Hong Kong was considered a top world destination for watches when it came to price and selection. These days that is different because of a lot of factors. When it comes down to it, the perfect watch shopping destination will have good prices, a great selection, and a safe buying environment where consumers can trust in the quality of what they are buying. The problem is that these places continue to change, and with the Internet being a good place to shop, these issues become less salient.
However, buying a watch in person makes a lot of sense in many instances. First of all, you can see and touch the watch to make sure the quality is good and that you aren’t dealing with a fake. Authorized retailers selling only new watches aren’t going to have fakes, but some pre-owned dealers may have them mixed in with real stuff from time-to-time. In most instances, they aren’t trying to trick anyone, it is just that they themselves don’t know they have fakes in their stock. Also, and this is a factor to seriously consider, if you buy a watch from overseas and it needs to be shipped to you, there may be customs implications. Depending on where you live (and how honestly the shipper marks the package), you’ll need to pay some type of duty on watches send to you from other countries. There are tricks to this of course, but you always need to measure safety with cost.
Many people overseas tell me that the best place to buy a watch is the United States. Taxes are relatively fair, prices are good, and if you look in the right place there are bargains to be had. There are also ways of avoiding certain types of tax if watches are shipped over state lines. Though this isn’t always “good practice.” US retailers tend to be relatively honest, easy to work with, and happy to work with you. Selection of product in the US is pretty good, but finding rare or unique watches can be tough.
China (mainland) isn’t a good place to get watches because of taxes, and the same reason applies to a lot of countries. One of the main reasons rich people go to the U.S., is to get luxury goods at cheaper prices. This is a main reason why many Latin Americans fly to Miami each day. Another good place to get luxury watches are many of the vacation destinations in the Caribbean. Not only are there a lot of tax advantages, but the selection is really good. But then again you may have to do a lot of Island hopping (which isn’t always a bad thing).
Prices in Switzerland proper tend to be high, but so is selection. It is also not a deep part of Swiss culture to bargain or offer discounts. Middle Eastern and Chinese retailers are the ones who are the most used to customers who wish to negotiate. It might seem like a contradiction, but the more expensive someone’s watch tastes are, the more they wish to haggle, it seems. So go for it, ask a retailer for the best price. Going back to Thailand, I do hear good things about the market when it comes to price and selection. A lot of the Japan-only exclusive watches can also be found a lot of the time in Hong Kong and Thailand, though if you really want the best selection of unique Japanese fare you need to go to Japan. Though, prices aren’t particularly stellar there.
Yes, there are no clear “best places to shop for watches,” and it really depends on the rareness of the watches you are looking for and what hassles you are willing to put up with to get what you want. Watches will forever be a complex and difficult-to-acquire commodity when it comes to getting the best stuff at the best price. Brands want you to pay full retail of course, but are at the whims of taxes and customs issues, much like consumers are in a lot of cases. So, if their watches aren’t available in your country, there are usually reasons why.