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I adore Shakespeare, so I couldn’t resist this little word play on probably the most recognized line in English literature.
I’m sure that most adult people at some point in their lives have faced this decision regarding buying something as necessary as a house to live in or a means of transport to take them to work or the kids to school. The difficulty in the choice lies in the fact that any money poured into rent is “lost” in exchange for a theoretically carefree service with most maintenance and upkeep laying in solely the hands of the renter. At the end of the day you will have nothing to show for all your hard-earned cash. The advantage is not having to cough up a considerable up-front commitment. Ownership (especially for real estate) has its advantages and disadvantages. Maintenance, condo fees, estate tax and depreciation risk are among the factors that move some people to rent instead of taking on financing to buy a house, especially if there is a risk of moving to a different city (or even country) for reasons of work. But at least the house (or car) is yours and you are free to do with it as you wish.
How does this translate to watches? Watches are not indispensable items: some would say they are useless items in this day and age. Would any watch enthusiast in their right mind, with a passion for collecting timepieces ever consider renting the watch of their dreams? Let’s find out.
I was surprised at the number of relevant results I got in Google by typing the words “Watch Renting”. It looks like this is a growing business model that is having a certain amount of success. The companies mostly tout these services as an “extension” to an existing watch collection, or as a try before “you fork out a substantial amount of cash on a watch you may not like” service. These statements unfortunately don’t hold up very well to scrutiny. I mean, what the heck is an extension to your watch collection if you don’t actually own the watch? Also, I’m sure that any AD will let you try out any watch in their inventory for free to your heart’s content, before you take the plunge.
This of course applies to obtainable watches, stuff you can just walk into and AD and buy. What about the Steel Sports Rolexes and Patek Nautiluses of this world? These pieces have age long waiting lists, or in some cases are unobtainable no matter how long the wait unless you are a wealthy VIP customer who has already dropped tens of thousands on expensive jewellery and less desirable watches. In this case the proposition makes even less sense. In exchange for a hefty monthly fee (and sometimes a ludicrous one-time membership cost) you will get to rent a watch that you will probably never be able to find let alone buy at list price directly from an AD.
I had a look at the offerings from three companies, Watch Lending Club, Vyrent and Acquired Time. Let me say straight up I don’t believe these services are scams (and if they are shame on you!). My impression is that they aim to offer a service to a small niche, I’m not sure this includes many watch collectors or enthusiasts.
Out of the three Watch Lending Club is the only one that is asking for a sign-up fee that ranges from 1000$ for low tier watches all the way up to 50.000$ for “corporate access” (whatever that means). Add on top of that a monthly fee that starts at 100$/mo and goes up to 1000$/mo. In the lowest membership level you can’t even choose the watch, you will be sent a random “low tier” watch (for example a Breitling SuperOcean or a Tudor Pelagos) to keep for up to 90 days.
You can choose your watch by buying a “wildcard” but that’s an extra 150$. Higher priced subscriptions give the subscriber access to more prestigious watches and more choice. But that initial membership fee is the big put off: it basically ties you into the game for at least a year. Your minimum initial outlay is in the order of 2200$. A quick search on Chrono24 reveals that a second hand Tudor Pelagos can be had for around 3000$: I’m sure if you hunt around on Ebay and watch forums you can find one closer to that 2200$ and you OWN THE WATCH. I rest my case.
Vyrent and Acquired Time don’t ask for a sign-up fee so that’s a good start. Their business models are similar: they are offering tiered subscriptions that give access to higher priced models with increasing monthly costs.
Acquired Time, a company based in Singapore, requires at least a 6-month commitment: at their lowest tier that’s around 800$. It must be said that even this lowly tier does offer a nice selection of watches, among them Tudor Black Bays, Panerais and IWC chronos. But if you want a Batman that’s a 575 SG$/mo subscription that will set you back the equivalent of 2600$ in just six months. Not a particularly attractive proposition in my humble opinion.
Vyrent’s approach is similar, but they apparently don’t own any of the watches. Whatever is sent out is stock that’s sitting in retailers and AD’s safes and drawers. Much like Acquired Time there is a only 3-month minimum subscription to commit to, but monthly pricing is much higher. The lowest tier is 375$ that adds up to 1125$, the choice in that tier is limited to women’s watches. If you want to scratch the itch for Rolex Submariner you must move up to next highest offer and pony up 600$ a month for a total of 1800$. Discounts are offered for longer commitments, but it’s still quite expensive. Access to the top of the top of the line pieces (in precious metals or highly sought-after pieces like Pateks) is an eye watering 1800$ per month! Insurance is extra in all cases.
Vyrent is also different in that they also sell the watches they rent. But a quick flip through their app shows prices that make Watchfinder look like a pound shop. They are listing a lowly no date Submariner for 9500$, oh, by the way, you have to be a member to buy one. They state on the website that your spend on rentals is considered credit towards the purchase, but it’s not clear how this works.
At these conditions Vyrent looks more like a service to resellers who want to partially recoup the enormous cost of owning inventory by renting out unsold watches in the hope that every now and then they may sell one.
Having said this, I doubt a serious watch aficionado would (or should) spend good money on these services. Financing can be had for very low rates these days and, while I don’t advocate getting into debt for non-essential goods. Still, it’s better than throwing money into something that in the end will only leave you with the memory of a watch and an empty wallet.
My advice is save up, be frugal, and make sacrifices for your hobby. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction you will gain when at last you will be able to obtain your desired watch, will outweigh any negatives, trust me. The way I see it there is no “get rich quick” in watch collecting.
If you want to try out a watch or watches go to your AD, or, if you are lucky enough to have one in your area, join your local RedBar Chapter. There you will see many wonders and meet many many like-minded watch nerds, no costs involved.
So, who are these services for? Mostly for people who don’t care for watches at all but want to project a false image of themselves in society. The kind that show up at the Monte Carlo Casino, in a rented Aston Martin, with a rented Tux, rented escort girl in an evening dress, and, in this case, a rented Rolex Daytona. They will mingle with people they hardly know, hoping that nobody will ask them how they got that fantastic watch, and lying through their teeth if they do.
And beware, don’t even think of showing up at a RedBar meeting with a rented Nautilus unless you are willing to lie, because, in the best of cases, you will be laughed at and shown to the exit!
Never more eloquent words have been written in the English language as the ones that follow, taken from Polonius’ speech in the masterpiece “Hamlet”:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
In my follow up article, I will talk about a completely different type of subscription so stay tuned.