Vintage Ramblings

eBay Follies

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If you begin to get serious as a vintage watch collector, sooner or later youíll be tempted to bid on something for sale on eBay.
This approach certainly makes sense. If you live in a rural area far from a large city, it may be your only option other than yard sales. In a larger center you have antique shops, vintage jewelry stores and even pawn shops, but out in the ďbooniesĒ eBay is your best bet.
Even if you live New York City, eBay still looks good. For sheer variety of stuff out there, you cannot beat it. Anything from 1750 to 1950, American , English, Swiss.. itís all there for the bidding.
Iíve bought stuff successfully on eBay and you will too. However Iíve also learned some hard lessons which Iíd like to share with you. Better the devil you know than the devil you donít.
First and foremost is the bidding. Youíll get sniped a lot. There are knowledgeable dealers out there and if you think youíll get a desirable piece at a bargain price without a fight, forget it! Vintage watches stay at tantalizingly low prices for two weeks and just when you think youíll get a great deal, Zap! At the last minute a higher bid comes in and takes the piece away. You have been sniped.
You can avoid this by using the eBay proxy system. Set your highest bid and forget it. If you win great. If not thereís lots more out there.
Better still, snipe yourself using Auction Bidder or some automatic last minute bid system. I have really ticked off a hotshot vintage dealer that way, and got some really good bargains. Just remember, you donít own anything till the time on the clock expires.
Next piece of advice. Never ever EVER buy a watch that the seller tells you is not running. It might be a simple as a broken mainspring, or the whole watch may be rusted out. You cannot tell from a bunch of photos. There are plenty of watches on eBay that still work. Of course if you are an amateur watchmaker, be my guest and rescue any ďlost puppyĒ you want. Otherwise stick to something that runs.
Be sure of this. Whatever you buy cheap will need servicing and that adds about $100 to your price. I suppose one can buy cheap vintage watches and never get them fixed, but that is not my style. I am really lucky to know a great watchmaker who has made my eBay purchases look wonderful. Sometimes you can buy a watch that is guaranteed to be refurbished but you will pay for the cost of servicing in the bid price.
Now Iíd like to share a few eBay experiences with you. Probably youíll have the same sort of thing happen to you when you start bidding and buying.


1. The Good
These are some of my favorite stories.
I got a 1909 15 Jewel Elgin pocket watch in beautiful running condition (and just serviced 6 months before) from an Elgin lover who was reducing the size of his collection. It is a beauty.
I sniped a vintage dealer to get a Rose gold 1949 Bulova. My watchmaker pal replaced the crystal and cleaned it. Itís one of the prettiest Bulovas Iíve ever seen from that era. Love it!


2. The Bad (or Sorta Mediocre)
I bought a 1946 Elgin deluxe at a good price from a watch repair dude. However, my own watchmaker soon discovered that it had an incorrectly fitted crystal and the hands were not right. He got a proper crystal and fitted a pair of original Elgin hands from his vast collection of obsolete parts. I replaced the band which just sucked. Now itís a showpiece.. but no bargain
I overpaid for a lovely black dial 1936 Bulova. The watch doctor had to replace the center wheel, the hands and the crystal. Next he had to fix a broken mainspring on the same watch. Itís a great looker though.


3. The Ugly
There was a nice looking 17 jewel 1905 Elgin at a reasonable price. After I bought this one, I soon discovered that it ďknockedĒ when wound fully and left face up on a table. This is not a good thing for a watch to do. Shane replaced the balance staff and the balance jewels and repoised the balance. Then he spent a lot of time adjusting the new balance wheel to get it running perfectly (lots of little timing screws and messing around on the timer.) He likes me and did not overcharge me for all the extra service. I got lucky. The watch now runs beautifully, but I learned a lesson from it. Donít believe everything you read on eBay.
I bought a nice looking gray dial Gruen from 1947 or so. After he cleaned it, my watch doctor pal informed me I had been had. Some unscrupulous turkey had taken an orphaned dial and case and put them together. Gruen had never made a watch like this - ever!. It runs well and looks OK but I donít think Iíll enter it in any vintage watch shows anytime soon. I donít know how I could have avoided this problem.


Well I could go on and on but you get the idea. You have to have your wits about you on eBay and you still can get burned. However, I have also gotten some lovely pieces from honest sellers. And yes, I plan to buy there again-just as long as Shane Ede is around to back me up.
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