“How important are the box and papers?”– This is one of many never-ending debates that we have in the watch world. It’s never-ending because we all have different motivations for spending what is seemingly an obscene amount of money on a timekeeping device.
My name is Adrian, and I run a watch-focused blog and YouTube channel called BarkandJack. Whenever I do a Q&A video, I’m asked about the importance of having the box and papers. It’s one of those questions that’s impossible to answer without a discussion, but I’ll cut to the chase. There is no right or wrong answer; however, this is an area where we can make ill-informed or uninformed decisions when buying or selling a watch. It all comes down to matters of opinion, but to help you make up your mind, we have some facts to share based on Chrono24’s data and I’ll share my own thoughts on the topic, too.
Firstly, let’s start off by clarifying what we are talking about when we say “box and papers.
The box is just that: the original box the watch came in, usually made of thick cardboard or synthetic leather.
The papers are a document or documents that shows the product reference number or model and serial number. They sometimes also include the purchase date and buyer and seller information. They aren’t necessarily made of paper; some come as cards.
These elements, together with the watch, make up the package that you’re buying or selling – and there’s a package hierarchy:
To give you a better idea of the market, of all the watches for sale on Chrono24:
There are twice as many listings for watches with their box and papers as there are for watches alone.
There are few watches for sale with just papers because dealers typically buy the box to make it a more complete and appealing package.
So, why are the box and papers important and what impact do they have?
The first thing is price. Having the box and papers makes a watch much more expensive. If you’re after a good deal, look for a watch without its box and papers and focus on the condition instead. However, if you’re looking for a hyped-up watch or a new watch like a modern ceramic Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master II or the latest limited edition Speedmaster, you’re out of luck. Everyone knows that these watches offer big returns, so they nearly always come with their box and papers.
Let’s take a step back from brand new models for a moment and look at the difference in price of popular watches with and without their box and papers. An obvious choice would be the pre-ceramic Rolex Submariner 16610. On average, you should expect to pay around 17.8% more for a 16610 if it comes with its box and papers – that would mean a $8,700 Sub would cost around $10,250 with its box and papers. There are obviously other factors involved in pricing a watch, but that’s just a rough idea of how much the box and papers can impact a timepiece’s price.
Another solid staple of the watch world is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 3188.8.131.52.01.005. The box and papers have less of an impact on price here at just 13.2%. However, this watch also costs less so the price gap isn’t as bad; for example, if a Speedmaster costs $4,350 on its own, then adding the box and papers would only take the price up to $4,900.
Both the Submariner and Speedmaster are popular models, meaning the market is fairly saturated. The difference becomes much greater the more collectible a watch is. For example, a pre-ceramic Rolex GMT-Master II 16710 with a Pepsi bezel costs about 23.3% more when the box and papers are included. A Cartier Santos 100XI 2656 costs an extra 20.8% with its box and papers – that’s over a fifth of the overall value of the watch.
In short, pricing is heavily influenced by the presence or absence of box and papers, but so is desirability or collectibility.
Watches with their box and papers are more desirable and collectible – and full sets even more so. This is the reason why the price is higher, but another factor to consider is the speed of the sale. Naturally, if something is more desirable, it’s quicker and easier to sell. Of all the watches listed on Chrono24, watches with their box and papers tend to sell 13.1% faster.
Everyone values watches differently, and that extends to box and papers, too. Some people are only concerned with the watch and its condition; after all, that’s what you wear at the end of the day. For some reason, I really like the history that comes with the papers. I’m not too fussed about the box. It’s a nice added extra and it’s convenient, but I can easily buy a box, whereas papers usually can’t be replaced. I also like service papers, but I love original receipts most of all. A receipt can capture so much information, especially vintage receipts. My father-in-law recently showed me the first Rolex he bought for himself: a 32-mm two-tone Datejust. According to the receipt and papers, it was bought on April 22, 1986. After a massive 20% discount, it cost him £1,200 (approx. $1,500), and he paid in cash. Receipts can offer so much more of a story than a simple serial number.
As mentioned at the start, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the importance of having the box and papers. It’s all down to your personal preference. Hopefully, you can make a more informed decision next time you buy a pre-owned watch.