What’s the Deal with “Box and Papers”?

Jul 24, 2018

What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to have a look at one of the most important questions you should ask when buying a pre-owned watch, or whether it is actually as important as you might think it is.

If you take a look at most pre-owned sellers on the web, especially sites dedicated to the purpose of selling used watches, it is almost inevitable that you will find a section of the listing for whether or not the piece comes with its original box and all of the factory paperwork, such as the manual and warranty information along with any certificates of authenticity. Since most (if not all) resellers list this information, then clearly it is of some importance to the customer, but why is that exactly?

Patek Philippe 5022 w/full set box and papers
Source: Crown & Caliber

The short answer is also, in all likelihood, the only real answer to this question: they help to verify the watch isn’t a fake/replica and is 100% authentic. Obviously, these things can also be faked, but most of the high end manufacturers have been going to lengths to make it harder and harder for fakes to be made convincingly (see: Rolex’s modern warranty cards, versus their previous warranty certificates). So when you, the buyer, are looking to spend a decent amount of money on a used timepiece (whether that’s $500 or $5000 and up), having that extra bit of assurance is a pretty good thing. But I would argue it isn’t essential – at least, not anymore.

Many online pre-owned retailers have been around long enough to develop a reputation online, whether that took ten years or two years to do. Because of the inherently reactionary nature of the Internet, it becomes clear pretty quickly which retailers can be trusted with a cursory search of the various forums and sites that exist.

Full set Rolex
Source: Crown & Caliber

When it comes to vintage, though, things get a bit trickier. The primary reason for this is a shift in culture, really. For a very long time, it wasn’t as customary for people to buy and sell their wristwatches in the form of some kind of hobby. Most often, they would go into a watch shop and either leave without the box and papers, simply wearing the piece out the door, or they would leave with the box and papers and then promptly throw all of that out, as if they’d just picked up a new shirt that, upon seeing that it fit, they decided they wouldn’t return and thus threw out the receipt for. Because of this, though, it becomes super important to recognize that the older you go with a model, the less likely box and papers are going to be.

Audemars Piguet Millenary w/ original box
Source: Anna Griffin

So back to the question at hand – does having the box and papers really matter? Earlier, I touched on the reputation of the seller, and this is key, because many of them, like the ones I mentioned, have them authenticated prior to listing (like we do here at T&H). So even though there are no more factory sent guarantees of authenticity, the pieces are still just as safe a buy, so long as you know who you’re buying from, and are sure that they’ve done their bit to help you keep it (authentically) classy, watchfam.

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