Friday, January 6, 2017

Free Expertise: Fool's Gold

I am sure that every lawyer on my mailing list would agree with me that self-representation in Court is not the brightest idea. There is that old saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. If lawyers use lawyers, what chance would a person like me have to win a court case?

We take it easy on Friday - trying to close the busy and stressful week as peacefully as possible. And so do you. My intention is neither to upset you nor to lecture, but I do have to point out something that for most people is obvious - and yet, for some, not so.

If you have bought a watch from a private seller then you are defining yourself in a court of second-hand dealing. Basically you are saying to yourself - and to the seller - that you are confident enough to conduct the deal; that you are 100% sure that the watch is genuine and you have no doubts in regard to its provenance (and that you are not dealing in stolen goods).
Which is all fine, and yes, in the majority of private deals, the saving justifies the risk.

However, you can't have it both ways: if you are defending yourself in court, you can't just call a lawyer halfway through the trial and ask for a free tip. And if you decide to buy a watch on eBay or Chrono24 then please don't call me either. It's not that I don't want to help - I just can't. I cannot tell whether the watch is genuine or not based on a low-resolution picture.
And quite frankly, no one can.

Buying a year old TAG or Omega watch which comes with the box, papers, receipts and valuation documentation is not that difficult. Such transactions are often straight forward ones.
Parting with cash on a 10 year old watch which comes with no box or papers is a skill. Making the same decision on a 60 year old vintage Rolex is an art form and believe it or not, there are probably no more than a dozen people in Sydney whom you would trust to conduct a deal on your behalf. Vintage watch experts are hard to find!

In my early days I used to deal a bit with a well-known Sydney dealer who would call in from time to time to 'check if I have anything valuable'. It was always interesting to watch him inspecting my stock - to the fine detail. He would take his time with the loupe, inspecting the dial and hands, and even made me disassemble the mechanism just to be sure everything was genuine. He was not a watchmaker himself, so I could tell that his expertise was gained after many years of dealing in watches, trials and errors, and without doubt, he paid the price of self-education. To this day, I respect his attitude - and the way he bought watches taught me that being 'extra careful' is the way to go. I can proudly say that I have never bought a fake Rolex and I hope I'll never will.

When it comes to vintage watches like Patek, it is fair to say that I am only a half-an-expert. Firstly, the Australian Patek market is miniscule and there are simply not enough watches in circulation to learn the finesses of the brand. Secondly, the return on investment is not worth my trouble. I would rather buy 10 Breitling than one Patek. And quite frankly, I don't know of any dealer in Australia who can honestly claim that he is an authority on the subject. To be a true Patek dealer you would have to set up your shop in Tokyo or London, New York or Geneva.

Louis Breguet was the most famous watchmaker of all time. Actually, he was so successful that even during his life, there were 10 fake Breguets for each genuine piece. You can only imagine how difficult it is to authenticate Berguet timepieces now, 200 years after they were created.

Only experts who have devoted their entire life to work of Breguet and who have restored his timepieces could call themselves an authority on the subject – a handful of watchmakers, museum curators and horological historians. And you can be sure that none of them would offer their expert opinion free of charge, based on a poor quality image or an eBay listing.

There are lawyers and lawyers, dealers and dealers - and each to their own.
Horology is enjoyed best when you deal with experts you can trust. And often - especially to someone who is just discovering the beauty of watch ownership - buying a brand new piece from your favourite brand shop is the way to go.

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