How To Ship A Watch: From Packaging To Customs Declarations
Shipping a watch is a pretty easy and smooth operation. Well, until it isn’t. In such cases, it’s essential to be ready and educated if things go wrong.
Sometimes your watches need to move around the globe without your personal protection. When RJ and Nacho fielded the idea of sharing some advice and experience on shipping watches with our Fratelli, I had a sneaking suspicion it would be assigned to me. And honestly, I am delighted it was, as this very idea has been sitting on my to-write list for over a year. So let me dust off my notes and share some insights on shipping and packing watches that you’ll hopefully find useful.
The art of packing
Why was I chosen for this piece? First of all, I collect but rarely sell watches, which means I have the opportunity to see a ridiculously wide sample of watch packaging. Second of all, I live in a small country with a particularly non-existent vintage watch community, so I estimate that 95% of my acquisitions come from different corners of the world. Also, I am not a VIP, and neither are the watches I usually buy, so personal delivery is out of the question. This all means that my watches come via post or by courier service and are (mostly) properly packed. Unpackaging has really become part of the fun of watch collecting for me. As a warm-up, you can read my older story about some amusing ways how to pack watches.
If you don’t own diapers or you find a plastic pants sleeve too personal to slide your watch into, you can do it the “boring” but safe way. The number one priority is to protect a watch from bumps and humidity. Most people wrap a watch tightly in some bubble foil, and the careful ones do it in two or three layers. This is a perfectly safe method, but it has one practical drawback. An inexperienced and potentially overzealous collector usually uses cutting tools or scissors to remove the foil. When doing so, they may hit the case, crystal, or bracelet, and thus create an unpleasant scar on the watch.
I really recommend putting the watch in a transparent ziplock bag made from some flexible but sturdy plastic material before you wrap it in bubble foil. Something from Aliexpress will do the job perfectly, and it may stop the knife or scissors, preventing unexpected sadness.
Box and fillers
I would personally never ship a watch in an envelope or a flat box with no crash zones to take out the kinetic energy of hitting a nearby object. We have all heard stories about how packages are sometimes handled and you want your watch to be well protected when another heavy box or someone’s foot stomps on it during transport. The larger the crash zone, the better. Please, do not use leaflets or magazines to fill the box. Fillers made from shredded paper or polystyrene foam fillers (so-called “packing peanuts”) are easy to get these days.
If you want it to look professional
I rarely keep the cardboard box a watch comes in, but I clearly remember one I decided to keep. The German dealer Arthur from the ShuckTheOyster shipped my watch in a pretty small box. There was a special cardboard sleeve in it folding it together. These foam-lined boxes are easy to get as well. If I was about to ship an expensive watch, I would use a foam-lined box placed in a bigger box filled with polystyrene fillers.
The size of the box is also a factor in shipping costs. The bigger and heavier, the more expensive. I rarely get €100 watches shipped by DHL or FedEx. Unless you’re a big spender shipping hundreds of packages, an individual shipment transported by a respected world-known carrier can cost you hundreds of euros. And we are not even talking insurance at this point. Plus, my personal experience with big companies like FedEx, UPS, or DHL has been rather disappointing when it comes to reliability or customer service.
Local post offices often do the job as well as big courier services. Delivery time varies based on the provider and destination, but our national postal service has always delivered my things, and that’s been hundreds of packages. I can’t say the same about FedEx or DHL. If you do decide to use the national postal service, always opt for traceable shipping.
Customs office magic
Shipping watches between the US and Europe is always a painful procedure that involves a lot of bureaucracy and often lacks consistency or logic. In Slovakia, you easily pay customs fees as high as 30% of the value of the watch and shipping costs. I learned this the hard way when I ordered one of my first vintage watches ever. It was a gold-plated Vulcain Cricket I bought for $800 from a dealer in the US. By the time it reached my doorstep, I had to pay another $250, which I was not ready for. It made the watch purchase a bit bitter and I knew right then that I needed to do my homework first.
Selling a watch overseas
Of the handful of watches that I have actually sold, two were cushion-case Heuer watches. I had to ship both to the US. I don’t remember the details, I just know the US buyer was bewildered that he had to pay customs fees, as he never had to before when he had bought a watch in the EU. Also, the amount he was supposed to pay made no sense to any of us. The bottom line? Customs declaration is mostly the buyer’s burden. When selling your watch and before you ship it out, make sure that the buyer is aware of all the possible administrative and declaration fees from local customs authorities. If you’re a buyer and you don’t have the nerve or budget for such gymnastics, try finding a watch in an area with no customs duties.
If you are shipping transatlantic or from a non-EU Swiss mecca, be aware that the customs fees also depend on the value of the transported watch. From this fact arises another controversy. Many buyers prefer to claim minimal value, just to avoid too much attention to what’s in the box. The bigger the temptation, the bigger the chance that the package might get lost or stolen.
