I have found over the years that many of my clients are making bad choices when purchasing watches, this is not surprising given the current confusing state of the watch market. Too often I have to turn down watches for repair and break the news to clients that they have bought a grossly overpriced timepiece which can only be repaired at an exorbitant cost by the manufacturer. At risk of slandering some very big organisations here are a few guidelines which you might bear in mind when choosing a watch.

New watches
Don’t be seduced by clever advertising, in general the more heavily the watch is promoted the worse the value for your hard earned cash. The first thing to understand is that the name on the dial is probably not a watch manufacturer, the fashion industry has taken over a large part of the watch business which it runs in the same way as products such as designer accessories, perfume etc.
It is well known that these products cost far more to market than they do to produce. The design house has watches made up - mostly in China - which it then advertises and sells on through high street jewellers: avoid these like the plague, they include names like Gucci, Cartier, Tag Heuer, Breitling, Dunhill etc. These watches can be made very cheaply, what you pay is for the vast advertising budget and profit margin, the retail price is probably ten times the manufacturing cost.

BEWARE!  Like banking in recent times, the clever, greedy men and women in suits have moved into both the retail and manufacturing side of the watch business.  They are brilliant at marketing but know next to nothing about watches.  Most watches can be serviced in a couple of hours by a competent watchmaker, bear this in mind if you are asked to pay hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds for sevicing and asked to wait several months - walk out of the shop!  MODERN ELECTRONIC WATCHES DO NOT NEED REGULAR SERVICING, generally when they go wrong the entire movement is changed, I get constant complaints that shops (particularly Tag agents) are telling customers that their watch must be serviced when it is taken in for a new battery - nonsense! Even for the most expensive elecronic watches such as Cartier, the batteries cost less than a pound, any competant watchmaker can change one in minutes - the main agents will tell you that the watch must go away and 're-sealed' each time it needs a new battery. For most people who do not go swimming in their watch this is not necessary.

Other once great names in the watch industry who had a long pedigree of producing fine quality, good value watches, such as Omega and Longines are now made by Swatch, who have taken over most of the Swiss industry. Avoid these, they are grossly over-priced (how much do Omega pay for the James Bond sponsorship?).  The market is now dominated by watches with ETA movements - they are the main manufacturing part of the Swatch group and practically all watches retailed at under £3000 will have an ETA movement whatever the name on the dial; they produce movements with all kinds of manufacturers names and calibre numbers.

My advice is to either buy a cheap quartz watch and throw it away after a few years, or if your pockets are deep enough go for a good mechanical watch, which will cost at least £4,000. At present I can only recommend Rolex, most other luxury brands have a bad reputation in the trade for reliability and can only be serviced by the maker - at an extraordinary price. NEVER BUY AN AUTOMATIC CHRONOGRAPH UNDER £3,000 - the market has recently been flooded with cheap (around £2000) ones with awful ETA movements, makes include Omega, Tag etc. Manual wind models are more expensive but much better. Even if you are offered one at a knock down price, avoid - they are unreliable and service costs are crazy.  Beware of Rolex service charges, some of their well known outlets are ripping off customers especially with older models.  Try to find an independant watchmaker who will do an honest job at a reasonable price and not take months!  Failing this send direct to an official Rolex service centre, it will be expensive, but they will do an honest job. 

Used watches
Look for mechanical watches made before 1970, in good condition these are great value for money. Do not buy gold plated or ‘gold filled’ watches as the gold will probably be wearing through, stick to steel or solid gold.
At the moment Longines and Omega watches made in the 1950’s and 60’s are available at a fraction of the price of new models and are of vastly superior quality, they are also easy to service and parts are still available for most models. Pre 1950’s watches are sometimes excellent, but they must be of the highest quality and have been properly looked after, only buy with a guarantee. For high quality brands like Rolex, Jaeger le Coultre, International, Zenith etc. it is difficult to find them at a reasonable price i.e. less than half the new price, if you can find one in good condition then it would be a very good buy. At present old JLC and IWC (with 'International watch co. Scaffhausen' on the dial) are under priced compared with lesser watches such as Rolex and offer an excellent investment.

If you are buying from a dealer, make sure it is guaranteed, if you want to chance ebay – good luck! Some of my customers have got real bargains, others have come badly unstuck.

Buying at auction can be a sensible option, at least you can see what you are getting and some auctioneers will give a condition report.  Bear in mind that there is a premium to pay on the hammer price, usually well over twenty per cent, and of course there is no guarantee.