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CORDER’S COLUMN: Criminalising flippers could backfire

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Beware the laws of unintended consequences.

Watch brands and their authorised dealers are going to astonishing lengths to make sure their timepieces are sold only to people who will love, cherish and wear them ’til death does them part.

Actually, that is not really true. What they really want is to sell watches to people that will buy lots and lots of watches.

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People trying to buy the single watch of their dreams; one that will never leave their wrist, up to and including the day they are buried in it, are screwed.

In a day of revelations from industry leaders at Dubai Watch Week in the event’s horology forums, the issue of waiting lists was passionately debated.

It was a valuable airing of the controversial topic and, effectively, revealed to what extent waiting lists are rigged against normal people and favour a tiny cohort of super-collectors.

Mohammed Seddiqi, chief commercial officer of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons was refreshingly candid. He described how the business — the largest authorised dealer for luxury Swiss watches in the Middle East and one of the biggest in the world — was recently interrogating a waiting list for one of the most sought after watches.

He discovered a waiting list of 3000 people, but only 200 were regular Seddiqi customers. He found somebody that had been on a waiting list for two years, but had not bought any other watches from Seddiqi during the time he or she had been on the list.

He revealed that customers buying one, two, three, four watches “might get a Pepsi as a Christmas present”.

“Priority goes to regular, loyal, customers,” Mr Seddiqi added.

Without saying it explicitly, what he was effectively saying is that there is really no point in putting your name on a waiting list for any of today’s unicorn watches unless you are buying other luxury watches on a regular basis.

If you are on a waiting list, you will never get to the top of it unless you buy many other watches in the meantime.

A waiting list is not a queue, in the conventional sense where the person who arrives first is served first and the person second in line will be served second.

A waiting list is simply a spreadsheet of customers’ spending habits and future desires. It is entirely discretionary on retailers to decide who gets which watch at what time.

Customers can also be kicked off lists and be black-listed if they behave in a way deemed unworthy by retailers and brands.

Forum delegates were told that brands comb the internet looking for people reselling their watches. If these sellers are labelled as flippers, the retailer that originally sold the watch is told to black list them.

While appreciating the assertion that watches should be sold to watch lovers, this practice of black listing is nuts.

What people do with the watches they own is their business.

If I had bought, say, a Richard Mille, sold it for my own reasons (maybe to buy another RM), I would be incandescent if my retailer called to say I was black listed.

That would hurt the retailer and the brand and surely fails the common sense test at every level.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder