Secondary market operators including WatchBox, Chrono24 and Bob’s Watches are reporting soaring levels of activity at their online portals as watch lovers in lock down browse for bargains.
Auction houses also say they are attracting more bidders to their timed online sales than normal. Blockbuster sales, which take place during a week-long binge in Spring and Autumn, have been scaled back, but the broader online events have a growing audience of participants that have not been active before.
Spotting trends across the secondary market is proving difficult, and a source of endless arguments on online forums. The biggest players have a vested interest in reporting strong sales and robust prices, but customers are more cautious and most are convinced there are bargains to be had, even for the most sought after watches like Rolex, Audemar Piguet and Patek Philippe steel professional models.
One of the more illuminating sources for how the lock down is affecting prices is Watchbox’s Market Wrap show for Youtube, in which Mike Manjos, the company’s chief revenue officer (pictured top), gives his views in the style of a stock market analyst.
“There is some softening in the watch market,” Mr Manjos concedes in an early April episode, “but there are also pockets of strength”.
Like a share trader taking positions, Watchbox is going short on Greubel Forsey, which the company expects will see prices decline on the secondary market in the coming year or two, and it is also “conservative” on Richard Mille. “This a brand that has taken off in the last couple of years, driving very high prices. We think those prices are going to come back. There is too much product out there in dealers’ hands,” Mr Manjos suggests.
On the upside, Watchbox is building a substantial position in F.P. Journe. The company says it has the largest collections in the world already, but intends to “double down”, according to Mr Manjos. “We think prices are only going up,” he predicts.
He particularly likes the entry level F.P. Journe Chronometre Blue, most collectors’ gateway into the brand. “Every one of these watches we get in is going out again straight away,” reveals Mr Manjos.
Some blockbuster watches from recent years are seeing prices dip as demand falls and supply rises. The Rolex Daytona with ceramic bezel, is mentioned as an example. However, the Rolex Submariner Hulk is bucking the falling market as speculation increases that it will be discontinued this year. “People are convinced the Hulk is going away. Demand will continue until we get a definitive answer from Rolex on whether it is on or off this year,” Mr Manjos believes.
Chrono24, in an update on April 29, said that prices are more or less stable, but “a bit softer for some super iconic watches”.
It gives examples of Rolex’s GMT Master II with a Pepsi bezel, which has seen prices fall by 7% over the past month to an average of $16,743 (around £13,400). That is still almost double the recommended retail price of £7,750.
Over the same period, the price of a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A has risen by 9% to $70,582 (around £56,500), still more than double its retail price of £23,440.
An extra-thin Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (no reference number) is selling for $45,755 (around £36,600), up 6% on last month.
There is evidence that prices are under downward pressure as customers are negotiating harder with dealers listing watches on Chrono24. Users are requesting 16% higher discounts than pre-coronavirus levels, but more price negotiations are falling through, the report reveals.