Once you get over a grand or two, shopping for watches online can feel dodgy, but eBay’s latest program makes them one more digital platform you can actually trust.
Shopping for watches on eBay is nothing new, and for the longest time something that remained approached as a bit of an “at your own risk” situation. There have been some horror stories from back in the day with watch acquisitions gone wrong when listed by individuals willing to omit or obfuscate information, but with eBay expanding their Authenticate program to include watch sellers, the online auction giant clearly wants to put this less than perfect past well behind them.
The idea behind the eBay Authenticate program is simple, but its execution is by no means a small undertaking. For starters, a retailer can’t just come knocking and sign up to be part of the program. Quite the contrary, eBay’s team is constantly evaluating the performance of its sellers in the watch space, and from those evaluations a selection of their top retailers have been selected to be part of the program. Though the idea is to grow the list, eBay currently has over 30 eBay Authenticate retailers in the watch space, including pre-owned giants like WatchBox and Watch Chest, among others.
So the real question is, how does it all work? We had a chat with James Hendy, Senior Director of eBay Authenticate, to gain a little insight on the matter. First things first, it’s a matter of verifying the retailer’s own authenticating capabilities and processes. Are they capable, and are their procedures standardized? Do they know the difference between a watch that’s all original versus a frankenwatch built of spare parts? This repeated capability is absolutely crucial. From there, a team of 3rd party authenticators are deployed to inspect physical inventory. These authenticators verify physical inventory, and ensure that the imagery and information presented is an accurate and legitimate representation of the physical watches being sold. Only after ticking all of these boxes will a retailer qualify for the eBay Authenticate program.
The team behind this program was well aware from day one that establishing and maintaining faith in the authenticity of the watches being sold on eBay would be an ongoing process, so just because a retailer meets initial qualifications does not mean that they are free to list and sell anything and everything without repercussion. Once included in the program, eBay’s team continues to monitor its retailers regularly, and its team of independent authenticators continue to monitor sellers both virtually and physically every week.
Knowing the stringent process by which the program runs is a good start, but there’s still a matter of how “authentic” is defined. In the case of new watches, which make up roughly a quarter of the 18,000+ watches listed in the program at this time, that definition is simple. A “new in box” watch is either legit, or it’s not, and those parameters are fairly easy to establish. That said, it’s worth noting that there are grey market sellers in this pool selling new watches. Though this means you can get better pricing on a new watch than you could through an AD, as we all know, getting warranty coverage from a brand then becomes troublesome (and personally, a hassle that I often recommend avoiding unless initial purchase cost is your only concern).
In the case of pre-owned there’s a bit more to the equation. Given how many of us dabble in the pre-owned watch space, we requested more specific information on the matter. According to eBay, a pre-owned watch can qualify as authentic so long as it adheres to the details below:
The definition of authentic, for the program, is a watch in its entirety is in its original state as first placed on the market by the respective manufacturer, without any replacements of any parts or any additions of any new parts in the meantime.
A watch can still be authentic if the watch is not entirely in its original state, as first placed on the market by the respective manufacturer, however, changes in the meantime are limited to replacements of the glass/crystal, any screws and/or the bracelet by aftermarket parts of the brand itself or a third party, if such replacement does not infringe the respective brand’s intellectual property rights.
If the crown and hands are replaced with parts from the brand, and those parts directly correlate to the reference number/model, then this is also considered to be authentic.
Depending on the watch in question, the last of these points is obviously the most difficult to verify with absolute certainty, however it’s good to know that the terms by which eBay operates protects consumers and collectors from the perils of buying vintage/pre-owned in that regard. To be fair, when you’re dealing with a marketplace that isn’t 100% controlled, and allows 3rd party listings, there’s always a nominal risk that something can slip by, but that’s precisely why eBay backs these authenticated watches with a sizeable guarantee, should a watch be found to have replacement parts that do not fall within the requisite guidelines.
At a personal level, I’ve done my fair share of watch shopping on eBay over the years in the more entry-level space, and it’s great to see the online auction powerhouse stepping up their game in terms of consumer protections. When you’re shopping for a new watch of any sorts, especially when you’re looking to part with thousands of dollars, you want to know that you can trust its source. With these new protections in place, we’ve gained a new resource for shopping online again, and with it thousands of new and pre-owned watches of all shapes and sizes. As you’ll see from us in the coming weeks, there are offerings out there from Omega, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Breitling, and others that you might want to take a closer look at.