How does one break into the confusing, esoteric world of watch nerdery? Our new column, “How to Be a Watch Guy,” aims to answer all your new watch guy questions, and help you navigate the always exciting — but sometimes intimidating, complicated, and pricey — world of watches.
For the past two years and change, my watch collection has remained the same ragtag bunch: vintage Zodiac Seawolf, two Seikos, Orient Bambino, Seagull 1963 Chronograph, Uweco Geneve, and a Filson Smoky the Bear edition. I’m proud of it. A lot of us watch collectors do it this way, collecting as we go. We get what we get. A few things we just had to have, a few that fell into our laps.
Most of these watches are special to me in some way. The Zodiac was an engagement gift from my fiancee, with an engraved back. The Seiko Sea Urchin was my first watch. The Uweco Geneve was my grandfather’s. The other Seiko was my dad’s. The Smoky watch is too big for me, but cool anyway.
And I love them all. But I haven’t worn most of them in more than a year. I can’t afford to buy a new watch right now, but like every watch collector ever, I have a low-lying hunger to own something new. So I started thinking: There must be a lot of other people like me out there. Maybe they’d want to trade watches.
More “How to be a Watch Guy”
• How to Find a Watch Repair Shop You Can Trust
• How to Find Your First Watch Meetup
• How to Pick the Watch Size That’s Right for You
• How to Stop Worrying and Accept the “Frankenwatch”
A trade would be fantastic. Since I don’t collect for financial reasons, I wouldn’t need to flip for big money. I’m sick of the brand new Rolexes of the watch world, anyway. I would simply take one or two of the watches I never wear, swap them with a new friend, and find something scuffed and cool and funky — and quench my thirst for new watches without spending a dime.
/r/watchexchange was a watch-trading and -selling Eden. It was created in 2011 and has over 100,000 members. It’s your standard subreddit, lots of active users, a simple web forum powered by upvotes and unpaid admins. Every day users post a slew of watches marked “[WTS]” “(Watch To Sell)” and “[WTT]” “(Watch To Trade).” It’s a beautiful market, full of fine wares and eager sellers and buyers. There are watches of all color and shape and price point: Grand Seiko Golden Snowflakes, pristine Rolex Datejusts, rare vintage Omegas and modded Seiko divers. Most were for sale, for reasonable prices that ranged from $50 to $5,000, and a few were up for trade, too.
I was surprised that such a sub seemed to be run by old folk-fest hippies. The first rule was “Be excellent to each other.” (It seemed most people were.) There were simple, ironclad rules about information to include and timestamped photos to help weed out swindlers. It was a bustling watch e-market, with no pressure to buy and lots of opportunities to gawk. Just what I was looking for.
I browsed and wondered, and then I turned to my own situation. Which watch did I want to trade? It was an interesting exercise. Even though I never wore them anymore, I found myself slipping into nostalgia when I picked up my Chinese-made, blue-red-silver Seagull, which I’d bought while on a chronograph kick that quickly faded, or my Orient Bambino, whose large white dial looked pristine as fresh snow online but yawned a tad too wide on my wrist in real person.
I even considered getting rid of my Seiko Sea Urchin, my very first watch, the one that got me into watch collecting. Its beefy 40mm-thick dial felt like wearing a rock on my wrist now. But I’d scarred it hiking and fishing, wore it into the surf at the Jersey shore while I fell in love with my fiancee, giggled as I tried it on ridiculously colorful NATO straps.
I stopped myself and made my choice: the Seagull and the Orient would go. I put them up on the sub, said I was looking for something weird, funky or different, and suddenly worried nobody would like them.
I was vindicated. The requests poured in, especially for the Seagull, a watch whose bubble-domed crystal I’d nearly come to despise. So many people wanted it now that it made me puff my chest out. I snagged something neat, I thought to myself, not thinking too much about the cut-rate price point I’d chosen for it, given its scratched crystal. “People don’t care that your chronograph pushers are sticky,” I said, stroking it. “You are in very good taste.”
The offers poured in. Affordable, cool watches. Casio G-shocks, open-heart Bulovas, Fossils powered by meca-quartz movements, solar-powered Citizens. A Nomos Lambda homage. A beat-up gold-filled Seiko H449-5210 showed up, but only its digital readout worked. I started thinking about what it was I actually wanted in a watch right now — not a flavor of the month but something that really fit my taste, that would add something interesting and worthwhile to my collection. A blacked-out Timex was awesome but a little too big. I kept digging.
“It was a bustling watch e-market, with no pressure to buy and lots of opportunities to gawk. Just what I was looking for.”
And I asked people why they liked to trade watches.
Some liked the flipping game. “I got into it just because I always loved watches and honestly I knew that I was aware of their value more so than the average person, so I would flip ones I knew I could,” wrote one. “One of my favorite things though is the unique watches that come through. I got one that’s made for blind people (or they say it is — it’s just cool looking with ball bearings).”
Others just liked the hunt. “Since there are so many watches out there and since there are so many brands with long legacies you can really go down a pretty deep rabbit hole.” Sometimes at night, after a long day working in quarantine, I would get lost myself.
And then there were the wholesome lurkers. “I don’t trade watches often; but I’ve been kind of in the shadows of his thread for a while now,” said one. “I’ve purchased one watch. And it was a great experience, the seller was very kind, timely, and responsive. It’s a bit scary because there’s inevitably going to be some risk, but everyone seems nice. And there’s beautiful watches too…a wide variety — many Seikos, Rolexes, Hamiltons, Omegas.” I hadn’t thought much about the risks, like a good sucker. But he was right.
Still, everybody was friendly, and interested in watches. The whole thing felt a lot like an in-person watch meetup — sharing a passion, appreciating everybody’s watches. Except there were deals to be made here.
And then there it was: an offer to trade my Seagull for Seiko 7005-8032, in good working condition, from a friendly college student. I didn’t know the watch but it sounded interesting. I clicked its picture: slate-gray sunburst dial glinting in the sun, a small 36mm case, its tonneau-shape eye-catching and retro. He was getting rid of it because the case wasn’t his style. It looked a lot like my colleague’s Omega Seamaster Cosmic that I’d always lusted after. I pulled the trigger.
And that was it. There’s not much more to tell. Just that I packaged up my Seagull 1963 Chrono and sent it off, trusting that another watch was on its way. My fellow watch-swapper told me he sent mine yesterday and that it should be here tomorrow. When you see me next, I’ll probably show it off. Or maybe try to trade it for the one you’re wearing.
1. Find the right community
There are plenty of legitimate forums in which to wheel and deal: reddit, actual watch forums themselves (try looking around Watch Recon for an idea of the different forums available), and your local Red Bar Group chapter. Do your homework, speak to other watch enthusiasts, and you’ll be able to find kindred spirits.
2. Kill your darlings
Some watches are imbibed with strong, sentimental feelings, while some are more easily let go than you might think. Be ready to flip the stuff that doesn’t get any wrist time (unless it’s, say, a family heirloom) — you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll get used to it no longer being around. Fill that space with watches you’ll actually wear.
3. Trade for the right reasons
If you’re trading, chances are good that you’re not motivated by profit (though you could conceivably always try to trade “up” and then sell your quarry, but that’s not the idea, here). Be mindful of why you’re selling and treat people with respect — that way, everybody gets what they’re after, which, at the end of the day, is something that should hopefully make you happy.
Chris Wright, a former Gear Patrol editor, is a freelance writer based in L.A. Write him with your watch questions, comments and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.