Shopping for Watches
Throughout the year we get calls from readers across the United States, Europe and Canada, all asking the same question, “What is the best buy in the Caribbean jewelry stores?”
The first answer is always those gemstones that come to the island jewelers direct from the mines of Brazil and Colombia. But the second answer, that actually equals the first in importance, always seems to puzzle people. That is Watches.
The Caribbean is far and away the best place in the world to shop for virtually every watch line you have ever heard of, and many that you have never heard of. There are watch companies in the Caribbean that have never sold their watches in the U.S. and probably never will. So your trip to the islands may well be your only opportunity to own one of these unique and special watch brands.
Your first consideration when shopping for a new watch will be to look for an authorized dealer. Every watch manufacturer establishes certain jewelers who have proven themselves for quality and integrity as authorized dealers for their watch lines in a specific region, or on a specific island.
Sometimes, other jewelers on the island go through the gray market to get watches of the same brand name. However, these jewelers cannot offer manufacturer’s warranties, cannot offer catalogues of styles, and most importantly, cannot service the watch if you have problems. In fact, many times the watches that these gray market dealers sell are not made by the manufacturer at all. Sometimes they are just very cheap movements with the watch brand face on the fake case.
Either way, you should never buy a watch from anyone other than an authorized dealer of that watch company. Otherwise, if you have a problem you will most likely get stuck with a useless piece of junk that nobody will work with. Stay with the authorized dealers. CGI member jewelers who carry fine watches have all had to meet strict criteria to be included in the association. Our guidelines are among the strictest in the Jewelry Industry which is a benefit to the consumer. Ask your watch dealer if they are current CGI members or visit our CGI certified Jewelers page.
This is everybody’s favorite question. The fact is that the watch companies, themselves, set the prices for their dealers in the Caribbean. Since the Caribbean jewelers sell the watches in such tremendous volume, the watch companies give their Caribbean dealers prices that can range from 5 percent to as much as 45 percent off the recommended U.S. retail price of the watches. So you will have to decide which watch interests you and check with an authorized dealer for their price. You should also know that since the watch companies set the prices for the watch dealers, all prices for the same style of the same watch should be fairly comparable from dealer to dealer. Store services and the quality of the salesperson will then help you to decide from whom to make your purchase.
Choosing a watch is a lot like choosing a car. You need to decide what you want the watch to do for you…just as with the car. Do you want a sports model that you can be put through a lot of wear and tear? Or perhaps you need a practical model to wear to work that offers multiple time zones and day/date windows. Maybe you need a dress model that will go with that new tuxedo for the wedding. And maybe you need an all round model that offers both styling and rugged wear-ability. Dive watches are extremely popular, all offering different features such as water temperature, dive time, depth meter etc.
A good Swiss made watch has a jeweled movement. This means that the little cogwheels are revolving on (artificially made) ruby bearings. Also the anchor, which is the little device in the shape of an anchor that regulates the power flow, has rubis on its extensions. The purpose of the jewels is to avoid wear. Watches that are not jeweled will have a shorter lifespan and will sound louder. A lot of older watches still have ’17 rubis’ or ’21 jewels’ written on the dial. Dials and cases can be redone. A dial is hardly ever made by the same factory that made the movement. For this reason it doesn’t matter that much if you have it redone. As long as it is done in the original way. Still, watches that have their original dial are valued more.
If your watch has a chromium or a gold filled case it can be redone. All steel or gold watches can be polished easily and will look like new again. The inside of a watch is called a ‘calibre’ and not unlike a car every part can be ordered separately. The more refined a caliber is the better the watch will keep time. On the more expensive calibers you will find inscriptions like; ‘Adjusted to three (to five) positions’ or ‘heat and cold treated’. Sometimes a watch will have both inscriptions.
Heat and cold treated means that the watch has been tested in an extreme heat and extreme cold environment and has been adjusted accordingly. The positions in which a watch can be held – face up, face down etc..- are important for the way it functions. Watches that bear this inscription have been tested in different positions and have been adjusted accordingly.
