Is all second-hand equal or is some second-hand more equal than others? There is an undeniably greater prestige attached to the timepieces that reach stratospheric prices at auction and which represent a hotly disputed market. Just one example: in July, a Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 5711/1A-014 with olive green dial, the latest iteration of the legendary 5711 in steel, now in its final year of production, came under the hammer at Antiquorum. Introduced at Watches and Wonders in April and retailing at €30,400, this factory-sealed example sold for €416,000. A 1,370% gain in two months that confirms Patek Philippe’s desirability, and that of the Nautilus, at auction.
For once, however, Patek won’t be the star of the autumn sales in Geneva. That honour goes to Philippe Dufour, the most highly revered of all independents. Phillips is offering an exceptional lot of four watches, each handcrafted by the master and representative of the four models made under his name. They are the Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch No1 (unique piece – estimated $436,000-$872,152), the Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch No1 (est. $1,090,000-$2,180,000), the Duality No8 in pink gold (est. $872,142-$1,744,520) and the Simplicity No57 in platinum (est. $272,581-$545,176). The owner who is consigning the watches waited ten years to assemble this collection. Such rarity is guaranteed to set the saleroom alight. Already, in November last year, the first model, in pink gold, in the limited edition of the last Simplicity by Philippe Dufour fetched CHF 1.36 million ($1.51 million). Better still, the Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch that Philippe Dufour originally created for the Sultan of Brunei, one of only eight made, realised $7.63 million within hours of its announcement at A Collected Man, setting a new record for an independent maker and becoming one of the ten most expensive wristwatches ever publicly sold.
“To us and a huge community around the world, Philippe Dufour is the horological equivalent of Michelangelo. The importance of his work cannot be overstated,” declared Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi, who will jointly preside over the upcoming Phillips sale. “This ‘set’ of four Philippe Dufour timepieces has been an epiphanous moment for us. Offering his four creations is truly humbling and mindboggling. Dufour is a living icon and his creations are as coveted as oeuvres by the greatest artists of our time. We are honoured to have been entrusted with this collection from an owner who had the vision and passion to patiently assemble a collection like no other. Dufour’s lifetime output is smaller than paintings by masters such as Modigliani and Manet and for any Dufour connoisseur, this collection represents the Grand Slam of Dufour collecting.” More prosaically, the pre-owned watch market in general is taking off, with online players claiming a growing share of the action. While there are no exact figures available, financial analysts such as Kepler Cheuvreux alongside consultants such as Boston Consulting Group estimate that the pre-owned watch market is worth in the region of $20 billion. Of this, only 35% of transactions take place online, compared with 55% offline and the remaining 10% at auction. This gives some idea of the potential for online specialists in a market sustaining 8% annual growth.
There is huge potential for growth in a market worth $20 billion, where the five main players account for less than 10% of the total.
Speaking recently, the CEO of SwissWatchExpo.com, Eugene Tutunikov, described the opportunity in the secondary market as “massive, although extremely fragmented. When you have a market this size in which the top five players combined comprise well under 10% of the total, that leaves a lot of opportunity for growth and we are doing our best to grow.” Also tapping into this potential is Chrono24, one of the biggest online marketplaces for watches with 500,00 daily visitors browsing a permanent stock of half a million timepieces. In its latest and third funding round, the company secured $116 million, bringing its total value to $1.3 billion. Investors include Aglaé Ventures, a venture capital firm back by Groupe Arnault, which owns a controlling share of LVMH. WatchBox is another digital platform intent on increasing its market share, although its latest move shows that online players can also be flexible in their approach. Like Watchfinder, part of the Richemont Group since 2018 and which has physical showrooms in cities including Paris and Geneva, WatchBox has expanded into brick-and-mortar points of sale
In a more radical step, WatchBox has acquired a controlling stake in De Bethune. Interviewed by Swiss daily Le Temps, De Bethune CEO Pierre Jacques stated that “WatchBox has no intention of getting involved with the essence of De Bethune, which is embodied in the work of Denis Flageollet. This long-term partnership gives us peace of mind commercially and provides resources that will enable us to concentrate on our objectives.” This latest deal is also proof that established brands no longer perceive the development of the pre-owned market as a threat. Far from diverting customers from current collections, pre-owned provides sellers with liquidity for a future purchase, which can be a new watch, while acquainting them with the brand. The second-hand market can also offer valuable insight into pricing and demand. “Some brands are still trying to fight this market instead of working with it,” says Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie. “We monitor the pre-owned market almost day by day. It gives us indications on prices and even what we should produce.”
Richard Mille takes a similar view: “The secondary market caters not only to those who are interested in obtaining a discontinued line. From its beginnings in 2001, Richard Mille foresaw today’s booming market in pre-owned timepieces and has always supported pre-owned watches through its specific service centres. This approach is key to establishing the most important element in any relationship between a luxury brand and its client: trust.” Accordingly, Richard Mille has launched an international distribution network for its pre-owned watches with certified partners in Japan (NX One), Singapore (The Value of Time), the US (Westime) and the UK (Ninety), and hopes to add new partners in the years to come. This leaves what could be one of the biggest developments in the pre-owned market: the authentication of timepieces using Blockchain technology. James Bond would approve. Incidentally, fans of Her Majesty’s most debonair secret agent can view all the watches Bond has ever worn at Watchfinder’s Paris showroom.