I know, this is a very "debatable" topic. Afterall, everyone has their own idea of where they think the best countries are to buy luxury watches; especially the self proclaimed "watch experts". When I say "Best", i'm refering to not just the pricing (though these countries are certainly among the cheapest), but also the number of choices available. Eg; The chances of picking up not just a cheap watch, but also a rare watch. (There only 11 Countries in this post. 12 is a typo. And
Now, first things first. Who am I?
I, am FIRST a traveller. After all, this is a travel blog focused on exotic travel. (not your typical "Seoul, Tokyo, Paris kind of blog)
& NEXT a collector of Luxury Timepieces, eg, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, etc.
Now, I am NOT proclaiming to have travelled to the most countries in the world, because heaps of people have travelled way more than I have. Neither am I claiming to be the biggest collector of luxury pieces because I know of many rich spolit brats living off daddy's money who own way more timepieces than I do.
However, BECAUSE I am a traveller who happens to hunt/source for Timepieces to add to my collection wherever I travel, I stumbled upon the answer to the question all (unless you enjoy overpriced timepieces) the many watch collectors of the world are dying to know; and that is "Where can I pick up a Rolex/Patek/Audemars, etc....at as cheap a price as possible?"
Photo from reasonablyludicrous.com
For those "watch experts" who are planning to make themselves sound clever saying "Chey, I knew this all along!" Or "Sure anot? Cannot be! I was there in blah blah blah, and the watches didn't seem that cheap." I certainly hope you don't just have a larger collection than I do, BUT ALSO travelled and hunted for Timepieces in MORE countries than I have, else your just a blowhard, like the guy above. (Where We've Been)
So now that we're done with the introductions. Lets get down to where to buy a luxury watch. And just so we are clear, Switzerland is one of the MOST EXPENSIVE countries to buy a Rolex, so lets put this country to bed first. I'm sick of hearing people saying they are planning to buy a Rolex on their next holiday to Switzerland.
Not into watches? You may want to read: Singaporeans Travel To Vanuatu; The Fiery Island Paradise Of The South Pacific!
Countries (Not Ranked In Any Order)
I personally have "hunted" for luxury items in ALL of these countries. (except Scandinavia) There are number of factors I considered before grouping them as the "Best Countries To Shop For Luxury Watches."
Eastern Europe/The Balkans: Romania, Hungary, Poland, & Greece
Usually, one can only claim VAT on "NEW" items. However, in some Eastern European/Balkan countries (like these), rules can be slightly flexible. It is Possible (dependent on your negotiation skill) to get them to "package" your used item to "look like new with a receipt" so you will be eligible for the VAT Refund. (as if it were a new purchase)
Obviously don't walk into an official Rolex retailer and ask for this service. I'm refering to the local owned watch retailers. If you're afraid of fakes, get them authenticated, just like what you would do in Singapore. (Yes, you can get authentication in these countries, they aren't that backward)
Not into watches? You may want to read: Impossible! 800 SGD? For 19 Days In Europe?
These countries are more generous with their VAT refunds than that of their Central European neighbours. On top of that, you can add in yet another "shop discount." (bargaining, a Singaporean favourite) Here's some information on what VAT is, and VAT refunds.
(It doesn't necessarily mean the higher the VAT the better the final discount. Croatia has a higher VAT than Greece does, but I didn't come across any watch retailers that had the practice of "assisting" tourists with their VAT refunds)
Though the individual currencies of Romania, Hungary & Poland are somewhat pegged to the strength of the Euro, (Except Greece who are on the Euro) the prices of their "USED" luxury items aren't pegged to those of more developed cities like Paris or Milan.
For example, because of the disparity in spending power and number of potential customers between the developed cities; of say Paris as opposed to Bucharest (capital of Romania), shop owners are more "willing" to negotiate on prices for the same kind of item (eg; same model of used Rolex) I personally have managed to neogtiate "thousands" off the list price off an Audemars Piguet I fancied.
Oh, and these countries have a good number of "Used" shops as well.
Southwest Europe: Spain
And as for Spain? Well, the economy has hit them pretty hard in recent years and their retail prices are reflecting the disparity between them and their richer Central European neighbours. Forget about Rolex in Spain though. Rolex guards their prices very firmly worldwide, and there isn't as generous a VAT refund (like Scandinavia) to make it a worthwhile place to get yourself a Rolex. For brands like say Tudor (Rolex's sister company) and Hublot, very decent discounts can be gotten. By decent, I mean you could easily sell them at a good profit in Singapore.
Not into watches? You may want to read: 18 Days Africa & Europe Under 2.2k SGD Nett!! (Including Airtickets)
Asia: Japan, Hongkong & Singapore
The Japanese are huge colletors of vintage timepieces. It is not difficult to find a used watch shop in Japan. And i'm not saying you have to venture all the way to say Hiroshima or some far away district to get a watch at a decent price. Even in (expensive) Tokyo, I came across a number of watch shops in Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and Ueno selling 2nd hand watches at very tempting prices. VAT refund is offered on 2nd Hand watches as well as New ones.
Previously with a stronger Yen, it was expensive to visit Japan, let alone shop for luxury items. Thanks to Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minster of Japan, and his Quantitative Easing program (QE), the Yen has been devalued to stimulate the economy. This results in not just Japanese exports becoming cheaper, but also making it more affordable for tourists and watch collectors to pick up a used Rolex or Seiko in Japan.
(VAT discount information as of 2015, where I was offered VAT discount at a number of USED watch shops.)
Not into watches? You may want to read: A Girl''s Solo Trip. 10 Days In Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo @1.2k Nett! (including Airtickets)
In Hongkong, prices of watches are not as cheap as they used to be. The plus point for Hongkong though, is that there are so many used watch shops you are spolit for choice. Rather than just the big players, a lot of these shops are family owned used watch shops. They don't report to anybody and you can negotiate your discount to the best of your ability.
Singapore, (where I come from) has a great deal of used watch retailers. Prices are pretty much fixed give or take $200 - 500 (depending on the list price of the watch), with not much room for negotiation. However, because of the materialistic mindset of Singaporeans (you'll find a person earning as low as 3-4k a month wearing a Rolex) who enjoy taking up installment plans to fund a perception that they are well to do, it's not difficult to get one at fire sale prices in local watch forums (just google watch forum Singapore) who need an urgent sale once they realize they can't keep up with appearances.
The Scandinavian Countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark
The Scandinavian countries!?! (except Finland) Well, to be honest, everything is expensive in Scandinavia. For smaller ticket items like your Chanel or Prada (yes, these brands aren't a big deal just so you know), just stick to Paris or Milan.
Have you ever had friends who said, "im going to Switzerland to buy a Rolex?" I'm sure you have. And those friends of yours? They're the biggest carrot there is. Luxury watch retailers in Switzerland have people like them for lunch.
You know, there is this logic that luxury goods are cheapest in the countries they are produced? For example, Prada is cheapest in Milan, Chanel in Paris, Ralph Lauren in USA, Loewe in Spain, and Rolex in Switzerland? Well, that's probably true for all of them, except in the case of Switzerland and its many luxury watch brands. (not just Rolex)
Not into watches? You may want to read: 12 Days Finland & The Baltics @2.5k SGD Nett! (Including Air Tickets)