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.

SUPPLY

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.

PRICE

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

  • Be unafraid to place the onus back on a seller to accurately and precisely describe the goods they have on offer. Ignorance on the part of a seller is no defence against a seller's legal obligation in most countries to accurately present the merchandise they sell.

  • Take the Caveat Emptor apologists at their word. Beware of all on-line sellers. Assume they are all crooks until you have proven conclusively to yourself that they are not. Feedback scores alone are not enough to determine legitimacy. Until you build your knowledge, assume that a seller is only as reliable and honest as the integrity of the watch they're selling now.

  • There are indeed good on-line sellers who describe in detail the features of a watch and who also detail accurately what they have done to bring a watch up to standard. Keep them in your 'favourites' list and follow their auctions to gain an idea of reasonable value.

  • 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. Make sure the right 'stampings' appear on the movement and case.

  • 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?

  • Make sure that critical information about the watch is in writing. Often shonksters say "Look at the pics". This is often a tactic to escape legal responsibility, or in the case of eBay, the pitiful 'rules of engagement' it has established to regulate seller behaviour and protect buyers.

  • Make it a practice to email vendors and ask specific questions about the 'authenticity' of the watch. One practice worth following is to email the seller the following question (particularly if you have doubts about the watch), "Can you please confirm that this watch meets fully the factory specifications for case, dial and movement for this specific model and that the dial, movement and case left the factory together as one unit?" For authentic Constellations, the seller will have no difficulty is answering in the affirmative.

  • 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.

  • Initially, until you have built up knowledge and expertise, go for quality and authenticity over a 'bargain'. Often a bargain is simply a 'dog' that experienced collectors won't touch.

  • 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, India, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries combined. Be very skeptical when considering offerings from any of the countries listed in this pointer.

  • 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 a favourite ploy of sellers who set up what is termed 'shill bidding' - registering another name on on-line auctions and bidding against genuine bidders to inflate the price of the watch.

  • Never, repeat, never, bid in the early phases of on-line auctions. This can often have the effect of starting a bidding war. Follow the auction to see bid movement. Don't use the bidding mechanism on any of the on-line auction sites at all unless you wish to activate a 'Buy it Now' or 'Best Offer' bid. Instead, use one of the sniping services that bid in the last 7 - 10 seconds of an auction.

  • By using a sniping service you play your hand at the end of the auction. Most importantly, it allows you to decide rationally how much you are willing to pay for a watch (given your research) and then to enter that amount as your maximum bid. Sniping services can be found by Googling 'snipe' or 'sniper'.

Over time, if you build knowledge and expertise you can short-circuit some of the pointers given above. But, remember, even the most experienced of collectors can be taken for a ride.....and it's usually when they opted not to follow their own advice.


19 comments:

  1. tim mackrain7:17 am

    Why such a bleak outlook on things?

    It would seem to me this information if taken at face value with no other reserch could in fact be a " blurry picture" itself.
    There are many places that you will not have the opportunity to see any numbers.Many on line sellers can not take off the back and do not know history .Same thing with many stores and allmost allways the case with any auction you may attend.The very first constellation I purchased was at auction with no information and turned out to be all original,mint condition movement.This was also the day I set out to be a watchmaker.That one purchase changed my life.
    If you buy only watches with all the information you seek you will pass on many great watches.

    While I do agree with some of the things you have listed I believe there is so much more to the story.

    I also believe the internet can be a place with less than honest sellers but can as well be the safest place to buy.
    I recommend a good old fasioned phone call to a seller,an e-mail can end end up not getting the infromation you seek.While a phone call can quickly go down many roads an e-mail would not.The call can also give you a good or bad "feeling" about a seller and what they know.
    Regards
    O_A

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not so bleak Tim as assuming that on-line auctions are populated entirely with paragons of virtue.

    You were one of the lucky ones to purchase your first watch and get a real find....at auction.

    My advice on this post is for newbies - start smart is the basic advice, and as one gathers collecting experience and knowledge and can 'talk the talk' that is the time to be bolder.

    Agree completely with the phone call and I know you offer that service. It's a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  3. CT1112712:00 pm

    Hi Desmond,

    I am poised to buy a vintage Constellation on ebay right now, and am waiting for the seller to reply to several of the above questions. Thus far, he has responded to one question. He seems to have limited English and appears to be slow in responding. I have asked him to provide the serial number by either adding a pic of the movement where the serial number is clearly visible or giving me the serial number via email. Once he provides the serial number (if he does), what is the best way to expedite the process of matching it with the case number and movement?

    Many thanks,

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Chris

    Check it off against a post on the blog called "Easy Find Calibre case Matcher" and also have a look at the Constellation Authenticity Checklist under Omega Constellation Diagnostics.

    An y problems, click on about me and click on the email icon.

    Cheers

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  5. CT111272:10 pm

    Okay, many thanks. Will do.

    Best, Chris

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Desmond,

    Do you think this might be one of your frankophiles?
    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/310307816919#ht_2231wt_907

    Best wishes,
    jimmy

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi again Desmond,

    Do you ever sell connis, i'm a novice collector from London, and coincidentally, my girlfriend is from Perth.

    jimmy

    ReplyDelete
  8. On occasions I do Jimmy, but am not thinning out my collection at the moment.

