Notes on the ‘Grey Market’

Before purchasing a watch on the online, read The Watchmaker’s guide to the Grey Market, from the desk of our owner, below.

What is a ‘Grey Market’ Watch?

A ‘Grey Market’ watch is typically a watch being offered for sale in the United States which was originally designated for a different world market. The watch was sold by the manufacturer to a distributor in another part of the world, and then “trans-shipped” to the USA. Watch manufacturers have contracts with US importers for exclusivity, and this ‘Grey Market’ works outside of that network of ‘Authorized Dealers’.

It is usually simple to tell if a watch online is being sold via the ‘Grey Market’ or from an AD; Authorized Dealers are not allowed to advertise watches at a major discount. If you see a watch on an online storefront and the discount is more than 25%-30% off the retail price from the manufacturer’s website, it is almost certainly an item being sold on the ‘Grey Market’.

Many major online marketplaces for watches, including Amazon, Overstock, Jomashop, and WatchMaxxx are not ADs, and are selling on the ‘Grey Market.’

So what does this mean?

There’s not much manufacturers can do to battle this, they’ve been trying for years and it doesn’t seem to have much effect.  ‘Grey Market’ goods are usually the genuine article. They are the same product you would get walking into a fine jeweler,  and they are available at significant savings.  Free shipping.  No sales tax.  Tempting, I know.

So, why shouldn’t you buy ‘Grey’?

There is one good reason not to buy from an online discounter: the watch will have no manufacturer warranty.  The US distributor did not benefit from the initial sale of the product, and so  they have no obligation or incentive to repair your watch under warranty.

And before you say “but it’s a brand new watch! It’s not like it’s going to break, right?” Let me tell you: I’ve fixed literally thousands of broken watches over the years; it can happen to any brand, at any price-point.

‘Grey Market’ sites attempt to get around this by offering their own “warranty”.  This is the part where you need to be very careful.

A company selling on razor-thin margins cannot possibly staff a quality watchmaker (or team of watchmakers if they are a bigger operation).   A quality watchmaker’s skills are currently in enormous demand, and watch repair is both time consuming and expensive.  A ‘Grey Market’ company simply cannot hire skilled watchmakers on a business model where they make $20.00-$30.00 on a sale, ship it for free,  and then have to guarantee performance and maintenance.  They hire unskilled technicians whose primary mandate is to “get it out the door”. Critically, ‘Grey Market’ companies also do not have access to genuine and original spare parts. Repairs in this world are performed by the lowest bidder, using generic parts. That’s the reality of a ‘Grey Market’ “warranty”.

It is important to be fully-informed about the ‘Grey Market’, and what its benefits and risks are in order to accurately compare the up-front savings to the potential costs. I wrote this note to educate, not to frighten. If the up-front savings are so much that, even if the watch fails, a paid factory repair is still less than an AD’s selling price, it is undoubtedly logical to at least consider sourcing a purchase from a reputable grey market dealer. As an AD of several quality brands myself, I hate to concede it, but if one saves $1000.00 up-front, and, in the worst-case scenario, face a potential repair bill of $500.00… I know what I’d do.

So, what does this all mean?

The Watchmaker is an old fashioned, service-based business, working mostly in the world of repair.  That doesn’t mean that as an AD we’re not with the times.  I don’t want our showroom to look like a museum- I want things to move.  Watches look far better on your wrist than in my showcase.  Before you buy online, give us an opportunity to work with you on a price. We may surprise you- and the warranty and after-sales service on watches purchased from our showroom is backed up, guaranteed.

~Dave K.