There’s nothing like the thrill of finding a beautiful watch — until you realize it’s not worth what you think it is. Even if you’re well-versed in the world of luxury timepieces, estimating your watch’s value can be tricky.
This guide will help take some of the guesswork out of determining your watch’s value, which will come especially handy if you’re looking to resell your timepiece.
Determining your watch’s value
Your knowledge of your watch and its particulars are key to researching its value. If you know only cursory information, this complicates things. Much like determining the value of a used car, you need to know certain information about your timepiece to even start researching what your watch is currently worth. Use the following to help you gather this information:
✓ Box and papers
✓ Brand and reference number
✓ Watch archives
If you have the box and papers
Your job is made much easier if you have the original box and paperwork that it came in. A wealth of information can be found here. The original box, the manual, and even the bill-of-sale can give you a quick identification to work with.
If your watch came with a certificate of origin or even warranty papers, and they were filled out correctly, there’s another source of information to start this process. Using the information above, you can search the brand website, or various reputable retailer websites and determine the average value of the specific model you have, and also see if your watch has appreciated in value since it was purchased.
However, if you no longer possess these items, you’re going to have to pursue alternative methods.
If you know the brand and reference number
You can also track down the brand and reference number. With this information, a quick online search can help determine its value rather quickly. Any alpha or numeric combination that’s engraved on the watch’s case will prove very helpful in these circumstances to help you narrow down your search results.
For instance, a handful of brands like Panerai, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet used sequential serial numbers to aid in dating their watches. For Rolex in particular, you can rely on our Rolex Serial Numbers and Reference Guide. For Panerai, check out our Panerai Watches Ultimate Guide.
Using watch archives
Unfortunately, most watch brands abandoned sequential serial numbering systems a long time ago, making dating a watch that isn’t from a particular handful of brands far more difficult. In most cases when trying to match a serial number to a production date requires the watchmaker themselves as they’re the only ones who have access to this data.
Contacting the brand owner can provide you with what’s called an “archive extract” which usually contains simple information like the model, production date – and if it’s an older, vintage watch – the reference number. This archive information not only gives you what you need to establish the value of your watch, but it provides a “manufacturer’s pedigree” which is especially valuable if you have a watch that’s undocumented (more on that later).
Having the watch appraised
The final option is to have your watch appraised by the manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers.
If you have an older watch, it is a good idea to get it appraised. A professional will be able to tell you if the value of your watch has depreciated or increased in value over time, and they can let you know if there are any problems with your watch that might affect its overall value. They may also be able to advise on how much money would need to be spent repairing any damage done to the parts and internal workings of the timepiece. If there is no damage, this process could help identify potential problems before they happen — which would ultimately save you money!
What factors affect your watch’s value
Brand and model: Certain watches are more valuable than others because of their popularity, heritage, and materials. A Rolex Submariner, for example, is worth at least $8,950 whereas a Tag Heuer Aquaracer, which has the same level of water resistance, is priced at at least $3,200.
Mechanics and movement (complications): The types of movement, whether mechanical, automatic, or quartz will significantly change the value of your watch.
Age and condition: Whether it was made 30 years ago or three months ago can be an important factor in determining how much your watch is worth. While newer watches are generally priced higher due to their condition, certain older items (such as Rolex Daytona models) tend to be more valuable than newer ones because there were fewer produced initially.
Brand and model
One of the most important factors in determining the value of a watch is its brand and model. The brand is usually determined by the name on your watch, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell what brand a watch belongs to unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.
In some cases, like Rolex watches and Breitling Navitimers, it’s easy to identify their brands by sight alone — but not all brands are as distinctive in design or appearance as these two examples.
That said, if you do have a luxury watch, then you would be more or less familiar with which brands have higher value. Three brands are considered the pinnacle or Holy Trinity of watchmaking – Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet. Outside of these three brands, Rolex, Omega, Cartier and Breitling are the most popular.
These brands in general have a higher resale value than others:
Aside from the brand, the type of model you have will also determine its value – more sophisticated calibers and features will drive its price up.
Mechanics and movement (complications)
A mechanical watch uses the power of a wound spring to function, while a quartz watch uses a battery. Mechanical watches are considered more valuable because they are more difficult to make and require more craftsmanship.
Quartz watches are often referred to as “digital” or “electronic” watches. They have very few moving parts and use electricity from a battery as opposed to a wind-up mainspring (the internal mechanism that powers mechanical watches).
Watch complications and embellishments add to the inherent value of the timepiece. Green dial watches from Breitling and Rolex.
Complications refer to additional features added on top of telling time like date displays and moon phase indicators. A complication may also be referred to for its usefulness like chronographs (stopwatch) and tachymeter scales on the bezel that can aid in determining speed over distance. Complications add value to your timepiece because they’re not included in most mass-produced quartz models but can be found on high-end automatics made by luxury brands such as Rolex or Patek Philippe.
Age and condition
As with any watch, its condition is paramount to determining its price.
If your watch was bought brand new but has not been maintained or regularly serviced, then its value will dip. Reversely, a vintage watch that has been maintained or kept in pristine condition, will hold its value better.
Additionally, some watches are known as “evergreens” because they’re still popular today: Rolex Submariners and Tag Heuer Monaco come to mind as examples of these classics. These models typically hold their value well over time — even when new editions are released every year or two!
Keeping your watch in good condition will help preserve its resale value.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15500ST and 15000ST Steel Watches
On the other hand, your watch will be worth less if it’s been damaged or repaired in any way — whether by accident or on purpose — and while this doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t worth anything at all, it means there’s less money available for resale purposes versus other models without these issues.
Inclusions (box and papers)
The box and papers that come with the timepiece are an important consideration when determining the value of a watch. When you buy a watch make sure to save these items and keep them in the best possible condition.
While it’s true that some resale sites like eBay do have extremely high prices for watches with boxes and papers, those boxes and papers may be fake or damaged beyond repair. Having the original box and paperwork can give a significant boost to the value of the watch itself.
So, how much is your watch worth?
Remember that many factors go into determining the value of a watch, so if you don’t have all the information, don’t worry! Take some time to figure out what information is missing before deciding whether it makes sense for you to sell or trade right now. If you’re ready to sell or trade and have an idea about what your watch might be worth, head over to SwissWatchExpo.com and our watch experts would be happy to assist you.