A pre-owned watch, or better yet, a vintage watch, can expect to be in much higher demand if it is being offered as a full set. A full set is considered the watch itself, box, papers and all other warranty-related provenance, as well as all accessories that were included when the watch was bought new.
When you buy a new watch from a retailer or dealer, there is no doubt that you will receive all the necessities that come with the watch. The box, perhaps even a cardboard outer box, warranty cards, and manuals etc. should all be there. However, when you buy a pre-owned or vintage watch, it isn’t always evident that everything is still together with the watch.
Before the boom of mechanical watches really began, it wasn’t always common for people to keep the box and other accessories that came with the watch. Sometimes they even left the box at the retailer, as there was no use or space for it anyway. Today, the difference in price between a vintage watch with or without its box and papers can easily reach thousands of euros, depending on the watch brand and model.
The question is, of course, what all should be there and what’s its value? The answer isn’t always easy. In some known cases, the box, booklets, and warranty cards or papers issued differed between countries. What makes things more difficult is that not every brand has documentation of what was issued in the past. Luckily, books like those of Mondani covering Rolex and Patek Philippe, for example, or the Moonwatch Only book by Rossier and Marquié about the Omega Speedmaster, include good overviews of the boxes, papers, etc. that have been included in the past. For lesser known brands, it rapidly becomes a difficult task to track and trace an original set of accessories.
For the brands mentioned above, prices can differ a lot if an original box and papers come with the watch. A special box, or a box and papers for a limited edition watch, can be especially decisive for the value of the watch. Always make sure to investigate upfront as to which type of box, papers, booklets, etc. should be present with a watch before making a purchase. The books mentioned above can give you some hints or online communities (forums or dedicated Facebook groups) for watches are also good resources.
The original papers that contain the serial number of the watch, for example, are perhaps the most important part of a full set. This piece of paper, or in later years, a plastic card resembling a credit card, belongs to the specific watch verifiable by the matching serial number. When talking Audemars Piguet, for example, the serial number of the watch is printed in the instruction booklet that accompanies the timepiece. Thus, each instruction booklet belongs to a specific watch. When we say papers, we don’t mean the invoice of a watch. Of course, it is interesting to have an original invoice and it certainly increases the value of the entire set (depending on the age and brand), but not everyone is keen on having an invoice floating around with his or her personal details visible. The original price, an applied discount, or worse, someone’s personal address are not pieces of information that the original buyer wants to find online.
It might sound strange to those who are new to collecting or buying watches, but sometimes its the full set of a limited edition watch that makes it valuable. If a limited edition watch is missing its box, papers, or other extras, the watch may suddenly become almost worthless. Of course, there is some core value there, but the watch is of little interest for collectors anymore. First of all, the paper(s) that authenticate a certain limited number or numbered edition is not there, so in some cases it is impossible to check whether it really is a limited edition or a patched-together piece based on a standard edition watch with limited edition (replacement) parts.
Furthermore, some limited edition watches come with a special kind of box or extras. A good example is the recent Omega Speedmaster Professional ‘Silvery Snoopy Award’ edition, which was limited to 1970 pieces. Each came with a special box, silver lapel pin, Apollo 13 newspaper, certificate of authenticity, and more. Altogether, these pieces create the mystique and demand for a certain timepiece. If one or more extras is missing, the collector’s value drops immediately.
A box, even those of certain limited or special editions, can be bought via Chrono24 parts offerings, or perhaps even via the official dealer. Manuals and some extra accessories can also be found; the Rolex Sea-Dweller models, for example, came with a little anchor, a diving table in a green card holder, as well as a tool to change the diver’s extension on the bracelet. You will find some of these accessories for specific watches over various channels, mostly collector’s forums or eBay. Most boxes and manuals are not associated with a specific serial number, but rather with a specific model reference number. So these kinds of extras can be recovered, but it is wise to do some research prior to making any purchases. In some rare cases, these extras can add quite a bit to the price of the watch you are already buying. It may be cheaper (and certainly more convenient) to search a bit longer until you find the watch you want being offered as a full set.
When the papers are missing, however, things are a bit more complex. Some brands offer you the option to request (purchase) an extract of their archives, which includes all the necessary watch details. Some watches that do not have the original papers may be offered with service papers. This means that the watch has been serviced at the manufacturer, and was issued a new set of service papers, which offer an extended warranty in some cases. However, these shouldn’t be confused with or valued the same as the original watch papers. In general, you could say that the papers with a watch’s serial number are only printed once and come with the original purchase. An extract of the archives is an interesting solution, but it will negatively affect the value of the watch when compared to a full set.