of the most popular online sites for gathering information on all types of watches. A discussion platform for the enthusiast, it’s an excellent source of information for the owner from the owner. Just be careful to keep an open mind, as not everyone posting is an industry expert.

TimeZone.com

Similar to WatchUSeek, Timezone is a public forum for watch collectors. With forums dedicated to specific types and brands, it’s often easier to navigate for the beginner than WatchUSeek. While it has its own merits, it really is just another resource to check up on the watches you’ve considered for your collection.

AskMen.com

While it’s more entertaining than interesting, Askmen’s Watchsnob is a to-the-point, brutally honest horologist that tells it as it is. While I share a number of his opinions on timepieces, he focuses primarily on the $3,000+ range and really pushes the extraordinarily expensive brands, while criticizing the entry-level market.

Tourneau Watch Books

Tourneau The Watch Books

The Watch Book Giveaway

While there are many great books about watches, the list is far too long. My first recommendation is to read as many books and magazines as you can but my second recommendation is Tourneau’s limited edition, all encompassing book that hit shelves earlier this year. With only 100,000 copies printed, it sells in stores for $150. However, despite the high price tag, it’s a wealth of information on a variety of watchmakers and the timepieces produced by them. At 270 pages, this hardcover book features stunning photography and insight from the watch industry’s foremost experts and is sure to help you find the perfect timepiece. Thanks to Tourneau, Gentleman’s Gazette is pleased to be able to give away 3 of these limited edition hardcopies this holiday season. (Participation is limited to people who reside in the U.S.). Complete this survey to participate and bear in mind that this giveaway is subject to our terms.

Tourneau - The Watch Book

Tourneau – The Watch Book

HOW TO PURCHASE A WATCH

After you’ve researched your watch and made the decision that it’s the right timepiece for you, the next step is sourcing it. While many will tell you that authorized dealers are the only place to shop, I urge you not to listen to them.

Like anything, watches can be found online and for a great deal less than the manufacturers suggested retail price. While purchasing anything expensive online takes a great deal of care and caution, there are a variety of websites that are as trusted as the average brick and mortar jewelry stores.

Top Online Watch Stores

Hublot Minute repeater

Hublot Minute repeater

Girard Perregaux

Girard Perregaux

GemNation.com

An accredited and licensed jeweler, Gemnation is my favorite online store for timepieces. Prices averaging 30% less than the retail stores and a team of well trained and specialized jewelers are what sets them apart from the competition. A trusted seller on JamesEdition, they carry a wide variety of watches from basic Rolex Submariners to Patek Philippe Grand Complications.

Chrono24.com

Chrono24 is a selection of over 200,000 watches sold by 1,000 reputable dealers and thousands of trusted private sellers. It’s an excellent resource for price comparison and a reputable online store.

JamesEdition.com

As the world’s largest luxury marketplace, JamesEdition enables buyers to find exquisite timepieces offered by a select group of professional dealers, that have been chosen for their outstanding inventory and stellar reputations.

Top Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Brand Boutiques

A variety of luxury watch companies have their own flagship stores and boutiques. These can often be found in various luxury markets such as Beverly Hills, Manhattan, Miami and other areas that attract a high net worth clientele. While you won’t save any money at these stores, the benefit to shopping at them is that all of the sales staff will be extensively trained by the brand and specialize exclusively in that particular brand. In addition, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll receive the best possible ongoing service.

Tourneau Storefront

Tourneau Storefront

Tourneau

Tourneau can only be described as holding an unrivaled presence in the retail market. Unlike other jewelry stores, Tourneau specializes exclusively in timepieces and trains each of their staff to exacting standards. With almost forty stores located across the United States, Tourneau is an authorized home to more brands than any other store in the United States.

47th Street, New York City

This isn’t just one store. This is all of them. The most famous street in the world for gray and black market watches, 47th Street dealers are the kinds of guys who you want in your back pocket. This is the kind of place where you walk cautiously and talk in a whisper. Regardless of what kind of watch you want, it’s the men on this street that can get it for you. From limited edition timepieces to one-of-a-kind works of art, they work in conjunction with each other and sell to the highest bidder.

Luxury Shops in Las Vegas

Luxury Shops in Las Vegas

The Shops at Crystal

The Rodeo Drive of Las Vegas, the Shops at Crystals are home to a variety of boutiques such as Tag Heuer, Bvlgari, Cartier and more. If you’re in the market for a piece direct from the manufacturer, this might be the best one-stop-shop next to a visit to Beverly Hills.

Corps of Engineers

Corps of Engineers

Auction Houses

For those interested in vintage and rare timepieces, these auction houses offer the very best in exquisite watches from a variety of makers.

Antiquorum

Dedicated exclusively to watches, Antiquorum is the industry’s leader when it comes to rare and vintage timepieces. With auctions taking place on a regular basis, it becomes a great place to shop if you’re looking for the perfect watch at the best price and often, one can find a watch in the hundreds, rather than the thousands.

