Watch Trading
Credit: Leonardo Solis

While it’s true that watches should be worn and enjoyed, when they start to spend more time sitting in a drawer than resting on your wrist, it’s probably time (pun intended) to move on. Still, trading an exceptional luxury timepiece like it's an old baseball card isn’t for everyone. But for those astute—and shrewd—enough to part with their favorite piece, or gamble their investments as they would stocks in a bear market, the adrenaline rush can be like no other.

"Watches are luxury items any way you look at it," explains Leonardo Solis, a 45-year-old Boston-based real estate investor, owner of International Guest House Inc., and avid watchaholic who buys and trades in luxury timepieces. "Our iPhones keep better time than any mechanical watch ever will, so you have to accept that you will be putting your hard-earned money on the line. But start small, and, as you grow financially, you can put some of your cash into bigger pieces, or more watches if that is the way you want to go." 

However, unlike Hollywood marriages, watch trading doesn’t always have to aspire upward—even if a majority of experts disagree. “Beauty doesn’t always have to come at a higher price," Solis advises. “It’s not about always going bigger—just newer and more interesting.” With that in mind, Solis gave us a few tips on how to navigate the world of watch trading.

Trade Smart:

With watch trading, research is everything. There are online groups of watch enthusiasts throughout the U.S. that you can join, ask questions, or simply observe; these forums are a great way to gain knowledge. Educate yourself about the market—i.e. what other people are selling watches for and what makes sense for you at the time. The most important factor is knowing what your watch is worth and what the watch you're looking to trade is going for.

Know What's Hot:

Three brands have risen to the top of the totem pole of desirability for traders: Roger Dubuis, which started off shakily but is now making great strides to produce special and complicated watches that are all Poinçon de Genève sealed; A. Lange & Söhne, already one of the world’s top watch brands that commands the attention of competitors like Patek Philippe, but which still has room to stretch its legs; and F.P. Journe, which makes all their watches and movements in-house while remaining consistent with their design and product offerings.

Learn the Markets:

When it's time for the actual trade, there are generally two options: retail and aftermarket, also known as the “grey market.” One offers you a watch at what the brand thinks it’s worth (retail), the other offers you the same watch at what the market thinks it’s worth. If you are looking to protect your wallet you may want to dwell in the grey market—although new timepieces are harder to come by and you’re not privy to the perks retailers can offer.

The best advice is to find an honest group of three or four dealers you can develop close relationships with (both in the grey and retail markets) and work with them so that they cut you some slack and reduce their margins with the promise of your long-term repeat business.

Understand the Risks:

Regardless of your motivations, at the end of the day you should be realistic with your goals. Not losing money watch-to-watch is great, but, and this may come as a surprise, the majority of watches are not good investments. What's most important is moving on something that speaks to you: what you like, what functions you desire, and what best represents you. For Solis and many other traders, just experiencing new pieces, new inventions, and new techniques trumps return on investment:

“Watches are my escape. When I want a watch I will buy it, even if it means losing money in the process. I can only do that by wearing watches and then trading them for something else that is new and ‘better.' But the best watch to me is the one I have yet to wear.”