The second most commonly asked question is "Nick, which one should I go for?" The short answer is - go for what you like and can afford.
And here is the longer version:
$10 - $200
The absolute entry level range in mechanical watches. Heaps to chose from - if you are not worried about external condition, resale value, water resistance, time keeping and... everything else! The name of the game here is go for what you like - and lower your expectations to avoid disappointment. You can still snatch a bargain: a smart Seiko 5 or some obscure Swiss made brand form 1970s in NOS (new old stock) condition. Unfortunately any money you'll spend on restoration or repair would really be just throwing good money after a bad watch. Not wise. Avoid anything that is not in working order - if it does not keep time, it's not a watch!
$200 - $500
Again, there is so much to choose from - especially on eBay or at an auction. Despite large offers, you would barely be entering the Swiss watch market so be extra careful: buying just for the look is no longer recommended. Most of the stock in this price bracket is unrestored and non-functional: "Bargains" in need of major repair - or at least complete overhaul. Overall condition rarely rises above 5/10, which means virtually no resale value. However if you are looking for
a nice 'beach special' and don't mind scratches or an out-of-trend size, then you should be able to find a decent pre-loved 'ticker'.
$500 - $1000
For five hundred bucks you should be able to pick a fairly decent Swiss watch. Or even a waterproof one - if you stretch it to a thousand ;-) Best buys are pre-owned Longines, Oris, or TAG in 8/10 condition. Don't settle for discoloured dial or hands, chipped or scratched crystals or worn / damaged bezel. A short bracelet is acceptable (you can always find a few extra links) but don't expect it to come with box or papers. Great price bracket if you are on a hunt for a nice, well-made pocket watch! Many pocket watches like railroad open face in steel/nickel or silver case still represent the best value for money in mechanical time keeping!
Tip: Buy only pocket watches with original balance staff, winding stem in perfect condition and no damage on case/hinge.
$1000 - $2000
Great place to be - especially for a first time buyer! In this price range, there is plenty of quality stock on offer. Best buys in pre-loved: Omega Seamaster and Speedmaster in 'as is' condition.
If you are not in a hurry, snatching a 9/10 piece should not be that difficult. And spending a few extra dollars on an overhaul is a wise investment- you'll have a watch which will last you for many years to come!
Tip: If you intend to own more than one timepiece don't overspend! One or two watches will do you just fine because the resale value is still under 50% at the best. Be picky: go for good provenance, box, papers, or recently overhauled stock. Take your time to learn about watches and watch collecting - investing in ‘knowledge’ is priceless!
$2000 - $3000
Welcome to the world of fine mass produced watches! Well, you've just arrived so don't get too cocky :-) This is really a 'wearer's market' - you are buying watch to wear, enjoy and be proud of. Smart choice: fine pre-owned stock in 9.5/10 condition or better. Unwanted gifts. Demonstrators. Overhauled stock - maybe a last year’s model, but still in like new condition.
This is Omega's territory: Moon watches, limited editions, Seamaster chronographs, smart Aqua Terras, dress, casual, sporty - plenty to chose from. A kind of stuff you would wear in office or with an Armani suit. Stuff that will impress any Holden or Ford owner, stuff that makes your boss (who still wears a 20 year old plastic Qantas el-chipo) look like a character from Summer Heights High.
Of course, if you are only buying a watch to impress yourself (as you should!) then feel free to explore other options: Baume and Mercier, TAG Carrera, Chopard, Mont Blanc, Fortis. Remember, you are taking advantage of other people's extravagance (previous owner made a wrong pick - wrong size or model, or simply wants to upgrade too quickly and need your liquid funds) so make sure to take as much advantage as you possibly can! Have no mercy, take no prisoners: ask to see that original receipt!
Vintage market: again, plenty of choices. Go for overhauled and restored - you can finally afford it! Avoid all battery operated and gold plated stock. Holy grail: a nice 1940s military chronograph in steel with black dial restored by an experienced watchmaker.
Tip: Don't even think of Rolex - in this price range you'll get nothing but a headache.
