Going Down the Rabbit Hole: Collecting with eBay
Vintage & Auctions

Going Down the Rabbit Hole: Collecting with eBay

Everyone has an eBay story, but as our collecting habits and tastes have changed, eBay has changed and innovated along with us.

By Vincent Brasesco

It’s somewhat crazy to imagine, but eBay is 28 years old, which is likely why so many of us collectors (of anything and everything) have an eBay story of our own. In many ways, we have grown up with eBay, so we almost take for granted having access to whatever our hearts desire at our fingertips.

Need an Omega birth-year watch? How about a pre-Moon landing reference? At press time, a search for “1968 Omega” yielded 157 results! That includes watches from several different countries and at price points ranging from three figures to five figures. Wow.

I mean, seriously, before eBay, how on earth would you get in touch with someone with a timepiece you want in Uruguay?

I bought my first ever watch on eBay. A 1948 Omega Seamaster Automatic with a slightly refinished dial, I probably paid all of $450 for it. It didn’t matter that the dial didn’t have its original patina, or it didn’t run perfectly. I was just happy to get it.

It kickstarted my love affair with watches that continues to this day. And eBay has been there every step of the way, supporting that journey.

Down the Collecting Rabbit Hole

Of course, a deep fascination with watches always starts with a specific timepiece; that’s the most important piece of the puzzle. But how about things like vintage boxes and packaging? Have you seen how cool old watch boxes are? A few eBay searches later, and you can easily find yourself picking up those, as well.

A potential next step deeper in could be old watch advertisements. Vintage advertising, and watch advertising specifically, used to be SO COOL!

It’s easy to get hooked. You start by searching for a very specific watch ad, but you end up coming back time and again to keep looking for more ads with less specific search parameters.

However, there is a drawback to falling down the eBay rabbit hole. While it’s undeniably fun and addicting, it is also time-consuming. Luckily, eBay has tools like filters to isolate brands, price ranges, and coverage under the Authenticity Guarantee service to help streamline your searches. And one of my favorite time-savers is eBay’s search alert tool.

Deeper Dives = Deeper Intel

The eBay search alert, for those of you who are unaware, allows you to set up an automatic sweep of the site using your specific search terms and filter settings, and when something that matches what you’re looking for pops up, eBay emails you a link to it as it becomes available in real-time! The countless hours of searching that this one feature has saved people is impressive.

Of course, once you are clued into the search alert feature, you start setting up all these alerts for all these watches and straps and buckles and boxes and adverts you have to have!

Our tastes, of course, can change. While that ‘48 Seamaster kickstarted my love with watches, for example, I have since moved on. And just as it was difficult for me to find the perfect watch, it was equally difficult to sell one. So, back on eBay it went.

What’s interesting is that while I don’t remember the exact price I sold it for, I do remember the process was pretty painless, and I was pretty happy, excited to move onto the next eBay watch.

Same Thrills, New Tech

Many watch collectors will tell you that the “thrill of the hunt” is one of the best parts of the obsession, and they are not wrong! Scouring over pictures, books, and online articles; conducting in-depth research into a specific brand or model; it is the process through which we learn about the hobby and further our own collecting.

That said, watches are massively complex mechanical machines and some watches available to collectors are north of 100 years old. It’s virtually impossible to know, learn, and synthesize everything about watches (despite how much we try).

It is for this reason the best auction houses (and even watch brands themselves) dedicate large teams with hundreds of combined years of experience to authenticate, vet, and examine every watch that comes through the doors.

Well, now, eBay does that bit of work for you, too (even though its inventory far and away surpasses what any traditional auction house could have).

Authentication Generation

Last year, when we took you on a tour to see the process and meet the people who comprise eBay’s authentication experts at Stoll & Co., we were sure to highlight the experience of that team. And not just on the retail side of things but also on the mechanical aspects of the industry.

eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee for eligible watches sold on the site for over $2,000 inspires confidence because the authentication process ensures each watch is what it should be, inside and out, so you can avoid tedious hours of amateur sleuthing and skip right to the part where you wear and enjoy it. And just as eBay’s email search alert helps you find that piece you are hunting for, eBay’s authentication experts at Stoll & Co. help you feel confident in your Authenticity Guarantee-backed purchase by donning bunny suits and entering a clean room to inspect every watch sold under the Authenticity Guarantee.

What do these authentication experts check? Well, a lot. But besides opening the caseback to verify the movement’s authenticity and functionality as described by the seller (hence the bunny suits and clean rooms), one of the most important tasks of the authenticators is to inspect the watch, plus any boxes and papers for both authenticity and collateral, to ensure that a watch described as “brand new” doesn’t have obvious signs of wear and tear.

Want to learn more about the authentication process and the expert authenticators behind it? Check out our behind-the-scenes video!

Like any collector, I occasionally enjoy playing the role of lead horological detective in a mystery starring a piece in my collection, but knowing that a newly purchased watch will arrive authenticated by respected industry professionals and ready to wear right out of the box? Simply irreplaceable.

What’s Next?

Technology is moving faster than ever, but one thing that will remain consistent is that the watch-collecting community will keep wearing, buying, selling, and trading watches. There is no stopping it. After all, Swiss watch exports rose to $27 billion in 2022, with the U.S. being the top market for watches) – not a small number. Plus, just as the industry can count on collectors to keep collecting, we, in turn, can count on eBay to keep innovating.

Last year, for instance, eBay rolled out its opt-in expert verification program so that buyers of watches costing between $1,000 and $2,000 (and thus outside the price threshold for the Authenticity Guarantee service) can still have their watch purchases go through eBay’s authentication process for only $80 (plus tax). That means you no longer need to buy a relatively expensive watch online to have the automatic authentication safety net.

As for what more might be up eBay’s sleeve, maybe that’s something Watchonista should ask eBay executives the next time we see them!

For more information about the Authenticity Guarantee, check out eBay’s website.

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