Purchasing a pre-owned Rolex online has the potential to appear very daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are great benefits to purchasing online, including no sales tax and unbeatable deals for some of the best luxury watches out there. The one thing that can clear up a lot of your concerns immediately is buying from an independent watch dealer that you trust, where you know there’s no question on condition, fair prices, and that you will be taken care of with reputable customer service.
1. Check their reviews and feedback.
Any legitimate e-commerce company out there is going to make sure to somehow build an online presence of customer reviews. Take the time to Google the company and see what pops up on the first few pages. If nothing solid presents itself, try to narrow down your search or be a little more specific. Look for clues of legitimacy like a social media presence, third-party comments on sites like TrustPilot or iVouch, and recent activity on their website.
Forums: In the case of the Rolex community, there are forums out there like The Rolex Forums where entire threads are devoted to collectors and buyers inquiring or reviewing online Rolex independent companies. While these forums should not to been seen as the end-all-be-all when it comes to information and education about Rolex, they do offer a wonderful resource for real, unbiased people to discuss their experiences in the shifting world of how we shop retail.
eBay: Check and see if they are on eBay. Don’t misunderstand me: there are plenty of scamming and fakes out on this side of the internet, but sites like eBay are a great way to perform more research on a company you are looking into. A lot of resellers in this particular industry use eBay as a marketing tool, so there is a good chance that they have an online store here. Then you can cross-reference the company history, where they are located, and of course, their feedback.
2. How do they describe the watch?
This is an area that you should pay extra special attention to. Obviously. But what I mean is, pay attention to the wording used inside of the description. The watch may be advertised as authentic Rolex in a general sense but the sellers that know what they’re doing will always cover themselves legally. The one single keyword that should always jump out at you:
The word “custom” is a loophole term in this industry, where it blends in so well that most don’t catch it. If this word is used to describe any part of the watch, it means the dial is aftermarket, or fake. If “custom” is used when describing the dial, bezel, bracelet, or clasp: that part is specifically aftermarket. And so on. Also be mindful that sometimes it can be an authentic Rolex dial from the factory but say, diamonds were added by a third-party jeweler, so it is now considered to be a custom dial and therefore, loses its value.
When any part of a watch is described as “custom”, it doesn’t mean that a customer called up Rolex and requested something unique. That service probably does exist out there for heads of state and the like… but just assume that for the watch you are looking at that this is not the case.
3. What is their warranty and return policy?
Why I chose to include this section specifically is to not just encourage you to read the fine print of the seller’s warranty and return policy, but to make sure they even have one since it has now become an industry standard. Let it directly reflect on how the company operates and the quality of the product they are selling.
Some may consider the idea of a warranty as a perk rather than a necessity. In the case of any product from any company you are purchasing from, when they don’t offer some sort of warranty does anyone else get that gut feeling that says, “why wouldn’t they back up what they’re selling?”
In the pre-owned Rolex market, I understand that resellers are not selling a watch that they personally manufactured. However, they are asking you to spend thousands of dollars with their company on a sophisticated piece of machinery. The reason you are looking to buy from a company — instead of just purchasing from Joe on eBay looking to get rid of his watch for some quick cash or from the pawn shop down the street — is because you are depending on them to fully authenticate the Rolex, perform any required service, and provide excellent customer service to bring the whole experience together.
I feel that part of an excellent approach to customer service is providing a warranty. It lets you know that with a mechanical machine like a Rolex, no matter how reliable and wonderful they are, the seller is there to take care of you if and when the little things happen.
When it comes to purchasing a pre-owned Rolex online in regards to a return policy, anything other than a full-money back guarantee would just throw up some red flags for me. Am I right?
4. Do they mind you taking the watch to Rolex?
Now this is a tricky one, I’m sorry to say. Yes, they should absolutely be ok with you taking a watch you purchased from them to Rolex or to an authorized Rolex dealer to have it authenticated and looked over if it would provide you with peace of mind. However, there are a few things that I absolutely recommend if you choose to do so:
- Do NOT tell them you bought it online. You don’t have to lie, but this is something your local jeweler does not need to know. Think of how you would feel if someone came into your store asking you to do them a favor and authenticate this watch that they didn’t buy from you, where you’ve missed out on the profit or the commission. Perhaps you would be searching for dubious ways to acquire them as a customer? It will just help bypass any negative bias that the local store may project onto your Rolex when authenticating it.
- Not every Rolex employee knows everything about Rolex. I can not stress this enough. There is just too much history, too many updates, and just too much information for most of the “sales associates” to learn about Rolex to be an expert. Don’t forget that you may be purchasing a traditional style and they are used to seeing the new models. During my years at Watch Chest, there are things we’d learn everyday! It takes years of being around Rolex day-in and day-out, and even then there are still things to learn.