I see the angle, but the disadvantage of this solution is that you will never get your watch fully insured. And honestly, I would rather risk the theft of a fully insured watch than suffer in uncertainty until the package arrives. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
Shipping a full set watch
I don’t buy full sets often, but I remember one silly seller that simply put a watch into its original box and put it into a bigger box filled with foam fillers. I guess he didn’t realize the watch was flying around in the original inner box and who knows how much beating it took on the way. If you are buying an expensive watch, you might even consider shipping the box and papers in a separate parcel.
Having a universal shipping manual would be a dream. Unfortunately, everything very much depends on your local possibilities and regulations. There are countries that offer fast transport within the EU for as little as €9, while in other countries, it can cost €150. The important thing is to carry out your own due diligence on the shipping options from your country. As a seller, always be honest with the buyer about possible customs declaration fees. As a buyer, be aware it’s you who bears the responsibility for all incomings. And obviously, just use common sense. If you just sold a €50 Kienzle watch, you probably don’t want to ship it for €150.
Mobile phone on a label
Only sending and receiving hundreds of parcels from all possible corners of the world will teach you new tricks. In the EU, recent GDPR rules combined with some internal courier service system glitches have caused incomprehensible outputs at times. If I am supposed to receive a parcel from Germany via DHL and the seller puts it into the system with my full address and phone number, the local DHL partner never delivers. Why? They claim they don’t have my number. I saw evidence from the German system where my number was clearly recorded. Don’t ask me why it never gets into the Slovak DHL system.
If it wasn’t for me proactively following most of the DHL parcels from Germany and contacting local DHL about them, the packages simply would have been shipped back. You think you would get better service when paying extra for a renowned delivery partner, but the sad truth is that they barely care. Don’t count on the courier putting in any extra effort into knocking on your door or asking the neighbor how to reach you. You need to be ahead of your parcel’s whereabouts and anticipate shipping problems or delivery obstacles. When I buy a watch, I always demand that the seller write my cell phone number directly on the box. It’s a simple trick that avoids the courier from making up excuses that they didn’t have my number.
I already mentioned that GDPR protection is one of many ridiculous examples where a law that was supposed to protect you only creates fuss, problems, and additional costs for everyone involved. Another example is when a delivery partner has no official presence in the shipping destination. Finding what partner they have contracted locally can be a challenge. I have ended up calling one delivery service to another trying to find out which partner actually holds my parcel more times than I’d like. I bet whatever country you live in, there will be some other oddities and “specialties” related to shipping and delivering. So my advice is to sit tight and be patient.
Over the last two years, I had about three major problems with watch delivery. Parcels addressed to me have been lost during transport or in the depot. After tons of emails, they were always miraculously found. Twice, however, they weren‘t, and I gave up. Once my watch package was delivered to a different person in our apartment building. At least, that’s what the tracking said, and the customer care team confirmed it. When I asked the local DHL office to investigate the case, they told me to go to complain to the country of origin!
Really? The watch was supposedly already next door, but the local delivery partner turned its back to me and sent me to ask the Germans! I tried to reach the company superiors but to no avail. The only real explanation I could think of was that the courier stole my watch. Infinitely outraged and shocked, I shared my frustration with my watchmaker. I don’t know what he did, but he said he called DHL multiple times and he yelled big time. “Never take ‘No,’ or ‘we don’t know’ for an answer,” my watchmaker lectured me. And my watch, which had been lost for seven days at that point, miraculously came the very next day.
Important points to remember
We’ve covered a lot of important things in this article, so to recap, here’s a list of my most critical tips.
- A big box with generous crash zones is the best for packing
- Renowned delivery partners offer their own standardized boxes
- You can never have enough foam fillers
- If you expect bumps on the long road to delivery, consider corner protectors for the box
- Protection against water is as important as protection against shock, so use plastic zip bags
- I recommend sealing the edges of the box with packing tape
- Use thin, perfectly adhesive colored tapes, not your daughter‘s sellotape
- A printed label is always better than a hand-written label
- Always discuss your shipping method with the buyer and make sure they are on board. They might know and share some local insights relevant to your preferred delivery method
- Always check out more shipping options and don’t be afraid to offer the buyer the option of paying extra for safer delivery
- Always insure the package for the full value of the watch
- Use traceable delivery
- Always send the tracking number to the buyer right after you ship the watch
- Make sure the buyer is fully aware of customs declaration fees and suggest he or she get familiar with the administrative process
- Renowned delivery partners offer customs clearance services for a small fee
- “Shortcuts” like claiming a lower watch value might be dangerous. Accept it only when the buyer agrees to take the full risk
- Never underestimate the situation, and always check parcel whereabouts with the seller and delivery partner sooner rather than later
- If you face a problem with a local delivery partner or a lost parcel, never give up. Call them until they are so fed up with you they will actually start looking for it
I hope this article has been of help to you, and as always, happy hunting… Or should I say, happy shipping?