HAPPENINGS: Watch Hunting in Tokyo
Tokyo is always a mysterious, adventurous and exciting place for watch hunting. Many good vintage watches in supreme condition have come fresh to market from Japan. It’s quite different from other traditional Asian city; in Japan, the vibrant secondary market is very active in the trading of pre-owned watches.
There are different types of stores that sell watches in Japan; like another other major city in the world, there are many official retail stores like Cartier, Rolex, Omega, all at supreme locations with impressive internal decors. Most of the local Japanese enthusiasts like to buy watches from official retailer shops, as the service provided is extraordinary, where you may get up to 12 years warranty from the shop. However, it’s rarely that you would be surprised by what’s on offer at the traditional boutiques.
Here are also dedicated shops for parallel imports, which is legal in Japan. Brand new watches from these shops are cheaper than those in official retailer stores by about 10-20%, and for some models even up to 50%. You might also find hot items in these parallel import shops that you would need to pay a premium for, on watches that are particularly difficult to obtain from official retailers.
The part that is truly exciting for vintage lovers and watch hunters is stores in Japan called「中古」, which are second-hand dealer shops. Most of the time, second-hand, or to use the term that’s en vogue now, “pre-owned” watches in Japan are well preserved and always in good to as-new condition. Many watches have only been worn a few times before being sold to the secondary market. New old stock (NOS) may also be found in the「中古」 stores. Buying pre-owned watches from Japan is always a decent experience, unlike similar watches from other places in the world, as the Japanese collectors tend to keep the watches in excellent condition .an important point as many worn watches can have hidden scuffs and marks between the links and the lugs). There is generally a fair deduction on the price, according to the degree of imperfection.
Although there are hundreds of billion yen of domestic watch business, the Japanese market is somehow still quite self-contained. There are some significant Japanese watch dealers and auctions still only open for participation by Japanese registered companies or individuals, so what we see in stores is only the tip of the iceberg of the local watch business.
To avoid that lost in translation feeling when visiting Japan, it is very important to plan your trip ahead and note all the locations you’re interested in on a map, so you will have a clearer idea on where to go and how to get to your destination. In general, there are more and more English and Chinese speaking staff in major watch shops. However, if you are looking for in-depth discussion on the watch’s condition, that may be a challenge. Allow us to remind you to do your research before you decide to buy any vintage piece if the price is unexpectedly attractive, there must be some significant reason for the deduction from the market price. Overall, the pricing among Japanese dealers is fair and closer to the price of the international market, compared to just a few years ago.
Another thing that affects pricing is the currency exchange rate. in the early to mid-2010s, when the yen was weak, it attracted many dealers from all over the world to go to Japan for watch hunting, which in turn led many Japanese dealers to expand their network around the world. In 2018, when the yen strengthened, it has taken some luck to encounter well-priced pieces that may have appeared in the local market only a year ago.
Here is our detailed Tokyo watch hunting guide. I have spent three afternoons in the stores that are introduced below:
Ginza, virtually every leading watch brands and official retailers have a presence, is the most famous shopping and entertaining district in Tokyo. Hiding in the alleys from main street, there are watch shops where treasures are hiding.
Location: Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 7 Chome−8−17, 虎屋銀座ビル
Opening hour: 11:00- 19:00 (Wednesday and Sunday closed)
A very nice and well composed watch shop. I personally like how they curate the cabinet display and the collection of Rolex. If you are looking for vintage or modern Rolex watches, Commit will not let you down. The pricing is around market price, which is fair and reasonable. There are also showcases for high end Patek Philippe, also with fair pricing.
Location: Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 4 Chome−4−13, 琉映ビル
Opening hour: Monday to Sunday 10:00-17:00, Saturday 10:00-15:00
NJ time has stores both in Ginza and Nakano. The variety and condition of watches is impressive. The Ginza store is particularly well organised with its amount of stock, with almost complete collections of modern Omega Speedmasters, many Rolex, and many, many Heuer, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, and other interesting brands. While the Nakano store is comparatively smaller with less watches. Don’t get me wrong, the two stores’ collection are different. To my impression, the Nakano branch tend to focus on modern sports watch, which I believe serves for different clientele.
