Welcome to Further Details, a recurring column where we investigate what purpose an oft-overlooked product element actually serves. This week: why people hide their watches' serial numbers.
Every 2020 No-Date Rolex Submariner in Oystersteel will have the same reference number: 124060. Only the one on my wrist right now (if I were so lucky), however, has the serial number [REDACTED].
Wait, seriously? Why does that have to be redacted?
Many have wondered why you so often see pre-owned watch pictures online (if that's how you spend your time) that hide the serial numbers. There must be a good reason, one would assume, but it's not quite obvious what that is. Is this something you need to be careful about? Here's what you need to know.
What Are Watch Serial Numbers Used For?
There's usually the chance to register a watch when you buy it, and when you do so it's identified by its unique serial number. This records information that can later be used to confirm authenticity, ownership and other details that may be useful in repairing or reselling it. (Here's how to find your watch's serial number.)
When buying a vintage watch, checking the serial number is part of your due diligence and can help you make sure everything else about the watch looks legit. You can also make sure a pre-owned watch hasn't been reported stolen by checking on thewatchregister.com and mystolenwatch.com.
Why Hiding a Serial Number Is Considered a Best Practice
Perhaps many people hide serial numbers in their pictures online because they see others doing so and feel it's better to be safe — even if they don't know exactly why. By hiding the serial number, the actual owner of a watch is mostly avoiding potential inconvenience rather than material harm.
A scammer or counterfeiter can use a valid serial number to sell illegitimate products. For example, a scammer might use someone else's pictures in selling a watch he doesn't own, and a valid serial number would help it look more legit.
When that watch is then never delivered and reported stolen (on police reports, company documentation, insurance claims, as well as on community forums), the owner might find out later that he has to prove legitimate ownership — it might even be confiscated when he sends it in for servicing. This is a mere inconvenience if you have the papers to prove ownership, but if not it could be a bigger hassle. This is primarily a concern with higher-end watches.
So Hide Them!
While keeping your serial number private is mostly about averting potential inconveniences, it avoids aiding fraudsters and should be considered a "best practice."