Christies and Sothebys

Two well known auction houses, both Christies and Sothebys often parade a catalogue of well known and rare watches for its bidders. While most will be out of the average persons price range, it provides an excellent option for those unable to purchase at full retail price or who want a watch with a story behind it.

CONCLUSION

The fact is that while most people do pay retail prices, it’s not a requirement in todays day and age. With a variety of options available to the consumer, the best way to get a good deal is to take your time and look for it.

Not only will you get the best possible price, but you’ll also get a timepiece that will last generations to come.

To learn more about buying a watch, take a look at all of our articles on watches.

If you would like a personal  consultation for your needs and your budget, you can schedule a personal watch consultation for a flat fee of $200 with our Gentleman’s Gazette watch specialist J.A. Shapira.

7 replies
  1. Teeritz
    Teeritz says:

    Thank God I never had to sell a watch to Oscar Wilde! Nice article, although I can’t agree with all of it.

      • teeritz
        teeritz says:

        I sold wristwatches at an AD for just under thirteen years. In that time, very, very, very few customers wanted to know more about a watch movement other than whether it was mechanical (how many times do I have to shake it?) or quartz (how long does the battery last?).
        Parachrom hairsprings, KIF or Etachoc shock protection, Co-Axial escapement versus lever, it didn’t really matter down at Ground Zero in a watch store. I would often give them some of this information regardless, just to illustrate why a well-made modern Swiss watch is priced the way it is.
        Getting a salesman to write the model number on the back of their business card- I used to do this, knowing full-well that I’d never see the customer again. One lady even said it to me outright; “The problem with watches on the internet is that you can’t try them on”, as she slipped a Reverso onto her wrist.
        Our competitors would write down their internal company barcode number of the watch onto their business cards to prevent customers from going to other stores to compare prices. Dirty pool.

        2. Never Buy on impulse- While I agree with the title, that paragraph sounds contradictory to me because a customer asking for a model number on a card after trying on watches in a store will most likely purchase elsewhere. I would ask some customers; “Get your pricing off the web and then, by all means, come back to see me and I’ll see if I can beat that price.”
        Their response? “What for? I’ll just get it off the ‘net.”

        Regarding ‘mixtures of alloys’, even the brand Sales Reps don’t know this. Although, the Breitling catalogue used to have a great chart which showed the percentage of gold, silver and/or copper used in their Yellow, White and Rose gold models.

        As for watch dials, I would always advocate any colour that the customer preferred, whether worn during the day or at night, but I would always recommend luminous hands because you can be sitting outside a café at 2:oopm on a Saturday afternoon and in a darkened cinema 1 hour later.

        One tip when buying a watch- ALWAYS check yourself out in a full-length mirror, if the store has one. When you put a watch on, all you can see in the periphery of your vision are your knuckles and your elbow, with the watch sitting somewhere in between (hopefully it’ll be closer to your knuckles than your elbow). That’s why it’s important to see how a watch looks in comparison to the REST of you, taking into consideration your height and build. Stand in front of the mirror, cross your arms, relax. How’s it look?

        One more tip- bring a rolled-up magazine with you. Because watches sit on display all day long, they are sitting under halogen lighting for approx. eight hours a day. Roll up the magazine into a tube, slide the watch onto the palm of your hand, and place one end of the magazine over the dial and look through the other end. How’s the lume? Yes, you may look slightly ridiculous, but the salesman will quickly realise that you know your stuff, and you’ll get a very good idea of how strong the luminous markers and hands are.

        And… one more tip- Be polite. It gets you further, and it may mean that the salesperson goes that extra mile or pulls a few strings for you during the transaction or later on if the watch requires warranty work. The flip-side; if you get a rude or snooty salesman, walk away and find another. They do exist, even though this industry attracts snobby sales staff. Being well-mannered to the sales guy or girl means that they’ll happily answer all of your questions and it’ll turn out to be a pleasant transaction for all concerned. It’s win-win.
        I gave the same level of service to 17 year-old guys in knee-ripped Levis that I gave to the pin-striped suit-wearing gentlemen in their Sixties because they were ALL customers.

        I wrote about my time in the watch industry and it can be found on my blog by searching for it, but I’m not here to plug my blog. I merely mention it to show that I actually learned a thing or two during my time selling wristwatches.

        And finally, Oscar Wilde would have been a pain in the @$$ to sell a watch to.

        My God, did I write all THAT?

  2. Vidaren
    Vidaren says:

    This article does not explain what makes a good watch. Asking questions which you do not know the answer to yourself is just pointless. First, educate yourself, THEN go buy a watch…

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Vidaren,
      As pointed out, this is part of a whole series about watches. If we wanted to write one definitive article we, would have 50,000 words. Did you read our other articles yet? I suggest you do that before leaving a comment of that kind.

  3. Dan Moyer
    Dan Moyer says:

    Very good information about what to consider when buying a fine watch. I especially agree with the point of if you ask for what type of movement it includes, and they say mechanical and stop, RUN! Buying a watch, especially one that is considered to be fine jewelry, like Christian Dior watches or Chopard, should be an experience of intelligence of research not impulse. Thanks again for the great compilation of the buying process.

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