When the time comes to sell a watch, the natural instinct is to wonder, “what is my watch worth?” By asking oneself a few basic questions, answering honestly, and conducting a measure of research, it is possible to ascertain an accurate price range for a given make and model of wristwatch. It is important to remember that selling a watch differs from selling a car, although there are key parallels in that better condition, documentation, and market demand will yield better sale results.
Luxury Watch Market Dynamics
Market demand drives the ultimate potential sales value of a watch. While brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe enjoy the most robust name recognition and sustained consumer demand, every brand – no matter how obscure – lays claim to a range of values on the secondary market. When you ask, “what is my watch worth?” first ask, “what is my watch?”
For argument’s sake, let’s say that a collector is planning to sell his Breitling Super Avenger II on a full bracelet in stainless steel. Breitling is a well-known brand, so it will be easy to locate comparable examples of this large sports chronograph on eBay, watch sales portal “chrono24,” forum sales listings, and the commercial websites of pre-owned dealers.
Every watch has a commercial name (e.g., “Super Avenger II) and a reference or catalog number (e.g., “A17371” for a steel Super Avenger II). This basic information can be found either stamped on the case or listed in the original accessory papers that came with the watch. If you have only the brand and model of the watch, try to come as close as you can to a “match” by using these key words on a search engine.
eBay and the watch-specific chrono24 will offer the most listings and, therefore, the most opportunities to find a match for your watch. chrono24, a global listing of watches, is likely to offer more matches for the make and model of your watch. But eBay allows users to view “completed listings” that offer insights into actual transaction prices for watches sold; chrono24 only lists the “asks,” that is, the prices that the sellers hoped to obtain. For that reason, eBay can offer a more precise answer when you ask, “what is my watch worth?”
Sales fora on watch-enthusiast websites and the online storefronts of pre-owned watch dealers can offer additional insights. However, be mindful of the fact that both of these research resources pose the same problem as chrono24; they depict only the asking prices as posed by the (sometimes optimistic) sellers. Moreover, be aware that retail and wholesale prices are quite different, and a dealer is likely to offer a lower (wholesale) value for a watch because a dealer must leave itself pricing headroom to resell the watch; the upsides to a dealer sale include less risk, more trade options, and quicker payment than a private sale to a collector.
Be certain to note patterns that emerge in your research of your watch’s value. Focus closely on your exact variant, because factors such as bracelet or strap status, dial color, and year of manufacture can cause the value of a given unit to rise or fall. Moreover, pay careful attention to the role that limited edition status, precious metals, or co-branding (e.g., “Breitling for Bentley” make or don’t make; often, these factors have surprisingly little impact and create only marginal price premiums in secondary markets.
Part II of this discussion of value will focus on value factors that are unique to an individual watch: mechanical condition, cosmetic condition, and accessory sets.
Watch Condition: Mechanical and Cosmetic
Beyond observable market-based indicators of market demand, the condition and accessory sets specific to your individual watch are key factors in answering the query, “what is my watch worth?” Condition has two components: mechanical and cosmetic.
Mechanical condition pertains to everything from water resistance to timing precision to the correct function of secondary features such as dates, chronographs, and dual-time displays. The greatest indication of the mechanical health of a watch is not timing precision; it is amplitude. Amplitude is the alternating rotation of the balance wheel as measured from stop to stop. This measure often says more about the watch’s need for a service than both a cosmetic inspection and a timing test combined.
If a watch gains fifteen second (bad) per day but offers robust amplitude when tested – 300 degrees is excellent – then a good watchmaker can quickly and easily regulate the watch to keep good time. But a bad amplitude reading such as 220 degrees when fully wound reveals that a full overhaul is necessary, and this will require anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the watch and the cost of service parts. In the case of our hypothetical Breitling Super Avenger II, the cost of a mechanical service could run between $600 and $800 U.S. assuming no additional parts are required. Taking your watch to a local watchmaker for a test of amplitude is an excellent measure that can help you to ascertain, “what is my watch worth?”
Cosmetic condition includes all external features of the watch including crystal, case components, bracelet or strap, and clasp or pin buckle. If the watch has been serviced before, check to see that no damage has been incurred on the dial or hands – a frequent consequence of unqualified service personnel. Scratches generally can be refinished at a minor cost to the current or future owner, but deep dents, chipped or scratched crystals, and bent or loose crown stems often require parts replacement. This, however, is an expensive proposition that will lower the potential value of any watch in need of corrective components. For recent watches like the Breitling Super Avenger II, parts are available but pricey; vintage watch owners may find that parts are nearly impossible to obtain.
Finally, the accessory set included with a watch has a dramatic impact when you seek to answer, “what is my watch worth?” Mass-production of luxury watches in the modern era has glutted the market for many models and brands; the true distinction between the many available examples often becomes the seller’s ability to produce the original factory packaging, accessories, extra bracelet links, warranty and instruction papers, and bill of sale.
The more accessories and documentation a seller can provide, the better his bargaining position; it speaks to the watch’s authenticity, prior owner care, and future value of the timepiece. Due to the innumerable Breitling Super Avenger IIs – among many popular models – on the market, an accessorized “full-set” watch will distinguish itself from the many incomplete-set rivals on the market.
Remember: every watch is subject to a price range, not a single ironclad price. These ranges fluctuate according to many factors including economic and political concerns beyond the scope of this article. However, “what is my watch worth?” isn’t a sphinx’s riddle. By leveraging online resources and asking the right questions about your timepiece, the question of watch value becomes an easier one to answer with confidence.