If you’re a luxury watch collector, you may be struggling to bulk out your collection because of budgetary reasons. But you don’t have to head to a jewelry store or trawl eBay to find a new timepiece. Instead, you can try to strike it lucky at your local thrift store — as one Reddit user did when they scored a $700 Movado watch for just $15.
Admittedly, u/bobosdreams found a women’s watch, but there’s no reason you couldn’t snag watches for men this way, if those are more your thing. To top it off, the watch the Redditor found appears to be brand new, so there are no parts to replace or rough points to correct.
Thrift stores and second-hand shops will usually have a jewelry section, and these are always worth a browse if you’re keen to spot a bargain. You may have more luck at a thrift store, which tends to have part-time staff who have to deal with a wide range of items, than secondhand stores that may specialize in antiques and jewelry — but it’s still worth checking if you’re passing a store with time to kill.
You should also browse beyond the jewelry box, as the Movado in question was hidden away in the tool section of the thrift store. You shouldn’t purely limit yourself to traditional stores either, as there are plenty of bargains to be found elsewhere.
While a thrift store can be a great place to score a vintage watch, there are other areas where you can find a potential bargain. Estate sales are common in the U.S., and they tend to occur following a death or relocation. They’re basically a “closing down” sale for a private home, as whoever is in charge of the estate wants to turn a house full of items into a stack of liquid cash as quickly as possible.
Sometimes high-value items (which often include watches) are spotted and removed so they can be handed over to the family. They are then kept or sold separately. However, this isn’t always the case. In some cases, the person managing the sale may recognize “Rolex” but not know much about watches beyond the name of the world’s most successful watch brand. So, a Grand Seiko may be priced like a regular Seiko, or an Omega may find itself on a table alongside a Timex.
There’s also a chance things could be placed into lots, and a box of random watches may include a hidden gem. The reported finds aren’t just limited to Movado watches, as one Reddit user managed to pluck a vintage Seamaster from an estate sale back in 2022. The watch admittedly needed a little work, but you’re looking at something that could fetch a few thousand dollars getting nabbed for $10.
While a lucky find can be worth thousands, there are also plenty of fakes out there — and fakes are totally worthless. If you do spot a Rolex or a Patek Philipe, then there’s a fair chance you’re looking at a fake.
Older and cheaper fakes are pretty easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. With the exception of the Oysterquartz (which will say Oysterquartz on the dial), Rolex doesn’t do quartz movements. If you find a real Oysterquartz, you can flip it for five figures.
If it’s another common Rolex, like a Datejust, Seamaster, or Oyster Perpetual, and it’s a battery-powered version, then you’re looking at a counterfeit. If the watch is running and has a specific “tick, tick, tick” motion, then it’s a quartz. This is similar to if you hold it up to your ear and the mechanisms of a manual or automatic watch have a distinct sound. With some exceptions, Rolex watches usually come with plain backs. Many fakes have a few stamps that aim to add authenticity, but that actually does the opposite.
Another sign of a fake luxury watch includes a poor-quality finish. Edges won’t be smoothed, things may be misaligned, materials will be cheaper, and dial details may be off. If you can open the watch and check the correct movement is present, then that’s a good indicator that you have a genuine item. Examining the movement was how the Movado buyer above verified their find. Spotting plastic inside the watch isn’t an indicator that it’s a fake. Sure, brands like Rolex pride themselves on not using plastic, but Omega, Movado, and more will have plastic or certain resins inside some models.
“Superfakes” that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing do exist, and you’ll need an expert to help you out in that case. Many vintage pieces tend to be spared this, but popular men’s watches like the Seamaster, Submariner, Daytona, and Nautilus have their share of high-quality clones. If a fake isn’t obvious, and the price is right, you can take a gamble on it — but be aware there is a risk.
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