A glimpse of NJ time Nakano shop
Location: 〒164-0001 東京都中野区中野中野５丁目５２−15 中野ブロードウェイ３Ｆ
Location: 〒104-0061 Ginza888 Bldg. 1F, 8-8-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 11:00- 20:00
If you don’t have a target in mind, as long as you are interested in the general Rolex market for price or trend, Quark provides the best reference to let you understand the Rolex market, from modern to vintage. The Rolex ranking catalogue is informative and provides you indexes on general market price. The special vintage section is mainly selling Rolex, with condition and price available for reference .
Location: Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, 銀座４丁目８−１
Opening hour: 12:00- 19:00, Saturday 12:00- 18:00, Wednesday and Sunday closed
A very decent space, more like a collector’s club in the corner of the street. There are few watches on view or for sale. To respect the owner, no photo is allowed inside the shop. Watches that for sale are mainly on consignment basis. I would definitely recommend this store to vintage enthusiasts, the store manager is nice and knowledgeable on vintage pieces, and he will have many watches from private collections to show you, if he finds you share the same interest. You may see rare and surprising pieces; I was shown a rare black dial Patek Philippe 3417 Amagnetic. Just bear in mind the premium for rarity is likewise high.
Location: 5 Chome-9-12 Ginza Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061
Opening hour: 11:00- 19:30
Among all the stores, Shellman is the one with a real variety of watches, from pocket watches to vintage pieces to independent watchmaker pieces. Shellman also launched their own branded watch, including not only time only pieces but also with complications. I believe in the showroom there can be a lot good vintage pieces from time to time. When I visited, the major collection on display was Patek Philippe Calatrava. The collection is broad as it seems, depth is lacking for collectors’ interest.
Beside the Ginza, landmark for upmarket shopping, Nakano is a very interesting place, as from outside, it looks rather ghetto. Interspersed in between all the toys and comic book shops, Nakano hides a paradise for watch lovers. There are over 20 watch shops offering different kind of timepieces and services in the mall. It's better to spare at least an afternoon to go through all the shops, just in case.
Location: Japan, 〒164-0001 Tokyo, 中野区５丁目５２−１５ 中野ブロードウェイ
Opening hour: 11:00-20:30
Jack road is one of the most popular pilgrimage for watches as well as the shop that excites me the most. I would say that if you only have time to visit one store in Tokyo, Jack Road is definitely the place to go. Despite the vast variety of watches from Patek Philippe, to Richard Mille, to Rolex, to Omega, there are almost all the brands that you could think of. The models are all hot and sought after ones. In Jack Road, swift decisions need to be made, with any in-demand items already having a stack of “Negotiating” tags, which means they are no long available for sale. There are many clients from the Asia Pacific region, especially Hong Kong, such that you can hear Cantonese spoken all the time. The store is separated into different sections; opposite the main area for hot items are ladies watch and a jewellery section, which is full of vintage pieces to modern, day-to-day wear, even some high jewellery pieces; it's a good way to explore the watch world with your companion. Among all shops, Jack Road is the one you should not missed.
Location: Japan,〒164-0001 Tokyo, Nakano, 5 Chome−52−15 中野ブロードウェイ3F
Opening Hour: 11:00-20:30
This shop is famous among tourists from Mainland China, surprisingly, the shop is not as packed as I have imagined. Matching Hong Kong market price, the listing price is on the high end.
As mentioned earlier in the article, there are many watch shops for you to explore in Nakano that I am unable to introduce one by one here. Visting all the chain stores and individual-owned watch shops is the best way to understand the dynamic of watch business in Japan.
Given if I have only one afternoon, would I visit Ginza or Nakano? My answer probably would lean to Nakano. The watch stores are concentrated and provide great variety, especially it's where the Jack Road locates. Ginza, for better luxurious experience, tends to have more serious watches. In terms of hunting fun, Nakano gains greater chance to give you surprises.