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A Noobs Guide to Buying Your First Luxury Watch

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A Rolex GMT can be found for $4000 on the pre-owned market

For N00bs buying a first “real” quality Swiss luxury watch is complicated. Similar to buying a car, there are numerous models and features and styles and sizes that are more confusing than meaningful. If you are thinking of making the plunge, congratulations! Many watch wearers do not get to the point of considering a mid-range (>$4000 US) Swiss timepiece because they “settled” for a homage watch (“homage” is a polite term for fake or knock-off watch), or a plastic multifunction battery powered watch. Saving your pennies for an actual Swiss mid-range watch is better than owning multiple knock-off because every time you strap it on, you know that it does not have the quality, durability, pedigree, and provenance of a fine Swiss watch.

What to Consider

There are some areas to consider when looking for a fine Swiss Timepiece less than $4000 (US):

Sport or Dress:

First thing to narrow down is whether you want a dress or sport watch. Many consider a “nice” watch as a dress watch. When your mom says get a nice watch, she is not thinking of a diver, chronograph, GMT, or mechanical multifunction watch. Quality Swiss watches also include a variety of masculine sport and multifunction timepieces. Examine your lifestyle, then select a watch to match it. James Bond got away with a Submariner and a Suit, despite what the fashion purists say. Narrowing down the choice of getting a dress or sport watch will also determine the size of the watch; classical dress watches tend to be smaller whereas sport watches tend to be larger. Just be sure not to get a watch so large that the lugs are wider than your wrist.

Manufacture Movement

The next choice is whether to pick a brand that uses its own movement, or a movement by another company such as ETA. Watches below $4000 typically have a movement manufactured by ETA, a company owned by the Swatch Group who makes movements used by numerous watch companies. ETA movements come in four quality levels:

EC – Economique (nickel plated with Etachoc shock protection)
ST – Standard (regulated in two positions)
Mean daily rate +/- 12 s/d
Max variation across 5 positions: 30 s
Isochronism (rate after 24H running compared to full wind): +/- 20 s/d
EL – Elaboré (regulated in three positions)
Mean daily rate +/- 7 s/d
Max variation across 5 positions: 20 s
Isochronism: +/- 15 s/d
T-Top (regulated in five positions) and COSC certifiable
Mean daily rate +/- 4 s/d
Max variation across 5 positions: 15 s
Isochronism: +/- 10 s/d

ETA are easily repairable and most watchmakers trained on ETA movements. Be sure to ascertain what quality level the ETA movement is in the watch you are considering as many manufacturers will try to pass off an ETA EC or ST movement inside a $4000 watch.

The other option is to zero in on a brand who manufactures their own movement in house. Not too many brands in the $4000 price range will have manufacturer, but a pre-owned Rolex certainly falls in the $4000 range.

Resale

Like cars, most watches automatically depreciate 50% off retail the moment you walk out of the dealer’s door. Rolex tends to keep its retail purchase price over the years because Rolex has continual price increases and their style is consistent. Other watch brands drop to 50% and stay there. Resale value translates into trade-in value when another Swiss timepiece speaks to you in a few years. Fortunately, all Beckertime watches come with a lifetime trade-up guarantee.

Dealer / Dealer Network

Lastly, the brand and dealer network are important. Mechanical watches require service every three (IWC) to seven (Rolex) to 10 (Omega co-axial) years and a good dealer who has access to either the manufacturer service center, or a watchmaker who has access to your brands parts is important. Unfortunately, there are not parts warehouses or parts networks as developed as the auto industry. Picking a reputable brand with a service center in the United States (or your home country) is crucial for keeping your Swiss timepiece lasting longer than the owner.

Answering these questions first will help you narrow down the type and brand and cut through the smoke and mirrors that are all too common in the watch industry.

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