$3000 - $5000
Heaven for a first time buyer: You can finally buy them all :-) Or one good piece at least. Arriving at the Rolex level is fun: strong brand name, good re-sale value, water resistance, classic look. Plus all the Breitlings, top of the range Omegas – even the odd Panerai. You can have it all: the look, the quality. Each and every watch you try on feels good and appears as an excellent value for money!
Unfortunately for an enthusiastic and aspiring buyer, this is probably the most difficult price range. Such buyer is faced with a bitter paradox: While he was happy to double his or her spending budget, it looks like he really halved choices. He realizes that there is no such thing as a waterproof Navitimer, large Datejust or cheap Submariner. That dream 5513 with cream dial and original hands is nowhere to be found. Why is picking the right one so difficult now?
Confused, he spends more time researching, talking to dealers and reading watch magazines. Online watch forums no longer offer clear direction and eBay is no more Las Vegas.
$5000 - $10000
For those who've reached the 5-10K price range, life is good again. Finally, everything makes sense: You get what you pay for! Most importantly, you no longer need help choosing the right stock. As an experienced buyer, you know the difference between in-house movement and ETA,
and you no longer judge the watch by its appearance, brand or size. You are very picky (which is a good thing) have refined taste (still more a result of previous mistakes than in depth knowledge) and you are confident talking to fellow collectors and dealers - who finally take you seriously :-) Jaeger LeCoultre is king, and so is the IWC. Limited editions Panerai are tempting.
That black dial Daytona really looks cool :-) You've also realized that your pile of Omegas and two Datejusts is not really a serious collection. You are grateful to local dealers who exchange the whole lot for a nice pile of cash. Dealers are your best friend, collecting is fun - and you are ready to move on!
$10 - $20K
We are now talking serious money so let's get serious.
Best buy: Like new condition Rolex President. A mint condition Patek. IWC Big Pilot. Anything Lange (but not Glashutte!)
Now here is my tip: $15K is a mental barrier for even serious watch collectors so there is hardly any competition for fine stock. Cash is king so don't be surprised to see dealers bending backwards for your business. Finally, you are buying for enjoyment, not to impress.
And thanks to GFC, that double red Seadweller with box and papers is no longer out of reach.
You hate dealers, but that's OK.
$20K - $50K
Patek 5146 or 5110? Why not 5135? Maybe 1970s Daytona? Platinum Portugueser? Go for it, have fun :-) Watches are fun - as much as your newly acquired VIP buyer status is. You no longer have 'watch friends’ - neither real nor imaginary. After being banned from most watch forums you again talk to dealers.
$50 - $100K
Tourbillon. IW 177. JLC Master Grand T. Panerai PAM 276.
You have received a Christmas card from Angelo Bonati.
That dealer in Hong Kong now knows you by your first name.
More tourbillon: Lange Cabaret.
You are invited to October Fest and Richemont pays for your beer and wurst.
Harry Winston Opus Eleven? Can't wait to see it finished!
$500K to 1 mil.
Finally, you are ready to let go all machine made stuff. Intrigued by haute horology, you now spend both summer and winter holidays lurking around Geneva. Can a watch be regarded as a Super fund? Self managed, of course! Too much to chose, but sitting on a waiting list for 5 years is not fun.
Jaeger LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica Grande Sonnerie.
Single at 62 - and you enjoy every moment.
You are back to Patek military chronographs.
Flying on Tuesday to Geneva for Christie's auction preview,
then flying on Saturday to bid on it in person.
Bidding over the phone is so not cool.
Watch collecting is no longer fun - and playing all day with that Patek 1527 ($5.6 mil) has gotten a bit boring… You've got them all and you want some more - but there is hardly anything out there to quench your thirst!
Flying to Switzerland is no longer practical either so you've bought a stunning thirteenth-century chateau overlooking Lake Geneva.
Nice people from Christie's left a message that you may be interested in a small portrait by Picasso - great piece - with an estimate of just $9mil - absolute entry level in fine art...