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When a hobby becomes a source of frustration, it’s time to rethink the idea of value

Our watch editor discusses the trials of securing a coveted timepiece.

Who would pay such crazy premiums for watches? A friend with a casual interest in timepieces used to ask me this question whenever we talked about the astronomical prices of the most sought-after models on the secondary market.

Recently, I met a watch enthusiast (we’ll call him X) who shared that he had paid a premium for several pieces in his collection. Having arrived late to the collecting game, he did not want to waste time being on years-long waitlists for the popular luxury sports timepieces he wanted. With a laugh, he shared, “I want to collect them all, and I see no point in queuing just to get them. Instead of having to wait and ‘beg’ retailers for them, my thinking now is that I might as well pay more for something on the pre-owned market if I like it.”

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Before the pandemic, the waiting time for certain coveted timepieces was already considerable. Some brands do not even talk about “waitlists” these days because the term suggests that you will eventually get what you want if you wait long enough – and that is simply no longer the case.

It’s a situation that has gotten even more intense, with the uncertainty of the times seeming to have increased the number of watch buyers who would rather spend their money on the few models that are solid investment pieces. I recently visited the boutique of a watchmaker whose pre-owned timepieces can fetch several times their original prices – and there were just three watches available for sale in the sizeable store.

As many watch enthusiasts know, if you want to get some sought-after timepieces, the only alternative to paying way above retail price on the secondary market is to establish a solid buying history with a brand or a retailer. This means you have to first buy watches from a retailer’s less popular brands or if you’re dealing with one brand, its less popular models.

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Even though he has several pre-owned pieces, X has also built such a relationship with one retailer and notes that he would prefer taking the latter route if he truly likes those less popular watches as well. He says, “If I’m going to pay so much more for one pre-owned watch, I might as well pay the same amount and get two watches.” The problem arises when he is simply not interested in a brand’s less popular models, and buying them would be a waste of money (not to mention an injustice to those watches). I’m glad to say that he has never bought a watch he didn’t like just to get the chance to buy one that he does.

To me, the focus on a handful of hyped watches is unfortunate simply because so many other great brands and watches are being bypassed. Yes, it would be nice if all our timepieces rose in monetary value after we walked out of the shops with them, but the truth is that the opposite happens for most watches. Mechanical watches, however, have survived for so long – even in an age of cheaper, far more accurate quartz models – because they are also emotionally charged objects. Thankfully, many people still buy what they love instead of what they think will command a higher price in the future. Value, in its fullest sense, is not just about money.

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