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Watch shopping in St. Thomas
If there is truly a watch shopping heaven, this just might be it. As you stroll through town, picture store after store with display cases full of watches and frigid air conditioning luring you into the store. Sit down, have a beer, soda or water that may be offered by the salesperson. Sometimes there are even gifts with purchase too. Brands familiar and uncommon can be found here. Although prices are controlled on a majority of high end brands, there are deals to be found if you dig hard enough.
The first challenge is to understand the pricing and the terms that go with it. The term “duty-free” is misleading when it comes to watch shopping. Your purchase limit per person in the USVI is $1600.00* and this can be combined per family. You may only have to pay “duty” if the total of all your purchases exceeds the dollar amount and only then if the Customs Inspector chooses to examine your items.
For better or worse the official line is that the vendor(s), Breitling for example, sets the duty free price. The price shown on the tag reflects the discount with no haggling. Easy to shop, hard to negotiate. The stores follow this rigidly and claim that the vendor will “pull their line if they violate this pricing structure”. True? Perhaps, but the bottom line as always is to know what you are willing to pay and what the price of the item is from any other source. The vendors are aware of the net as competition but frankly they have so much foot traffic they are not too worried if you walk.
Now that you understand the pricing and the customs amounts, you need to understand the brands and the stores that sell them. Most of the brands can be broken up into lower and higher tier brands; there is very little middle ground. The higher tier brands are sold by a few high end retailers. The stores often have multiple locations that share inventory and will be glad to move it around for you. The lower tier brands are more common and more heavily discounted. Many of the jewelry stores also sell things like Citizen, Seiko etc.
These are the brands you may see in St. Thomas. The stock levels and actual product will vary based on the season. Anonimo, AP, Baume & Mercier, Bell & Ross, Blancpain, Breuget, Breitling, Bucherer, Bulgari, Cartier, Casio, Chase Durer, Chopard, Chronoswiss, Citizen, Concord, Corum, Ebel, FP Journe, Fortis, GP, Glashutte, Hamilton, Harry Winston, Hublot, IWC, JLC, Jaquet Droz, Jorg Hysek, Kreiger, Longines, Maurice Lacroix, Panerai, Perrelet, Movado, Omega, Oris, Patek, Piaget, Rado, Roger Dubuis, Rolex, Seiko, Skagen, Swiss Army, Tag, Tissot, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron, Wenger, Zenith.
The stores selling the higher tier brands are very willing to let you strap on anything you want, you just may buy. You may be able to try on Patek, Rolex, IWC, Vacheron and even a Big Bang. Most of the salespersons are somewhat knowledgeable but you may find some of their technical ability lacking. What they may lack in knowing about a particular caliber they make up for in enthusiasm. Customers may think they are being pushy and they are to a degree, but you can use this to your advantage since they work on comission.
The bottom line is to know what you are looking for and what you are willing to pay. If you methodical about your research you can find some amazing deals in St. Thomas in between the drinks and the sun and sand of this beautiful island.
*Duty free limit as of July 2007