The Internet appears to have had three major effects on the vintage watch market: firstly, in terms of supply; secondly, in relation to price, and thirdly, it has given parasites and con artists a global platform in which to practise their deceit.
In pre-internet days, the collector’s lot was that of a somewhat nomadic search for elusive timepieces, of countless visits to auction houses and dealerships, of infrequent but heartening ‘finds’ and of time lines extending to many years, or even lifetimes, to build up substantial collections.
These days the legwork has to a large degree been replaced with an ever-changing marketplace of thousands of watches on Ebay alone. The collector’s experience and understanding of supply has been turned upside-down and watches hitherto thought of as rare or hard to find turn up regularly on various Internet auction sites.
It is now possible to assemble large collections in shorter periods of time if your passion is aflame and your coffers are deep. While this may satisfy in the short term the irrepressible obsessions and impulses of avid collectors, I wonder whether it will also gratify prematurely the collector’s appetite for a lifetime of interest and acquisition.
The Internet has also had a significant impact on price. No longer can a few bricks and mortar vintage watches dealers monopolise price structures and quarantine specialist knowledge. The downside of this is that fewer people strike up a relationship with their dealer or watchmaker and instead fly solo on the Internet. However, if newbies land in one of the more respected brand or vintage forums, they will encounter many generous people willing to share their knowledge.
While the on-line auction scene and specialist trading pages of watch forums started off as a platform for connecting wholesalers to retailers, it has ‘matured’ into marketplace where collectors source vintage watches from a pool of suppliers, becoming almost, but not completely, a retail market. Prices are, to a larger extent, determined globally these days.
BLOODSUCKERS GO GLOBAL
The growth of the Internet vintage watch marketplace through on-line auctions and cyber-dealerships has also created a new group of consumers for vintage timepieces. And wherever there are neophytes with money, the slimy underbelly of commerce soon reveals itself.
In on-line watch forums the dissent over shady and dishonest seller practices has risen in concert with a creeping fatalism expressed by seasoned contributors who lament that the villains and shonks of the horological universe will ultimately push the good guys out.
Another common theme to run through many threads in on-line forums is ‘Caveat Emptor’. This is often accompanied with somewhat merciless sentiments like it’s “tough titties" and maybe a useful and salutary experience for newbies to buy a lemon or get ripped off. At least they walk away with a bit more experience - so goes the logic.
Too much emphasis, however, on Caveat Emptor and too little emphasis on blaming, naming and shaming the bloodsuckers who feed off the naiveté of new and often enthusiastic bidders sends the wrong message. When we place a disproportionate onus on buyers, the message we send to the parasites and rip-off merchants is that buyer naivety is a type of crime in itself. In the crooked mind of your average Internet parasite, that may mitigate his or her deceitful and underhanded practices.
Blaming the innocent makes it morally easier for the shonks to go into denial and avoid facing the full import of their deeds. It allows them to escape introspection and get out of facing the fact that they’re navel lint, that they hurt people, and that they’re a blight on the horological landscape.
If you’re new to the game and want to avoid becoming a victim of the swarm of internet parasites that are buzzing around looking for fresh blood, observe the following cautions:
THE NEOPHYTES LIST OF ON-LINE VINTAGE WATCH AUCTION DOS AND DON’TS
- Hazy unfocussed pictures can hide a multitude of sins – only bid or buy from sellers who agree to provide you with quality close-ups. Match those close-ups with what you know are pictures of the genuine article.
- Never buy a watch from someone who can’t or wont provide you with close-ups of the movement, caseback and dial.
- Before you bid, check serial, caliber and caseback numbers to ensure they match to satisfy yourself that you are bidding on an authentic watch.
- Never buy a watch from someone who can’t or won’t provide relevant serial numbers and caseback numbers. If you haven’t got numbers how can you do an authenticity check?
- Ask for the service history of the watch. Unless the seller or dealer expressly says the watch has been serviced, assume that you will have to service the watch as soon as you receive it. Factor that into your bid.
- If you want a vintage watch to look and perform as new, you’re in the wrong market.
- If a vintage watch does look brand shiny new, chances are it’s been seriously re-furbished. Ask the seller to detail exactly what was done. If it’s not to specifications its value will be seriously compromised.
- Never buy a watch that has been offered under a twenty-four hour listing. This is a favourite ploy of scam artists who purloin genuine pics and set up bogus listings.
- Never buy a vintage watch from a Chinese seller who has minimal or no feedback. More fraudulent listings come out of China, than Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries combined.
- Unless you really know what you’re doing, avoid sellers who have little experience in vintage watches. Bid from sellers who have excellent feedback and a strong history of selling watches.
- With vintage watches, be very wary of descriptions like: mint, minty, new-old-stock, brand new-in-box, keeps perfect time, like new, never worn, etc. Instead, go with sellers who detail in their listings specific condition reports and who use clear language to describe the watch.
- Look for ambiguity in listings. If the description can be taken more than one way, assume that the most negative connotation is correct.
- Ask plenty of questions of the seller. Clarify any issues before you bid. Good sellers welcome questions and respond fully to queries. Shonks avoid being tied down and will often be cagey in their replies.
- Avoid sellers who have ‘private’ feedback or who have opted for private bidding. While some sellers do this to avoid fraudulent second chance offers being sent to unsuccessful bidders, it is also conducive to sellers organising what is termed shill bidding: registering another name on on-line auctions and bidding against genuine bidders to inflate the price of the watch.
Desmond Guilfoyle in an award winning commentator on influence, persuasion and charisma. He has written three books on those subjects and his book ‘The Charisma Effect’ has been published in seven languages around the globe. He can be contacted at email@example.com For further articles, tips and information visit his blog at charismacom.blogspot.com/ To remain sane he collects vintage watches, amongst which Omega Constellation watches have a favoured place. His Collectors blog can be found at omega-constellation-collectors.blogspot.com/