It’s been said that everything old becomes new again. That phrase is especially true for antique dealers, collectors and sellers of vintage wares. But just because something old is new doesn’t mean it’s worth your hard-earned money. That’s a lesson one famous rocker learned the hard way.
Recently, John Mayer filed a $650,000 lawsuit in Los Angeles against Bob Maron, a watch dealer who sells vintage and pre-owned luxury watches to multiple high-profile business magnates and celebrities. Mayer’s claim: several vintage Rolex watches he purchased were not authentic since non-Rolex parts were being used.
Mayer reportedly spent around $5,000,000 over the years on his watch collection, which is more than most antique treasure hunters can imagine spending in their lifetime. But that doesn’t mean everyday Jane and John Does aren’t at risk of blowing a small bundle on pre-owned goods that turn out to be a fake or overpriced.
“This could happen to anyone,” says Tirath Kamdar, an expert in luxury jewelry re-selling and CEO of True Facet, a luxury jewelry re-seller.
And since flea markets, antique shops and estate sales feed my love of early-American primitives, I thought it a good idea to brush up on the do’s and don’ts of spotting fakes and making sure the bargains I find are actually good deals.
Kamdar offers a few tips to ensure your gently used treasure is 100 percent authentic and worth the price tag.
Do your homework. There’s no use paying buying a big ticket item at a flea market or antique show that you could have paid much less for had you known the going rate for like items. (This is a lesson I once learned when impulse led me to pay more than I should for a reproduction Victrola phonograph being sold as authentic.)
Rely on technology. Smart phones and tablets make it easy to comparison shop no matter where you are. Before plunking down any cash, use them to research any identifying marks (serial numbers, markings, composition of material, etc.) you should look for to determine authenticity. Check the current market price of the item by scouring closed eBay auctions and similar sites to learn what others have paid for an item like this in similar condition. It may also help to search the brand name + product name. (When applicable look for model /serial numbers and search those, too). “This will show you what to look for and what people are selling similar products at across the web, and you can use that as negotiation power,” says Kamdar.
Ask plenty of questions. If you’re going to a shop, handle your affairs with a reputable estate or vintage dealer. If you’re shopping a flea market, ask if the seller can provide references or if they have a website with ratings and testimonials from past customers. Regardless of where you are acquiring your vintage goods, once you find a piece you like ask how the item was acquired. Did it come from an estate sale, private seller, auction or was the item previously retailed? Consider it a red flag if the item was acquired off the street or from a pawn shop, says Kamdar.
“Ask what the seller did to validate the piece’s authenticity,” says Kamdar. “This is especially important if the seller acquired the item “off the street” via a private seller at another flea market, an estate sale, etc.”
Assess expertise. Drill into the seller’s expertise assessing vintage pieces to get an idea of their domain knowledge and years of experience, says Kamdar. “Many times a retailer thinks something is 100 percent authentic when it’s actually not, and thus a specific proficiency and mastery of the type of item you’re interested in is required when assessing estate and vintage pieces.”
In Mayer’s situation, he reportedly found other parts, not the original Rolex watch parts, inside those specific watches. To prevent suffering a similar fate, if you have your eye on a watch, clock or other item that has moving internal parts you’ll want to know your seller did all he could to authenticate the item. “To ensure authenticity, it is important a seller open up the item to ensure every part of the watch is original and direct from the manufacturer and not other random watch parts,” says Kamdar.
Guarantee the warranty. If a seller guarantees they’ve gone through an exhaustive verification process, ask if they offer returns and a warranty. It is important to have this when buying jewelry, art or other pricey items. “You’ll want a return and warranty policy so you can take the item to an expert appraiser and have a second look to confirm authenticity,” says Kamdar.
Swap digits. Kamdar suggests getting the seller’s contact information before completing the purchase. “This way, you’re able to make a purchase and, if you choose, take it to a third party appraiser to double check that what you bought is really what you wanted. If not, you’re able to get back to the dealer and have your item returned and the issue resolved.”
Then, sit back and admire your purchase.
I’ve yet to come home with a bargain that turned out to be a hidden fortune, but I have brought home dozens of goodies that I continue to cherish.
What about you? What deals and treasures have you uncovered rooting around flea markets?
Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock, Getty Editorial, Getty ThinkStock