Whether you want to buy a hard-to-find watch or are looking for a great deal on a vintage timepiece, auction houses are a great place to buy a watch.

While most of the news regarding watch auctions focuses on record-breaking — and eye-popping — sales of iconic watches such as Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona or rare complications from Patek Philippe, auctions can be an affordable way to acquire a fantastic timepiece. Here's everything you need to know about how to buy a watch at auction.

Auction houses are a great place to find both new and vintage watches. You can bid on rare Patek Philippe watches still in sealed boxes or hunt down a unique vintage watch. Sales are well-edited, so you won't have to scroll through countless pages of poorly photographed watches on some secondhand sites. In-house experts curate the watches, test them to ensure they are in working order, and the auction house guarantees the watch's authenticity. Sometimes, an auction is the only way to find a timepiece, and you will pay a premium. Other times, you can find a fantastic deal on a fine watch. 


The Process of Buying a Watch at Auction

  1. Register as a bidder with the auction house a few days in advance. You'll fill out an application and verify your identity and address by sharing your passport, driver's license, or other approved documents. 
  2. Peruse all of the lots and find the watches that interest you. Download the condition report to see the details of the watch and its current condition. 
  3. See the watches in person. Examine them yourself to be sure it aligns with the condition report. Then, try it on to be sure the fit is comfortable or can be adjusted if not. 
  4. Decide your maximum price and stick to it. 
  5. Once the auction opens, place your bid. If you can bid online, put in your maximum bid, and the automated system will handle the bidding for you. In-person bidding can be exciting. Don't get caught up in the moment and pay more than you planned. 
  6. If you win your lot, congratulations! Pay your invoice and collect your watch at the auction house or have it shipped to you. If you're collecting it in person, have your client number and identification. If you lose, don't worry. There will be another sale and another excellent watch for you to bid on soon. 
  7. Take your watch to an authorized repair center to have it examined and, if needed, serviced. While the condition report will say if the movement is functional, auction houses don't test for waterproofness or accuracy. Plus, if the watch movement isn't in great shape, you'll want to have it serviced as quickly as possible to avoid a pricey repair down the road. 
  8. Add your watch to your insurance policy. If you don't already have a scheduled policy with your insurance company, you need to get one. Your typical homeowners' or renters' insurance policy does not cover expensive items like watches and jewelry.