Some 15 years ago, Paul Robertson began thinking fondly on the Seikos he owned and wore in the ’80s and ’90s. This bout of nostalgia naturally lead him to eBay where he tried to replace one of those watches, a reference 7002 diver. Robertson couldn’t find one, but it leads him down a rabbit hole. He eventually stumbled across a black-and-gold 6139-6012 chronograph, running, but in rough shape.
“When it arrived, I could instantly see its potential. I bought some basic tools and opened it up. With no prior watch experience I was able to diagnose the problem, find a spare part and fix it,” Robertson told me over an email. “I then restored the cosmetics with a new crystal, and suddenly I had a stunning vintage timepiece on my wrist. Anyone who fixes or restores anything knows that feeling. I still own that watch and am certain it was directly responsible for nearly every watch purchase since.”
Today, Robertson says he owns some 150 watches (about 50 of them projects) and sells old Seikos on the side of his day job as a Radiographer to, in his words, “feed the habit.” He’s one of the two individuals behind Two Men Selling Seiko, an Instagram marketplace specializing in the sale of vintage and pre-owned Seikos. It works like this: the page posts (usually) two new watches every day with photos, video and information on the timepieces on offer. Robertson and his partner, another Seiko collector, set a starting bid, then followers will place their bid (in $5 AUD increments) over the following 24 hours. Robertson says that in the 12 months since starting the venture, they’ve sold about 500 watches.
“We wanted to provide a simple, no-fuss platform for Seiko enthusiasts to get hold of good original, honest watches at fair prices,” Robertson says. “We source our watches mostly in Australia or Japan and pass them onto collectors at the fairest prices we can. Beyond what we paid, we let our audience decide what they are worth. We see ourselves as providing a ‘Seiko community service’. Profits are generally poured straight back to the acquisition of more watches and on it goes.”
The Two Men Selling Seiko account is interesting because followers have to be approved. Robertson says there’s really no vetting process behind the move, but it does help keep the account orderly. “Anyone is welcome, but we ask them to conduct themselves in a manner that is aligned with our sales philosophy. Those who want to cause trouble, not pay up, complain, make unnecessary demands can be blocked. So rather than a private sales club, it’s just a way of us having a method to show people the door if needed,” he says.
The setup of Robertson’s business is certainly unique, but it’s just one part of a growing ecosystem of individuals and businesses buying and selling watches through online social media platform. More than 135,000 posts can be found on Instagram tagged with #watchforsale, everything from pre-owned luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Panerai to cheap vintage finds. Clean, modern, bright and packed with great-looking photos of watches, it’s a decidedly stark contrast to traditional forms of online watch sales which, historically, have been relegated to outdated-looking places like eBay, Chrono24 and forums.
“I’ve bought and sold watches via various online methods. I would never speak poorly of any, but each has their strengths and weaknesses,” says Robertson. “It’s a story I’ve told before, but I had a friend had an eBay buyer return a vintage watch because the red ‘SUN’ was apparently ‘too faded’ on the day wheel — on a vintage watch! But that’s considered a legitimate refund reason by eBay. So you start to wonder if there’s a better way.”
So what is it about Instagram? Well, it being a social media platform, it fosters community better than retail platforms like eBay. “Instagram can be a fantastic place to buy watches, but to me, it’s primarily a place to meet and connect with other enthusiasts. Once connections are made, trust can be established. Once trust is established, good watch sales can occur,” says Robertson. We have all heard the term ‘buy the seller.’ If you trust the seller, you can usually trust their description of the watch you are about to buy.”
This community is also great for education. For one, buyers can familiarize themselves with images of specific models and references from reputable collectors and sellers, so they know what’s original and what isn’t. Similarly, other enthusiasts can offer their own advice and expertise and newbies can ask for help. Robertson, for example, runs an additional Instagram account called Seikobusters which documents listings of faked or cobbled-together vintage Seiko watches. “The vintage watch game can be fraught with danger, but being informed is the key to good vintage watch purchases.”
This isn’t to say that Instagram is perfect for slinging timepieces, and Robertson says there are plenty of risks to be aware of. As he puts it, “Let’s face it, there are no protections when buying or selling on Instagram…I have no doubt people have lost money, watches never arrive, etc.” It’s important, he says, to use a payment platform like PayPal to give yourself an extra bit of protection that Instagram doesn’t offer.
Still, there are plenty of benefits when it comes to listing your watch. Instagram is sure as hell easier to use and post on than, say, eBay or some forum platforms and it covers all the basics: it lets you post images, videos and descriptions easily, and you can communicate publicly through comments or privately through direct messages. Hashtags give you visibility, and you can ask other collectors and sellers to help spread the word and even promote your sale.
In formulating your post, Robertson preaches many of the basics for watch selling: post clear, honest pictures (videos of the watch running help too) and provide as detailed a description as you can, including service history, any damage and the state of originality as best you know it. “Buyers will decide if any of those issues bother or worry them,” he says. “Don’t just mention the good because that will only ever lead to a dissatisfied purchaser.”