Confessions of a Serial Flipper
I started looking at TAG Heuer watches in 2007 and I bought my first TAG the following year. Since then, I have had nearly 50 watches. I have only 8 in my collection today. 50 watches… that’s a lot of watches! I have had everything from Bulova to Breitling, Rovina to Rolex, microbrands to Panerai and everything in between. I have what I call the “six-month itch” where, six months after scoring a new piece, I crave a new one. And during those six months, there are smaller acquisitions as well. I don’t say any of this to brag because this type of trading and flipping is costly. On the other hand, I have more experience with different luxury watches than most people do. What drives my compulsive watch hunting? Why can I never invest in just a few high-end watches and keep them forever? After all, good watches can last a lifetime or more. What kind of watch would make me settle down? Is there a grail for me or I am condemned to trade and flip for the rest of my life?
I am not unique, of course. There are guys out there who are way worse than me and even some of my friends trade their watches every so often. But to many people, even serious watch guys, flipping watches is ridiculous. The folly of my ways is not entirely lost on me. If I add up everything I have spent on watches in the past 10 years, it could have bought two or three serious timepieces that “outdo” my current collection. As well, I have regretted losing certain watches and wish I still had them. So why do I voluntarily take a loss and trade away, or trade in, a nice watch?
Let’s first review what we mean by flipping. It’s like not flipping a renovated house and making money. It’s more like trading up your car. Let’s say that, over a year, you buy 3 watches for about $2000 each. At the end of the year, you wish you had saved that $6000 and bought one higher end watch. So you sell off your watches for, let’s say, $1300 each. You take your $3900 and throw in another $1100 and you buy a $5000 watch. Or perhaps you get active on the watch forums and trade in your 3 watches to one guy in return for one higher-end model. Economically, you are a loser. You spent $7100 for a $5000 watch. But you had fun! You got to enjoy buying 3 brand new watches and then you got to score another piece. That has to be worth something! In my case, this “fun of the search” is a huge factor in flipping watches. It’s the 6-month itch.
At first, flipping was my way of “trading up”. I would accumulate a few watches that I thought were “worthy” and then I would get this irresistible urge to own something more prestigious and more EXPENSIVE. So I would trade a few watches toward one more expensive watch. After a while, it wasn’t about trading up anymore. It was about getting something new. Trying something new. Diversifying my collection. Trying different brands. I began trading down and trading sideways. I was always conscious that I was often a loser on these trades, but it was so much FUN! It was all about the hunt. It was about finding a target, making a deal, picking up the piece and bringing home a new toy. Ooooooh, I am getting excited just thinking about it! It’s like getting a fix. In fact, I did it just last week.
I was on vacation and staying home to get my daughter settled into kindergarten. This meant I would have lots of time for browsing watches on the forums and in the stores. But I had no budget to work with. I did, however, have an amazing watch that had some value and that I was getting tired of (after having it for about six months). So I made a deal to trade it for a Chopard that I reviewed last year. Losing my “old” watch hurt quite a bit because it was a special piece. But the opportunity to acquire a fantastic Chopard racing watch was just too tempting to pass up. I went for it. That’s how I roll, I shoot first and ask questions later. I took a big risk that I would end up missing my watch and not liking the Chopard, but I had always wanted a Chopard racer and this was my chance to get one without spending any cash. I figured that, if I made a mistake, I could eventually trade the Chopard for something else. The point of this story is that I had a serious itch to scratch. I craved a new timepiece. I lacked the budget for a decent piece, but I managed to score one by trading away a watch that was starting to get less wrist time. Economically, I was probably a loser. Emotionally, I was a winner. A big winner. I was able to scratch that 6-month itch. I got my fix and I got a new toy to enjoy during my vacation.
While my watch flipping has cost me dearly, it has allowed me to experience dozens of Rolex, Panerai, Bell & Ross, Longines, etc. What I have lost in terms of money, I have gained in terms of experience. I have lived with many Tudor, Montblanc, IWC and Oris watches. I have a better understanding of each brand’s advantages and weaknesses. On a recent online discussion, the host of our partner forum said that flipping and trading allows a collector to learn their own tastes and boundaries — to get a sense of how much they are comfortable spending on a watch and what features are really important to them. He called the process a “journey” and stated that the money is not lost because it helps define your values as a collector. Another point that I would add is that watch collecting is a hobby. As with most hobbies, you have to pay to play. You could save up ten grand and buy one Rolex Submariner and wear it for the rest of your life because it is just so excellent. Or you could indulge in every impulse like I have done and experience a wider range of luxury timepieces. If I had just one Submariner, or just one Audemars-Piguet, I would not feel like a collector. I would not feel active or alive. I prefer to be in the game — to be constantly “tasting” new flavours and flipping different watches. Never discount the thrill factor in scoring a “new” timepiece. This makes me feel alive. Driving to meet a dealer in order to make a deal and bring home a new timepiece — oh, that’s exciting. That’s what it’s all about. And “losing” on a trade-in is the price of getting this thrill on a regular basis.
My constant flipping and trading have definitely taught me a lot about my own tastes and values. I have had many sporty watches on rubber straps — really amazing watches. But if a watch doesn’t wear easily with suits and dress shirts, I get tired of it. These watches can surely be worn to the office sometimes, but they never hold my attention for long. I also lean toward bold, simple dials and really basic watches. I need a chrono or two in my collection, but the simple watches always win with me. I learned that, while big watches are cool, smaller watches will get more wrist time. And I have learned which price range I am comfortable with. Despite having owned and worn many watches in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, I find myself very interested in the $2500 range. This price range is more accessible and still offers very cool options with impressive quality. I am certain that my tastes and preferences will continue to evolve and this is part of the enjoyment.
I am not saying to go nuts like I did — I tend to overdo everything — but when you feel the need for a change, consider a trade or flip. One of my pals went from a Panerai that he sold to me, to an IWC diver chrono and then a Tudor. He traded for the Tudor and got some extra cash back on the deal. He loves the Tudor and he recovered some money. So you can boost your cash reserves on certain trades. My point is that getting a new piece is fun and an occasional change is good. And… if you find a grail… you may be able to convert several “lesser” watches into the one timepiece that seemed unattainable. As always, the fun is in the search…