Vintage Calling: eBay is the New Hotspot for Collectibles in the Watch WorldBy Bhanu Chopra
Vintage watches, verified and carrying the signs of their age, are at the heart of a recent trend for collectors of valuable timepieces. Antiques have always fascinated us with their air of the romanticized past and their whispers of days gone by. We like to hold the objects from history in our hands and think about the path those things have traveled. It’s no wonder that beautiful and rare watches from long ago have captured the attention of the connoisseurs.
There are plenty of outlets for buying vintage watches, including some of the largest and most prestigious auction houses all over the world. One such hunting ground for the rare and valuable is eBay. There are plenty of stories, relayed in awed tones, of extremely rare timepieces auctioned off by less knowledgeable family members for far less than their value.
Michael Shapiro has a long history of such hunts, combing eBay’s luxury marketplace listings for a glimpse of the undiscovered diamond in the rough. In his three decades of collecting, he’s come across a few exciting finds. Once he came across a Patek Phillipe, Reference 130 chronograph in yellow gold applied Breguet hour markers, and he was hooked. Patek Philippe made approximately 1,500 examples between 1936 to 1964. He was able to verify in a book he happened to have on hand featuring this very timepiece. Provenance doesn’t get much better than that!
Like most collectors, he started small and “traded up” to the more expensive and desirable over time. His next Patek Philippe chronograph purchased on the auction site was a Patek Philippe Reference 1463. It was a stunning stainless steel chronograph with oversized pushers. It was the first water-resistant chronograph to go into regular production, and approximately only 800 of them were produced between 1940 and 1969.
This wasn’t his first foray into collecting vintage watches, so he took a trip to Paris to meet with another collector for a closer look. He learned that the watch belonged to the original owner and was being sold in excellent condition. Despite the large price tag, he made the investment with a light heart and never regretted his decision.
Luxury Watches on eBay
Even without the excellent provenance, Shapiro was able to rest easy in his purchase as eBay takes their vintage watch marketplace very seriously. With the “Authenticity Guarantee” service launched in 2020, each watch sold in the U.S. for more than $2,000 gets some quality time with independent experts. They perform a meticulous inspection and provide a verification that you’re getting just what you expect.
For watches over $10,000, there is an escrow payment option that adds an extra layer of protection until the review can be completed. According to Tirath Kamdar, General Manager of Luxury at eBay, “For 25 years, watches have been one of the top-selling categories on eBay thanks to the marketplace’s unmatched selection of luxury goods. We know trust is paramount among the watch community, and with Authenticity Guarantee and adding escrow payment option for luxury watches, eBay has evolved to give watch customers exactly what they want – incredible selection with an added layer of confidence through authenticity verification by independent experts for their high-valued purchases.”
Expect the Unexpected
For collectors like Shapiro, this peace of mind is invaluable to assuage the fears and doubts introduced by stories of fraudulent sellers haunting the markets. He remembers falling in love with a very rare Patek chronograph, Reference 1463 with Tiffany stamped dial, that was for sale by the son of the original owner. The watch was sold before he was able to satisfy his own rigorous background check, and he was distraught over this “one that got away.”
Months later, the same watch appeared on a listing in Italy and he booked a ticket to get a good, close look before making the decision to buy. It eluded him again, being sold before he could close the deal. Later, he learned the buyers were filing a lawsuit against the Italian seller: according to their investigation, the watch was not authentic.
The careful watch collector can find unexpected success in the vintage markets, and protections like the ones offered by eBay can help to avoid the pitfalls of the less honest sellers. Happy hunting!