One important piece of advice. Buy the highest possible quality you can afford and you will not be disappointed.
No matter what you need in the way of features in a watch, the Caribbean jewelers will have just the watch for you. But remember to stay with the authorized dealers. They are your only protection from those gray market dealers who will try to tell you that you are getting the real thing, while all the time trying to push off some imitation on you. Stay with an authorized dealer.
Part of CGI’s commitment to quality is that we visit the member stores often. We talk with the owners, the clerks, their benchmen, and their customers. It seems in each store there are always one or two clerks that have an absolute passion for fine watches.
In one particular store in St. Maarten we were treated to an hour-long discussion on fine watches with one of the clerks who lovingly referred to fine watches as “his babies.” Fine watch sales to him was not a job, it was a commitment to quality.
I advise anyone who is looking at buying a fine watch to contact the store before the visit, ask to speak with the person who specializes in fine watches and utilize him or her as a consultant. Tell them when you will be visiting and your needs. You may be delighted when you arrive to find quite a few pieces hand selected by your personal consultant for you to view. Its nice to be catered to now isn’t it??
Most gray market watch dealers will try to tell you that they are authorized dealers. The best way to spot an authorized dealer is to look for the following:
- A letter or plaque from the watch manufacturer verifying the store as an authorized dealer for that watch company on that island.
- Complete watch display materials from the watch manufacturer. Most authorized dealers will have very nice displays with the watch company’s name and logo on the display.
- READ THE WARRANTY: Very often, gray market watch dealers will have famous name brand watches, but their watch warranties will be from some “Brand X Trading Company” in Hong Kong or Singapore. Even if the watch says Seiko, if the warranty says “Brand X Trading Company” it is not an authentic Seiko watch. So be sure and read the warranty. A Seiko warranty, for instance, will have a world wide Seiko guarantee with a complete listing of authorized Seiko service centers. Same with Breitling, Tag Heuer, Rolex, and every other watch line in the stores. So take a few minutes to read the warranty before you buy. This may keep you from having to wait 6 months while your watch takes a holiday in Singapore.
- Ask to see the catalogue. Most authorized dealers will have catalogues from the watch manufacturers that have the jeweler’s name embossed on the outside. Some watch companies do this, others do not. But every authorized dealer of every watch company will have a catalogue of the full line of the watch company’s products. And I am not talking about one page flyers or a few brochures. I am talking about a full catalogue of every watch that the manufacturer makes, in addition to the flyers and brochures of individual watch designs. If the store in which you are shopping cannot provide you with this information… leave and find one who can.
There was once a time in the jewelry industry when integrity was the prime motivating factor that governed all transactions. When million dollar deals were done on a simple hand shake without the need of attorneys or contracts. When a person’s word was their most valued possession. And when the mark of a well respected, established jeweler was the watch lines that they were qualified to carry. In fact, even today you can get a good idea of the integrity of a jeweler by the watch lines that he or she is authorized to represent because the watch companies are very careful as to who represents their lines.
Well, the idea that it takes a reputable, ethical jeweler to be an authorized dealer for most major watch lines was picked up by many jewelers who either could not qualify as ethical, or else did not care to work hard to establish a reputation. And these jewelers have found ways to obtain the watch lines as unauthorized dealers and thereby try to pass themselves off as respectable jewelers since they have the watch lines in their stores.
What has developed is what we in the jewelry industry call the gray market. This is the market in which unethical jewelers can obtain watches by highly questionable methods to sell in their stores and make themselves look ethical.
Most of these gray market watches are either fakes, or else they are made from spare parts in some Far East country and made to look like the genuine article. And absolutely DO NOT under any circumstances buy a designer watch from a street person. Don’t become the proud owner of an always entertaining “BOLEX” watch. And buying watches from a gray market dealer is like buying a stereo from the back of a van at the bowling alley. You are not only hurting the legitimate market, but if you get home and it doesn’t work, you are stuck with it.
So when you shop, stay with the authorized dealers. They have worked hard to earn your trust.