I’ll share a story with you. A repeat customer of Watch Chest had taken his newly purchased Rolex Day-Date President 18038 into Rolex London to have it checked out, something Watch Chest does not mind anyone doing. With a timepiece of this vintage, however, the sales associate was not aware that the clasp is made of a mixture of yellow gold and copper, which leaves a pinkish tint compared to the rest of the yellow gold watch. She proclaimed it to be aftermarket, sending the gentleman into a small panic, where he immediately called Chris at the Watch Chest offices.
Rightly so, he was angry and frustrated but explained what had happened. Chris asked to speak to the associate, where he asked what made her determine it to be aftermarket. She said there was pink color in the clasp and the links or polishing is nothing like the Day-Date in their store currently. Upon her response, Chris asked the phone to be returned to his customer, where he proceeded to explain the difference between a 18038 from the 1980s and the present-day 118238, the history of the clasp on the President bracelets, and why Rolex made that particular clasp the way they did. (Rolex created a hybrid of the two metals to ensure maximum strength within the clasp.)
It was a simple explanation, but it can definitely ruin the experience for the customer for no reason. How can we expect every sales associate at all the Rolex stores and authorized dealers to know everything there is to know, especially when it comes to a previous model? Of course they will be correct at times and it’s a great way to hold independent watch dealers accountable. The important thing to remember if you take your Rolex to get checked out is to keep in mind the context of your situation.
5. How do their prices compare? Because you get what you pay for.
I’m not just talking about competitive pricing, but are their prices too good to be true? That’s a no brainer, you say, but the truth is a lot of customers call asking why one costs more than a watch that XYZ Company is offering for less.
There’s many factors that play into pricing in the pre-owned Rolex market. Keep in mind that unless you are buying from a regular guy on eBay selling their personal timepiece for whatever they can get, there is an entire market between wholesalers and independent dealers. Granted, that market changes every day because this isn’t MSRP-Land but it is definitely not a garage sale.
You get what you pay for. That phrase could not be more true when it comes to this industry but take that as comforting reassurance. If a company is offering a superior pre-owned product produced by a full operation that includes a top-notch watchmaker, parts, service, associates standing by to provide excellent customer service, Rolex boxes and accessories that bring the whole experience together, and not to mention a warranty to provide you with peace of mind, they are definitely going to have overhead.
However, it is also true that sometimes independent dealers are just in that watch better this time; an exception to the rule. They possibly took it in on trade or the previous owner was unfortunately in a bind and needed some quick cash. In these cases you definitely don’t want to pass up the opportunity to save a couple hundred or even thousands of dollars. This can go both ways as well, because sometimes the seller is just invested in this one too high to give you a better deal.
Authenticity absolutely sets the pricing of a Rolex you are shopping for. If you find that the price is just way too low compared to others similar, more often than not it’s because that dial or diamond bezel is aftermarket. Perhaps the bracelet is fake. It’s usually too good to be true. Don’t forget to look for that keyword “custom.”
The last main factor to pay attention to when comparing prices is that you should make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. Customers have called on a timepiece Watch Chest had, wondering the difference between it and a Rolex “just like it” from someone else who had it priced much lower. Most of the time the customer will be looking at one that is 10 or 20 years older, it has a plain marker dial instead of the diamond dial, or the condition and wear of the bracelet is clearly inferior, where it calls for a price difference. It should never be a problem if you’d like your sales rep to compare another Rolex for you to know that you are comparing an apple to an apple — but this applies to both the Rolex and the company you’re purchasing from.
6. What do their photos tell you?
When it comes to e-commerce, photos are crucial. When it comes to buying a high-priced item where the value is dependent on its authenticity and condition, they are even more important. There is definitely a difference between a professional photography set up within a company and stolen stock photos from either Rolex or another independent watch dealer. In my years at Watch Chest, we were constantly on the look out for others stealing our photos and advertising them as the watch for sale. It happens way more than you think. Every company has their own style and as you look through their inventory it will become fairly apparent to you. Use your common sense but here’s a few tips on what to look out for:
- Do the photos look like they are promotional stock photography copied and pasted from Rolex? Then it’s probably because they are.
- If you are new to Rolex, spotting discrepancies between the description and the photos may be difficult for you at first. Sometimes it’s a simple data-entry mistake when a company is handling a lot of inventory, but I’ve seen sellers out there who consistently advertise, for instance, a Lady-Datejust 79174 with the correct price but show an entire set of photos of a new-style 179174. There is significant difference between the two updates! So if you are unsure or want to do your due diligence as you’re checking into a new company, just pop open a new tab and Google the reference numbers to do a quick cross-reference.
Choosing the right online independent watch dealer is the key to an enjoyable experience when purchasing such high-end and expensive products. Doing a little research, paying attention to how they describe the watch or the photos they use, and reading into their services and how they treat you will help make this a much smoother process. Not only will you have peace of mind, but it will also set you up with a great Rolex resource for life.