The best places to buy (Rolex) watches
With the UK being slowly herded into quarantine, brits like me our finding ourselves with not much to do, but an awful lot of spare time in which to do it. As a result, it is only natural for the people of this little island to start asking important, existential questions such as:
- Does hording loo roll really make you immune to the virus?
- When will it be legal to fire anyone who coughs, even a little, into low orbit?
- After this banal ordeal is over, where would I go on my fever driven shopping spree in order to buy myself a timepiece for less than whatever exorbitant price my local dealer has conjured up?
Sadly, I do not have an answer for the first two questions, but I might just have an answer for that last one.
What factors should I consider?
Buying a watch abroad can be a sneaky way to avoid lengthy waiting lists, inflated prices, or just limited stock at your local dealership. However, there are a few things to be aware of before you go to the lost far-flung Rolex dealership:
- Currency – The local currency used to be a big factor in whether you’re going to get a better or worse deal when compared to your native country, but sadly brands such as Rolex have since caught on.
- Even eastern European countries such as Serbia now trade using the euro, with Belgrade’s own dealership, Petite Geneve Petrovic, quoting €9,100 for a Rolex Batman 126710, which is more than £650 above the equivalent RRP for the same watch in the UK.
- VAT Refunds – If I were to buy a watch in Germany, because I do not live in that country, I am able to file for a VAT refund (19% in Germany) provided I have the correct identification on my persons i.e. my passport.
- Import Tax – Whilst getting VAT refunds sounds ideal, it is somewhat a double-edged sword, as when you bring any items you have purchased abroad back into your country, legally you must declare it. In the UK, this would result in me having to pay 20% VAT on my previously VAT free purchase, plus duty fees which are 2%, resulting in me paying significantly more than the original 19% VAT I managed to get off in the first place. This does change from country to country, so this may well be a fantastic idea should you live in countries such as America or Australia! Oh and, don’t try smuggling the watch back into your country, if you’re caught it can result in a criminal conviction!
- Haggling – Not an art commonly practiced in western countries, but if you were to go to places such as China, or more specifically Hong Kong, to not haggle would be downright blasphemous. It’s significantly harder to haggle for brands such as Rolex, especially watches made of precious metals, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to get a thousand or so Yuan knocked off.
- Demand – The demand for luxury goods influences the stock available in that country, but most significantly the second-hand value of watches. The country with the biggest luxury goods market was the US (somewhat predictably), followed by China, Japan, Italy, France and in 6th place, the United Kingdom, according to a study by Statista in 2020.
So which countries would I recommend?
Here’s where I get a little stuck; bands such as Rolex have got their prices carefully selected to be within the ballpark of each other.
When we take the RRP for the Rolex 126710 Batman in the most popular global currencies we can clearly see this:
- GBP - £7750
- USD to GBP - £7939.92
- Euro to GBP - £7853.20
- HKD to GBP - £7,984.48
So, considering this, my answer is clear: It depends on where you live.
If you live in the UK.
Just stay home, and that’s not just for the sake of self-isolation! With the pound’s value disappearing faster than fusilli at my local supermarket, if you were to buy a Rolex watch abroad and pay VAT and duties upon importing it, you’ll easily pay 10% or more than you would otherwise pay just buying the damn thing for RRP in the halls of Harrods.
If you live in the EU.
For pretty much everyone who isn’t already a resident there, the UK is a pretty compelling choice! With the pound quickly finding itself in the toilet thanks to Brexit and now Covid-19, buying a watch in the UK at RRP, even if your county’s VAT is higher than 20%, may well end up cheaper than buying it at home simply due to the toilet that the UK’s economy finds itself in!
If you live in the US.
Buy from the UK. Watches that fall under the HS 9101.21.10 guidelines are only due 3.1% duty fee, and when you factor in VAT which can range from 5.5% to 12%, you can make some serious savings!
For example, if you live in California, and have the golden opportunity to buy a Rolex Daytona 116500LN for RRP £10,500, minus the VAT, plus the duty and California VAT (7.25%) results in a very tidy £9288.28, saving you more than £1000 compared to the US RRP! The very definition of a steal, especially if you’ve read our article on the Daytona and understand the rich and illustrious racing history of the watch!
With the world economy being in a pit of an unusual state, these prices and speculations are liable to change. However, it is very clear that a huge factor in getting watches on the cheap in other countries simply comes down to VAT refunds and your country’s import laws. If you live in America, the world is your Perpetual Oyster. If you’re in EU countries, give the UK a go, but it might be worth just sticking home, less hassle. If you’re in the UK, just stay at home, you’re already in the cheapest country around.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary, courtesy of Rolex)
Arthur Butcher @Horbiter®