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CORDER’S COLUMN: Single brand pre-owned watch boutiques could be the next big thing

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Ten years ago the trade in second hand watches was a dirty little secret of the pristine primary market.

Highly reputable authorised dealers of the biggest brands were taking trade-ins, but the pre-owned watches were moved on as quickly and quietly as possible.

Those days are long gone. Richemont buying Watchfinder for a rumored £250 million in 2018 bought immediate legitimacy to a market that was already becoming highly sophisticated and increasingly respected.

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Now leaders of the Swiss watch industry meet regularly with CEOs of pre-owned giants like eBay, Chrono24, Watchfinder and Chronext to trade insight on how the primary and secondary markets can work productively together.

A story in today’s WatchPro News Alert caught my eye as an example of the next evolution in pre-owned: an official tie-up between Richard Mille and a boutique in London called NINETY that will exclusively sell second hand Mille watches alongside prestigious art and other antiques.

Effectively, this is a monobrand boutique for pre-owned Richard Mille watches where every piece will be authenticated, serviced and given a two year warranty backed by the brand.

This strikes me as a stunningly good idea by both the founders of NINETY and by Richard Mille, one of the most innovative and respected businesses in the watch world.

They should become more common, and I will wager that in ten years time we will see single brand pre-owned boutiques open all over the world, and I expect they will be run by major multiples such as Bucherer, The Watches of Switzerland Group and Chisholm Hunter, and by entrepreneurial family-owned independents like Laings, Berry’s, Rox and Preston’s.

With the support of the right brands — Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, F.P. Journe and perhaps even Rolex — these single brand pre-owned boutiques could become collectors’ clubs with membership benefits ranging from first-to-see access to new stock, expert workshops, investment advice or even concierge services through partnerships with places like exclusive restaurants or private member clubs.

The level of luxury and sophistication these monobrand boutiques could bring would elevate them above the massively competitive online marketplaces. That elevation should open doors to better access to rare watches (bought and sold), which should mean better margins.

From the brand side, working with pre-owned specialists that sell trade their watches with the veneration they deserve can only be positive. Surely AP, Patek et al would prefer their precious timepieces to be bought and sold in a sumptuous boutique in Mayfair than taking their chances on platforms like Chrono24?

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder