The Pros and Cons of Customizing Pre-Owned Luxury Watches

. 6 min read

While purists will argue that watches should be left alone in their original condition, there are others who enjoy the process of customizing a watch. In fact, many shoppers in the secondary market are looking to buy lower-cost luxury watches with the goal of customizing it. There is a whole host of ways to customize a watch from subtle enhancements to complete transformations. But are there drawbacks to modifying a timepiece? Today we will be exploring different ways to modify watches, in addition to outlining the pros and cons of customizing pre-owned luxury watches.

Different Ways to Customize A Watch

There are several different ways to customize a luxury watch—often referred to as “watch modding” in the watch world.

One of the most popular and easiest ways to tailor a watch is to switch out the original bracelet or band for a custom one. Along with official brand watch straps, there is an entire industry revolved around high-quality aftermarket watch bands and bracelets crafted specifically for top watch brands and models. A big benefit of changing out straps is that it is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to transform the look of your watch in an instant. As long as you have correct sized straps, you can really play around with different styles. The same watch will look dramatically different on a leather band, metal bracelet, or textile strap. Investing in watch straps is a great way to expand your timepiece collection without having to buy too many watches. Another advantage of opting for different watch bands is that it is a temporary alteration—you can always return the watch to its original condition when you want to.

A watch dial can also be switched out. Since the dial is the face of the watch, modifying it can change how a watch looks quite considerably. You can choose another dial color, a newer dial design, different hour maker types, or a fresh set of center hands. Similarly, bezel inserts can be swapped out too for a fast style change. However, unless you are experienced in tinkering with watches (or do not care if you inadvertently damage your watch) these types of customization procedures should be left to a skilled watchmaker.

Another prevalent method to customize a watch is to set it with precious gems. Of course, this is a much more expensive process and it is permanent. Whether you decide to add just a few diamond indexes on the dial or completely ice-out your timepiece, there are plenty of watchmakers and jewelers out there that can get the job done well. An advantage of this route is that it is typically cheaper to buy an unadorned luxury watch and then customize it with gems compared to buying a high-end timepiece already set with factory diamonds.

Similar to gem setting, PVD/DLC coating a luxury watch is a pricey and permanent technique to alter a watch. However, if you are a fan of blacked-out watches this is how to get it done if the specific watch you want does not come in an all-black color scheme.

Engraving a watch with a special message is yet another way to personalize a timepiece. Some brands even offer this type of service in-house.  As a matter of fact, this is one of the oldest ways to customize a watch and it is not uncommon to find pre-owned watches etched with names, dates, and mini notes on the back of the watch.

Photo by @housingworksauctions, CC

Pro #1: Buy A Less Costly Luxury Watch And Customize It To Your Liking

It’s no secret that there are fantastic deals to be had in the pre-owned luxury watch market. As such, savvy shoppers who want a particular watch but cannot afford it (or find it) have the option of buying a similar model and customizing it to look like the watch they want.

For instance, Rainbow Daytona chronographs are not just very expensive but are also notoriously difficult to find. For those who love the look but will never have the opportunity to get their hands one, buying a different Daytona model and modifying it to sport a rainbow sapphire gem-set bezel is an alternative option. Traditionalists may balk at this idea but at the end of the day, wearing watches should be a joyful experience and if customization brings you joy, then, go for it!

Another point to consider is that older watches oftentimes show signs of wear and tear. Scratches, discoloration, dents, and bracelet stretching are just a few common traits of vintage watches. Some collectors love these details as they illustrate a watch’s history. On the other hand, other watch wearers prefer to spruce up old timepieces by polishing out case scuffs, exchanging discolored dials, swapping out scratched up crystals, and swapping out bracelets.

Pro #2: Wear A Watch That No One Else Has

In addition to being a practical piece of mechanical machinery that can tell you the time (and in some cases, date, day, month, year, moon phase, and other functions) a watch is also a way to convey personal style.

So, for those who like to stand out from the crowd with bespoke items, wearing a popular luxury watch model that countless others also own may not be the best option. This is where customization comes into play. With so many possibilities out there to choose from, you can easily transform a watch to look like no one else’s.

Con #1: Modified Watches Can Lose Value

For all its advantages, customizing watches is not without its disadvantages too. For instance, it is important to remember that watch collectors characteristically prefer untouched watches over modified ones.

It may come as a surprise to some, but avid vintage watch collectors appreciate signs of wear on a timepiece. Watches with patina, tropicalization, fading, and imperfections can actually fetch higher prices than those that have been continuously serviced, polished, and kept in tiptop condition with newer replacement parts. Subsequently, modifying a watch with aftermarket components or service parts can cause it to actually lose value in the secondary market.

Therefore, if getting the highest resale value for your pre-owned luxury watch is a priority for you, you may want to hold off on modifications. But if wearing a bespoke watch is more important to you than recouping your investment, then this is not a point of concern.

Con #2: Authorized Service Centers Will Not Service A Modified Watch

Something else to keep in mind if you are contemplating customizing your watch is that most authorized service centers, such as Rolex, Omega, Cartier and countless others, will not service a watch that has been modified with aftermarket parts.

Therefore, if keeping up with regular maintenance via an authorized service center is vital to you, then you should avoid any aftermarket modifications to your watch. However, if you do decide to customize your timepiece, there are plenty of skilled independent watchmakers that will happily service your modded watch.

Con #3: Your Custom Watch Project May Not Turn Out Exactly How You Wanted

Transforming a watch—particularly an expensive luxury watch—with permanent modifications always presents some risk. Even if you have done your homework and settled on the best company to undertake the project, the end result may not be what you had envisioned. Perhaps the gem setting is not to your liking, the PVD coating made the watch look cheap, or the supplier accidentally damaged your watch when switching out parts. The risk of alteration is something to consider.

Is Watch Modding Right for You?

Although not for everyone, watch modding culture is a strong and passionate segment within the watch enthusiast universe. As a result, there is a wide range of companies that specialize in servicing this community. From watch strap purveyors to outlets that will work closely with customers to execute an overhaul watch project, watch customization culture is steadily growing.

If you have never done it before but are curious to try some custom work, it might be best to experiment with a relatively inexpensive luxury watch that you found at a great price. That way, if the watch does not turn out exactly how you want it, the loss will not be too dramatic.

But always remember, regardless of what purists and traditionalists may say, it is your watch to do with as you please. If you want to jump right in and go all the way with a big custom project, then that is your prerogative. Nevertheless, if you did not buy the watch recently, it would be smart to find out what its current value is (especially if it is vintage as it may be quite valuable), before modifying it.

If you do not want to undertake the risk of altering your prized watch only to regret it later, another option is to search for an already customized watch similar to what you had in mind in the secondary market. If you know where to look, the pre-owned luxury watch market is generously stocked with watches that have already been modified. You never know, you may just happen to find one that is already tailored to your taste.

Featured photo by @hamaltaktak1, CC