A Flipper’s Journey

Since the article on my 50th birthday watch was published, I have been asked multiple times how I got into flipping watches. To best understand this, you must better understand me. I am an only child of a mother who was the youngest of 10 children and a father who was the youngest of 4. Both were born in the depression (1935 and 1929) and lived through WWII with siblings having fought in that war. 

My mother’s family was from Quebec City, and they lived in a rural area outside the city, with very little creature comforts. My father was from Montreal and fared a little better, having grown up in a middle-class family setting. However, times were hard, and both learned how to stretch a dollar and loathed excessive spending. 

I on the other hand grew up in Montreal in a comfortable middle-class neighborhood. While we never really struggled for anything, I was still brought up as if we could not afford much. So, if I wanted something, I had to get creative. I quickly realized that if I wanted a toy that I did not have, I could trade something I did have to get what I wanted. I did this with Star Wars toys, GI Joe, Transformers and later on with comic books and Atari games. 

The author, with an unknown gift and watch on wrist, Christmas 1978

I remember when Walkman portable cassette players were super popular, my mother managed to finagle one using her Club Z points from Zellers. This was the equivalent of K-Mart in Canada and Club Z was the original loyalty plan. It was so horrible. It did not rewind, you had to manually extract the cassette and flip it over to listen to the other side and it was HUGE. Believe me, flipping the cassette when it’s -30 outside waiting for the bus is a serious issue.

One of my friends in high-school had this slick tiny one made by Panasonic that even had 2 headphone jack slots, so you and a friend can listen to the same thing together. I managed to trade some of my comic books for that Panasonic music player. I was quite proud of myself, though I bet that Wolverine mini-series which was included in the bundle is now worth 10 times what I got in exchange. Bah… I still do not regret it.

In my late teens I had gotten myself, through my father, a 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier hatchback, which was supposed to be red, but had faded to pink. I traded that ugly, slow, but reliable car for a 1984 Pontiac Fiero two-seater. Not much faster, wholly unreliable, but man, what a fun car to have in college. The best part was that I could only provide a lift for one friend at a time.

I was always into watches, for as long as I can remember. From the first original Timex Ironman triathlon (a Christmas gift from my parents), then came some Casios, but it was always one after the other, not really collecting, but replacing. I remember when Swatch made a big splash. Begged my parents for one, and what did I get? A Club Z knock off, which was terrible and cheap. 

I only really started accumulating them later in my early 20s. By the time I was 23, I had a Michel Herbelin Diver, a couple of Citizen Divers (one with a left side crown, time only), a couple of Seiko quartz models, a Zodiac Diver (TAG Formula look-alike) and my prized possession and the result of maxing out my credit card, a TAG Heuer 1500 diver. 

One of my bosses back then was a real watch guy (so I thought) and he would wear a gold TAG Heuer S/EL or a Rolex Datejust to work occasionally. I would always ask if I could handle them and try them on. Boy did they feel premium compared to the ones I had. Nevertheless, they were above my pay grade at the time, and they would remain on my wish list for another day. 

Fast-forward to 1996. My girlfriend at the time (wife now) worked downtown in Montreal and coincidentally, I had a friend that ran the parking lot across from her work building. Since I had Mondays off, I would park my car in his lot, go to lunch with my girlfriend and then go back to hang out with him or just wander around downtown. It was during one of these walk-abouts that I stumbled onto York International.

This was a very clever store, which sold camera equipment, new and used, and if you walked to the very back, there were counters filled with pre-owned watches. I had never seen so many brands before. Many were limited to the watch magazines I was buying. Montreal back then was a horological desert, and still is for the most part. Oh, there were a handful of stores that sell nice watches, but all offered horrible service if you were not dressed in a suit and not willing to drop serious money on the spot. 

York International was different. The dude running the place was a humble guy that just liked watches and the prices seemed reasonable, but the best part was THEY TOOK IN TRADES! In the counter was a TAG Heuer S/EL in steel. A watch I had coveted for a long time and I asked him if I brought in some of my watches, could we make a deal. He said sure, let’s see what you got.

I jumped into my car, drove home, packed up my watches, drove back to my buddy’s parking lot and briskly walked back to the store. Next thing I knew, I was walking back to the lot, with my new (to me) TAG Heuer S/EL on my wrist and a giant dorky smile on my face. However, that Tag did not last too long. The bug was set and now that I knew I could trade over there, I was back every few weeks. 

