Ever since I first started sharing on Instagram my vintage Grand Seiko collection, people have been contacting me to ask where I manage to find these pieces. Naturally as a collector, one of the things you have to consider carefully is sharing with others how and where you acquire your watches. The danger of course being that the more people who know how to buy these, the bigger chance that you will end up bidding against them when the next watch you want turns up!
Up until recently, I have been reluctant to “spill the beans” on the secrets to acquiring vintage Grand Seikos as I was still building my collection. I sometimes even questioned the sensibility of sharing my watches on Instagram as I bought them. Several people mentioned to me that my Instagram feed may well be responsible for introducing new collectors to this little niche of the watch collecting world – there is no doubt that demand has risen, which has led to the prices being paid for these watches increasing (substantially in some cases) over the course of 2016.
There have even been a couple of cases recently of people direct messaging me on Instagram to express their delight at having won an auction – an auction in which I was bidding!
Yesterday I reached a milestone – I acquired the “final” piece for my collection. Whilst I will continue to keep a keen eye on the vintage Grand Seiko market, and of course no doubt continue to find interesting pieces that I’d like to purchase, there are no more pieces that are “must haves”.
I will go into more detail as to the rationale behind my collection in other blog posts in due course, but to explain it succinctly – I set out to own (at least) one sample of every vintage Grand Seiko movement, and have now achieved that.
Of the 45 watches in my collection, all but 11 were purchased from the Japanese Yahoo auction site. And all but 4 were purchased through a single Japanese shopping service.
Yahoo Japan auctions
Given vintage Grand Seikos were almost exclusively sold in Japan, that’s the place to go looking for them. For reasons that are no doubt lost in the depths of early Internet history, eBay is not the predominant online auction website in Japan – Yahoo is.
So – here’s the URL for the Japanese Yahoo auctions so you can go find those amazing watches!
As you can see if you click on the link, even if you have auto-translate switched on in your browser, things aren’t exactly simple to work out.
And even if you could manage to set up a local account, and start bidding on watches, you’d very quickly discover that the vast, vast majority of sellers in Japan do not want to get into the hassle of having to ship items to overseas buyers.
So what’s the solution?
Japan Shopping Services
Recognising that there is an overseas demand for items that may only be available to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM for short), several companies have set up to assist the overseas buyer in quenching his or her thirst for Japanese product. You may well come across some of these companies advertising on the Yahoo Japan auction site, and a Google search will no doubt uncover more.
What’s great about these companies is that they are not just limited to helping you bid for and buy product on Yahoo auctions. Some of them actually provide services to purchase product from any online Japanese retailer. As mentioned above – roughly 25% of the watches in my vintage Grand Seiko collection were not purchased from Yahoo.
Personally I have used two of these companies, but for the purpose of this article, I will be recommending just one. Please note that this is not intended as a guide to how to use this service – no sense in repeating what is already on their website, more an explanation as to why I use them.
Ethics statement: I have no connection with ZenMarket other than as an extremely satisfied customer. The link provided in this article to ZenMarket is not an affiliate link, and I will in no way benefit – financially or otherwise – if you choose to set up a ZenMarket account and purchase product via it.
There are several factors in a shopping service that are important if you want to start purchasing items from Japan, and I will cover the main ones here.
- Full integration with Yahoo Japan to enable you to search, monitor, bid in real-time & purchase, from the auction site
- Full integration with Rakuten (a fixed-price marketplace where you will also discover watches of interest)
- The ability to handle on your behalf purchases from other online retailers
- Package consolidation from multiple sources to reduce the cost of the international shipping to you
- Completion of all necessary paperwork to ensure smooth passage through your local customs
- “Reasonable” fees for their services
- A great website to manage everything
- Top-notch customer service
How it works
The one important thing that you do need to be aware of with ZenMarket is that you have to deposit money in your account with them upfront, before you can bid on an auction. The amount you deposit needs to be sufficient to cover the cost of acquiring the item and delivering it to ZenMarket in Japan.
Now – this may seem a little challenging given that with an auction, you don’t necessarily know in advance what the item will close for. However, what I often found myself doing was depositing an amount that I thought might cover the cost, and then if I got outbid above my deposit amount, I simply deposited more money to cover an increased bid. When paying by Paypal, the money lands in your ZenMarket account almost immediately.
