Few would have thought five years ago that a 26-year old, fresh from a law degree and post-graduate masters in business, would be capable of creating a $20 million second hand watch company in little more than half a decade.
But that is precisely what Silas Walton has achieved with his startup A Collected Man, which now buys and sells ultra-rare pre-owned watches from the likes of Roger W Smith, Kari Voutilainen and Philippe Dufour to customers all over the world at average prices of over $65,000 each.
America is the company’s biggest market, even though it is based in London.
And it is already profitable. In an extended financial year of 16 months to the end of March, 2020, A Collected Man notched sales of £11.8 million and earnings of £467,000, according to accounts filed with UK authorities.
Mr Walton says sales have topped £14 million ($20 million) in the 12 months to March this year.
This is not how dotcom operations are supposed to start. Where is the bleeding balance sheet and obsession with the next funding round?
The reality is that, while A Collected Man trades entirely online, it is actually a highly personal business where relationships with collectors are based on total trust for each watch that is bought and sold.
Mr Walton also maintains a close relationship with the watchmakers, who are happy to provide details about their creations to collectors.
A Collected Man’s success is evidence of how far the pre-owned market has developed and matured in the past five years, and why major brands including Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and Breitling are trying to work out how to draw it closer to their orbits.
The conversation has been completely turned on its head.
Second hand watches used to undermine primary dealers because a five year old watch is still pretty much in perfect condition but could be bought at a huge discount.
Now brands are delighted to see a lively market for pre-owned watches and authorised dealers are happy to buy them as trade-ins.
So far the biggest brands and retail giants like Watches of Switzerland and Bucherer have had limited success at replicating the impact that energised privateers like Watchfinder, Watchbox, Chronext and A Collected Man have made, although Bucherer-owned Tourneau is a significant player in pre-owned (it contributes more to sales than every brand except Rolex).
Richemont bought Watchfinder, Watches of Switzerland bought Analogue Shift and Hodinkee bought Crown & Calibre; evidence, were it needed, that the primary market is trying to wrap its arms around this opportunity.