I went from that TAG to an Omega pre-bond Seamaster Quartz, then a TAG Heuer 2000 Chronograph, then one of my first automatic watches, a Tudor Submariner in blue (a snowflake). The latter kept horrible time, but it had a Rolex logo on the crown and said Rolex on the case back. I kept going like this until the store was eventually robbed. Some armed thieves came in and smashed the counters and took almost everything.

The store was never the same. Matt, the owner, told me that they were not fully insured because they were all pre-owned pieces. I was so sad for him. They eventually rebuilt their inventory, but their prices were much higher, and they were more reluctant to trade than before. This was all so unfortunate, but an invention was around the corner, that would open horological doors I never even knew existed. The internet!

In late 1996 I was working for a logistics company that would be open on Saturdays and all of us would rotate and do one Saturday per month. It was quite boring on the weekend, we were solely there for damage control. The big boss at the time was the only one that had the internet on his computer. The rest of us only had monochrome terminals. Yes, I am that old. So, I would jump on his computer (with his permission) and surf the web. Webcrawler, my search engine of choice, eventually brought me to Bernardwatch.com and there was this cool watch called a Krieger Tidal Chronometer that had caught my eye.

I had never seen anything like it, not even in the magazines. I had to have it and you will all shriek at the trade I was about to make. I offered them my Tudor Ranger (70’s integrated bracelet version) for their Krieger watch. I know, I know, bad trade, but there was nothing to reference anything with. For the record, I had paid 200$ for that Tudor, which I found in a classified ad in the local newspaper. Rightfully, they accepted and just like that, my watch was in a box on its way to Texas. The Krieger came along, and it was quite fun, but Tidal information was, well, useless while living in Montreal. 


The years and watches have flown by since those early days of the internet watch communities and while I am no longer as active as I used to be, I do still put out feelers every now and again to see what trades I may nab. This reminds me of a couple of very favorable trades that have come my way. Funny enough, both were for Rolex watches, which is a brand I normally do not trade in.

In the early aughts, I had a Panerai  PAM111 which I had listed on the forums for trade. A friend of mine in British Columbia was interested. He had been considering Panerai watches for a while, but did not have anything of equal value to offer me and I was not really interested in trading up. After going back and forth for a while, he offered me his Rolex Seadweller 16600 for it. Straight up! Yes, the Seadweller was worth much more, but you have to understand, the Canadian watch market is not like the U.S., especially back then. 

Importing a watch from any other country, including the United States, can come along with fees of up to 35% of the retail value. Finding a watch that you want, from a trusted seller, already in Canada was a big deal. So I accepted and we made the trade. I loved that watch very much, but it had a tiny spec under the crystal that drove me nuts. It was still under warranty, so I sent it to RSC in Toronto, who found nothing wrong with it. Once I got it back, I wound up trading it for another Rolex, a white Explorer II 16570. 

The other very memorable trade was about 5 years ago. At the time I had a Breitling Chronomat GMT with the B04 in-house chronograph movement. A spectacular, but HUGE watch. I was enjoying it very much, but again, decided to put out some feelers on the forums, just to see what might turn up. Within days I received a message from a U.S. Navy officer stationed in Hawaii, asking questions about the Breitling. He did not make an offer right away, but it was obvious he was keen on the watch. 

A week and several messages later, I got a new message saying, what the heck, I really want your watch. Would you accept my nearly new Rolex Explorer II 216570? One would have to be very stupid to turn down that offer, so I accepted. This was not one of the Rolexes that had skyrocketed in value yet, but it was still worth quite a bit more than my Breitling. From what I remember, he was very happy with his Breitling, and we still communicate every once in a while on Instagram. 

The way I see it, there is no such thing as a lopsided trade. If both parties are happy with what they receive, then it is a fair trade. Believe me, I have been on the other side of these trades many, many times and have never regretted a single one. I am not in this to make money, I am in it to experience and enjoy as many watches as I can, and if in the process I acquire some new friends, that is the price I am more than willing to pay. 

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Based in Montreal, Quebec, Marc has been an enthusiastic watch collector for well over three decades. Having witnessed and participated in the birth of the internet watch community, he has played a role on multiple watch forums and his articles have appeared on-line and in print since the late 1990s. Today his passion for all things horological is as pronounced as it has ever been, while he continues his never-ending search for watch next.