    Cheers

    Desmond

    Ps count it as a special privilege for having a girlfriend from Perth :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Jimmy - it's certainly a wonky dial. No surround and redialled in black. Movement looks a tad bitsy too!

    Cheers

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  10. HI Desmond,

    I'm afraid that it's taken me over a year to get back to (only just noticed the post) and since then, have collected a few more Connis, and hopefully less of novice. I end to my first watch fair last week....
    Oh, and by the way, my girlfriend from Perth is now my Fiance.

    best,
    Jimmy

    ReplyDelete
  11. Now that's good news! Congrats.

    And happy collecting

    Cheers

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous4:36 am

    I was about to buy a stainless steel "1960's" constellation online when I first read this blog. I researched the numbers on the caseback and they are from a 1972 constellation. The seller would not answer the question posted above "Can you please confirm that this watch meets fully the factory specifications for case, dial and movement for this specific model and that the dial, movement and case left the factory together as one unit?" He said there was no way to know this and that all replacement parts are Omega. My question is, what is the watch worth if it is not 100% authentic? He posted it for $1,699; I got him down to $1450 before I knew the back wasn't even from the 60's. The watch looks in pristine shape, but not sure its worth paying that much if I can get a better one for less somewhere else. Any advice?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds to me that the recommended question to the seller hit the mark. In respect to "meeting fully the factory specificiations", he can certainly answer that one....with a negative, and he probably knows it. A 70s case back on a 60s watch makes it a frankenwatch, and it depends on how much more substitution has gone on as to whether the watch is irredeemable.

      The second part of the question can be answered in many cases, as it depends on how many times around the block the watch has gone. Many pieces, in fact most of my collection for example, come with some sort of provenance: receipts, papers, a sell off of parents' watches by children, sell-offs by aging owners etc, etc.

      For $1450.00 I would certainly want some assurances on the authenticity of the piece. In respect to what it's worth as-is, you need to be assured that the dial is not fake (fake dials are circulating for pie pans particularly) and that the signature parts are all present. Failing that, I would say the watch is worth only parts value.

      Regards

      Desmond

      Delete
  13. Anonymous8:27 am

    Thank you for the info, it is very helpful. Do you have any dealers you would recommend going through. Obviously I do not trust this one. Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hmmm, I'm wary about recommendations as I truly believe that a dealer is only as good as the watch s/he is selling at the time. So once the watch has been evaluated, then you need to explore the bona fides of the dealer.

    If both the watch and the dealer come up smelling like roses, that's the time to do the deal.

    Regards

    Desmond

    ReplyDelete
  15. Desmond, about 10 years ago I bought a vintage Constellation from a friend who was a jeweler of many, many years. He wore the watch himself on occasions. He had purchased it from an estate sale. I'm unable to remove the back without the proper tools, so don't have record of serial numbers, etc, but am quite convinced it is 100% authentic and unmolested. I recently have become interested in wearing it again myself and am wondering if you can provide me some insights.
    It is gold capped, snap-on back, "Swiss" under the 6 o'clock, guilloche dial, decagonal crown. In particular, I'm wondering about the dial: it appears to intentionally have been created as two-tone, and the hour markers have numbers at the 12, 3, 6, 9 positions, luminous hands. I haven't come across this particular combination in any reading I've done here or elsewhere on the web, but infer from your blog that many, many combinations and apparent inconsistencies were possible.
    I've included a link to a few pictures taken in bright sunlight, which doesn't accurately represent the quality of its condition. The dial is in very, very good condition; the small "spider web"-type anomolies in the pictures are just shadows from slight scratches in the crystal. The bezel is in very good condition; the harsh light really highlighter finger grease, etc.
    Any comments you have about my piece would be appreciated.

    Pictures are here, shared on my MS Onedrive:
    http://1drv.ms/XAiIRX

    Regards,
    Phil in Toronto

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Phill,

      Looks to me like a cal 354 model 2782 Constelllation. Guilloche dial is correct and has become more "two tone" as the years have elapsed.

      Markers are not uncommon for these models with the arabic numerals at the quarter hours.

      I think you have a very attractive piece. While the bezel shows signs of considerable wrist time (patina) the lugs are quite sharp. The bumper cal 354 is a wonderfully robust movement, and serviced every four to five years will last longer that both of us. Crowns for this model are still available.

      I would source a professional and independent watchmaker who knows his way around vintage Omegas as ask for the movement to be dis-assembled cleaned and oiled. A replacement crown and case back gasket will increase dust and water resistance. I wouldnt polish the watch, but would have the crystal polished.

      I would avoid an official Omega service agent as they will probably want to send the watch to Bienne for an expensive and, in my experience, unsympathetic.
      service.

      You have a lovely piece with character and a great movment.

      Cheers

      Desmond

      Delete
  16. Just found your blog and read "THE NEOPHYTES LIST OF ON-LINE VINTAGE WATCH AUCTION DOS AND DON’TS"
    Thank you for sharing you knowledge and love of watches with me.
    Bill Handy in Los Angeles

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome Bill

      Cheers Desmond

      Delete