With the development of e-commerce and as the trend for vintage watches consolidates, the market for second-hand luxury watches is growing fast. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group published in September 2020 reveals that “the market for secondhand hard luxury items – primarily watches and jewellery – is worth about €21 billion worldwide and growing at 8% a year, faster than the luxury industry overall”. Industry players, in particular luxury watch brands, can no longer ignore pre-owned.
Originally restricted to auction houses, pawnbrokers and a few watch dealers, the second-hand luxury watch market has transformed dramatically over the past few years. It has become much more acceptable, and even cool to wear pre-owned watches. There are savings to be made, there is a growing emphasis on sustainability, and second-hand can be a way to obtain sought-after models and track down rare, elusive models.
In addition, the increased professionalisation of the market has been fueling growth. The boom has been driven mostly by online platforms, and at a much faster pace than brick and mortar stores ever did before. Founded in 2003, Chrono24 is the world’s leading online market place for luxury watches with USD 1.5 billion in transactions in 2019. About 60% of the platform’s listings are pre-owned watches, and since 2018 the requests for pre-owned have increased by 75%. What’s more, the pandemic seems to benefit these online platforms. Created in 2017 by Reis, Danny Govberg, and Liam Wee Tay, Watchbox reports strong growth over the first half of 2020. WatchBox completed over 16,000 transactions, which includes watches both bought and sold, with an average selling price for pre-owned timepieces rising from USD 12,000 to USD 18,000 during this period.
Some niche platforms, such as A Collected Man and Salon Des Horlogers, with their carefully curated selections of refined, rare mechanical watches have also enjoyed tremendous success. Even some of our online watch media colleagues such as Hodinkee retail pre-owned watches.
Prominent industry players are also trying to tap into this fast-growing market. In 2018, the Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont acquired Watchfinder, a British-based, pre-owned watch platform.
With the purchase of leading US retailer Tourneau in January 2018, Bucherer (the largest watch retailer in the world) was able to benefit from its long-standing expertise in the second-hand market, which was instrumental to the launch of Bucherer’s own Certified pre-owned business last year. Capitalising on Bucherer’s competence, excellent reputation and retail network, it sells both online and offline. As Patrick Graf, CCO of Bucherer commented: “This business relies on trust. People want to know with whom they will be spending their money. They want to be assured that their watch is treated well, serviced well, that it is not fake…” Just a few days ago, Watches of Switzerland bought Analog Shift, its pre-owned and vintage watch trading partner since 2018.
Today, watch brands can no longer ignore the phenomenon of second-hand. Their clients have larger access to information and to this market. It cannot be left in third-party hands only: the watch brands need to play the game one way or the other. And it is not just a matter of grabbing a chunk of the second-hand business. It is a matter of trust and re-saleability. The pre-owned watch market is an opportunity to influence the long-term value of their products, increase their brand equity and most importantly, to recruit new customers. Pre-owned luxury buyers can be potential future primary customers. Second-hand sellers will reinvest in brands whose watches hold their value over time. Brands should consider the lifecycle of their products beyond the first buyer. As connected watches are getting more and more ubiquitous, the timeless nature of mechanical watches is a fundamental asset.
Luxury watch customers seem to be ready for this. As noted by the BCG research: “70% of luxury consumers said they would like to purchase secondhand products directly from luxury brands. And a slightly higher percentage, 74%, indicated they would like brands to certify second-hand products that are sold through resellers.”
And indeed, brands have now started to become pre-owned retailers too. High-end independents such as FP Journe (2016), MB&F (2018), Urwerk, De Bethune, or H. Moser & Cie. (2020) have tailored Certified Pre-Owned offers.
So have a few larger brands, for instance, Vacheron Constantin (‘Les Collectionneurs’ in their boutiques and via travelling trunk shows) or Zenith more recently. For Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith, the brand’s Zenith Icons programme is the opportunity to, “provide, via a trusted channel, a supply of second or third-hand Zenith watches that are authenticated, checked and maintained by the brand, so that we are sure that our end-users are getting the quality we want and they deserve“. A few weeks ago, Richard Mille opened its first-ever pre-owned watch boutique on Orchard Road in Singapore, aptly named the Value of Time.