Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Buy a Pre-Owned Watch

If you’ve paid any attention to the secondary watch market over the past few years, you probably know that the spring of 2022 was when things hit peak insanity.

Popular steel sport models such as the recently discontinued Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711, the Rolex Daytona and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, all icons of the industry, got swept up in a pandemic-induced speculative frenzy that saw prices skyrocket to three, four, even five times their retail value. At the time, buying a pre-owned watch from a popular watch brand was untenable for all but the most investment-minded buyers.

Since then, the market has returned to its pre-hype equilibrium, say dealers. “There’s much more interest, many more watches, much more movement, and prices have come down on average,” says Giovanni Prigigallo, co-founder of EveryWatch, a new pricing database for timepieces on the secondary market. “It’s a very lively market. And it’s a buyer’s market.”

EveryWatch relies on an A.I.-powered database that aggregates information from more than 300 auction houses and 180+ marketplaces and dealers around the globe. That’s another way of saying there are scores of opportunities, both physical and digital, to buy a pre-owned watch.

Where to begin? 

Start by identifying what kind of used watch you want. Pre-owned is a blanket term that encapsulates all kinds of secondhand watches, including antique timepieces, referring to wristwatches and pocket watches that are at least 100 years old; vintage watches ranging from delicate 1920s ladies’ pieces to midcentury watches from brands that no longer exist; “neo-vintage” watches, a term for timepieces produced in the 1980s and 1990s; and modern watches made as recently as last year.

Next, cruise through the listings on an online marketplace such as Chrono24 to get a feel for what’s available and how prices are trending. If you’re a brick-and-mortar stalwart who wants the option of seeing a watch in the metal and on the wrist, a local retail jeweler committed to the pre-owned category — such as Oliver Smith Jeweler,with stores in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Aspen, Colo. — is an excellent resource.

But there are plenty of well-regarded pre-owned dealers online. They include: SwissWatchExpo, a family business headquartered in Atlanta; Crown & Caliber, which was acquired in 2021 by the watch media platform Hodinkee; Analog:Shift, a New York City dealer that now belongs to the retail chain Watches of Switzerland Group; Watchfinder & Co., an online pre-owned dealership founded in 2002 and acquired in 2018 by Compagnie Financière Richemont (owner of 11 luxury watchmakers, including Cartier, IWC and Panerai); and WatchBox, a division of the 1916 Company.

Cartier Ballon Bleu, $5,700
Crown & Caliber pre-owned Cartier Ballon Bleu watch, $5,700

Don’t overlook the auction world, including both small but prestigious digital sites such as Loupe This, or big historic players like Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. Sure, they traffic in some of the rarest and most expensive watches in the pre-owned universe, and tack on fees that can add thousands of dollars to a watch purchase, but they’re also home to scores of hidden gems — especially if you’re looking at regional auctioneers such as Doyle, in New York; Heritage Auctions, in Dallas; Clars Auction Gallery, in San Francisco; Ineichen Auctioneers, in Zurich; Skinner, in Boston; and Bukowskis, in Stockholm.

Rolex's Pre-Owned Play

We’d be remiss in not mentioning that the pre-owned market has long been dominated by third-party buyers and sellers with no official ties to the brands they’re selling. That changed in a dramatic way in December 2022 when Rolex, the unequivocal market leader (in 2023, the privately-owned, Geneva-based brand is thought to have grown its share of the primary market to more than 30 percent), announced that it was introducing a certified pre-owned (CPO) program for secondhand Rolex watches that have been inspected, refurbished and met the company’s minimum standards. 

Now available through the brand’s authorized dealers, such as Bucherer and Watches of Switzerland, CPO Rolex models tend to be costlier than their counterparts on third- party platforms. Some buyers are willing to pay that premium in exchange for Rolex’s stamp of approval, and some aren’t. But virtually everyone agrees that Rolex’s embrace of CPO has further legitimized a category that, a decade ago, was still nascent.

As you hunt for the watch that’s right for you, don’t be afraid to embrace your personal style preferences. At the height of the speculative frenzy, buyers only had eyes for steel sport watches, such as the models cited at the start of this article. Today, however,“there’s been a bigger pull away from the hotter or more common watches,” Eugene Tutunikov, CEO of SwissWatchExpo, tells Gem + Jewel. “People want to express their individuality.”

Top: Analog:Shift pre-owned Breitling Superocean Heritage B20 watch, $3,100