I will jump straight to the “reasonable” fees requirement first, because this is where ZenMarket are quite astonishing. Well OK, they are quite astonishing in many areas, but this one is just “out there” as far as I’m concerned.
When you buy something from Japan through a shopping service such as ZenMarket, you need to be aware that there will be several components that will determine the “actual” price you end up paying for the goods.
These components are as follows –
- The cost of the item itself
- If purchased from a seller that charges VAT, 8% VAT on the cost of the item
- The cost of shipping the item within Japan to your shopping service
- The cost of shipping the item internationally from Japan to your home
- Customs charges that you may be liable for in your own country
Now – all of the above costs will be pretty much the same regardless of which service you choose to use. The important ones to consider are the following –
- The fee charged by the shopping service to deposit money in your account with them
- The fee charged by the shopping service to manage your bids and purchase on your behalf
- The fee charged by the shopping service on top of the final auction price. Their “commission” if you like
The fee ZenMarket charge for depositing money depends on the method you use to transfer the funds to them. Personally, I have only ever used two methods which I will detail here. Charges for alternative methods are detailed on their website.
If you pay via PayPal, the charge is 2.9% + 40 Yen.
If you pay via Bank Transfer, the charge ranges between 2,000 and 4,000 Yen.
Obviously for large amounts, it makes sense to transfer via bank transfer, but this is slower – from my bank it typically takes 2 days for the money to arrive. For PayPal transfers, it typically takes less than 2 minutes. Which can be very handy if you need to “top up” your balance when someone has outbid you and you need to deposit more money to win that auction!
It is when you place a bid on an auction that ZenMarket will take their commission. That is, the amount that covers both the “bid management” and “commission on final price paid” amounts detailed above.
That commission is just 300 Yen – less than $3 at today’s exchange rate.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Whether you’re buying a Grand Seiko VFA for $10,000 or a beaten up 56GS from 1972 for $300, the ZenMarket commission is the same – less than three bucks.
If you fail to win the auction, that 300 Yen is refunded into your ZenMarket account. It doesn’t matter whether you bid once or 100 times on the same auction. The commission is still just a flat 300 Yen. Naturally if you fail to win the auction, your bid amount is also returned to your ZenMarket account.
And that, fundamentally, is why I recommend these guys from a financial point of view. For 300 Yen on top of the price the seller gets paid, they will handle everything – including repacking for international shipment to you and consolidation of packages should you request it.
As to the rest of the requirements, they tick all the boxes and then some.
Their integration with Yahoo Auctions is fantastic. They also integrate with Rakuten, Yahoo (regular shopping) and Amazon Japan. You can give them a URL for an item from a 3rd party website, and they will handle everything necessary to purchase that item – again for just 300 Yen commission.
Their packing is as good as it gets – I’ve had 24 consolidated packages from them this year and not a single issue with any of them.
International shipping charges will of course depend on the service you choose. I always ship via either UPS or FedEx. A couple of recent examples to give you an idea of shipping costs – a 1kg package cost 6202 Yen, and a 2.2kg package cost 7827 Yen.
The ZenMarket website – http://zenmarket.jp/ – is brilliantly organised, and has fantastic auction tracking facilities. It keeps a record of every auction you have ever clicked on. You can add items to a “watchlist” so that it’s easy to track what you’re interested in. You’ll get an email 15 minutes before the end of an auction on your watchlist so that you don’t forget to put a bid in.
Customer service is top-notch. They don’t have a live 24/7 chat, but the messaging system works well, and the staff are always happy to provide guidance and assistance. Want to see if the seller will provide additional information or photos of the item being sold? They’ll ask on your behalf and try to get what you need.
If you want to buy a vintage Grand Seiko (or a new one for that matter, but that’s a whole other story), you’re almost certainly going to want to be able to buy it from Japan.
The highest accolade I can give ZenMarket is that they make the entire bidding, purchasing and fulfillment process utterly painless. Quite how they add so much value to the experience of buying remotely at such low cost is nothing less than remarkable. If they covered the world, I would quite happily use them for every online purchase I ever had to make.
I simply could not have built up my collection without them.