Pandemic or no pandemic, as many predicted the certified pre-owned watch market is thriving, worth an estimated $15 billion annually. Observers indicate that pre-owned will even overtake sales of new watches. The growing shift towards online marketplaces has fuelled a sector that took its first steps on the internet. From the early trading platforms such as Chrono24, which lists 500,000 watches and says it generates well in excess of one billion dollars in transactions, the sector became more focused on companies that offer certified timepieces as an additional guarantee for buyers leery of the grey market and fakes. But the model is changing again; the leading players now consider a physical presence to be essential on their main markets.
WatchBox sets the tone
This is precisely what’s happening at Watchfinder, established in the United Kingdom in 2002 and acquired by Richemont in 2018. Historically, Watchfinder has operated seven stores in the UK and is now broadening its horizons. In spring this year, this specialist in pre-owned premium watches – which lists some 6,000 watches by more than 70 brands – opened a showroom in Paris, just off the Champs-Elysées. This month it announced its imminent arrival in Geneva, with the launch of a boutique inside the city’s high-end Bongénie Grieder department store. Further developments are expected in markets such as the US and China. Bucherer, the world’s largest watch retailer with 49 points of sale, is also expanding its pre-owned operation. Since cutting the ribbon at its first certified pre-owned watch gallery in Geneva exactly a year ago, the firm has reiterated the concept in Zurich, Hamburg and most recently at its Paris flagship, a stone’s throw from the Palais Garnier opera house and the biggest watch store in the world.
WatchBox is another of the big names making the move to premium physical locations. At Dubai Watch Week last November, it announced a joint venture with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the foremost watch retailer for the United Arab Emirates. As far as transactions go, WatchBox also sets the tone. Information published by the company, which is based in Philadelphia with offices in Switzerland and in the cities of Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, indicates that earnings for the first six months of 2020 increased 25%. During this period, WatchBox completed 16,000 transactions and average selling price rose from $12,000 to $18,000. In Asia, average selling price reached $32,000. The highest value of a single watch sold during these six months was in excess of $600,000. Growth drivers include more first-time buyers and high demand for watches priced below $10,000, in addition to the rising value of top-tier brands. All of which suggests lockdown proved beneficial for the firm.
“We were able to thrive during lockdown despite the fact our boutiques were closed and we were working from home,” says Justin Reis, WatchBox CEO and co-founder, speaking from Philadelphia. “People had time for themselves and we had the watches they were looking for. I’m fully confident we can maintain this performance in the second half. Already, August and September have been record months.” WatchBox’s global inventory, valued at $80 million by co-founder Danny Govberg, is an immense asset, especially with the right price positioning, and the company is particularly agile at showing it off: live Instagram talks, reviews, a host of original content produced in its own studios, such as Market Wrap, Trends in the Industry or Collector Conversations, not forgetting recommendations from The Watch Insider – Grand Seiko, F.P.Journe and H. Moser & Cie. are current favourites. The company is also intent on serving women buyers, including through a strong offering of ladies’ watches. For WatchBox, which employs a team of 200, the secondary market is ripe for conquest.