There are, broadly speaking, two business models for pre-owned watch trading.
First is the consignment model, where watches are listed on a digital marketplace and the tech company does not get involved in transactions between buyers and sellers.
eBay was very much in this camp until it launched its Authenticity Guarantee, which provides an expert physical inspection of every watch sold for over $2,000 as it makes its way between a seller and a buyer.
Chrono24, which is also a pure marketplace, has other safeguarding tactics, including escrow accounts so that money can be held safely until both sellers and buyers are happy with the conclusion of any transaction.
At the other end of the scale, you have businesses like WatchBox and Watchfinder, which buy, authenticate and refurbish every watch before they resell them.
A relatively new entrant into the market is operating closer to the eBay model, but with more of a specialisation on watches.
Bezel, run out of Los Angeles, was launched by Quaid Walker, a former visual and product design lead at Google TV.
He calls it the world’s first 100% authenticated, tech-first marketplace for buying and selling luxury watches, and has raised $8 million in funding from celebrities and business experts including John Legend, Steve Aoki, Kevin Hart, John Reardon (Collectability.com), Kyle Kuzma and Michael Ovitz; plus investors such as Google, Snapchat, Accel, A16Z, Index, Gradient and QED.
Bezel’s aim is to attract the greatest volume of watches possible by making it simple for traders to list watches, but to build trust with potentially inexpert consumers by authenticating every watch before they take delivery.
Authenticating every watch, as eBay knows only too well, is a massive and expensive undertaking, even if limited to transactions north of $2,000.
Bezel takes a unique approach with two phases of authentication.
First, watches are checked just from the description and photographs provided by a seller. This is called the pre-listing, and the company says it discovers the majority of problematic watches this way.
“Any visibly inauthentic or incorrectly described watches are rejected, allowing us to significantly decrease the likelihood of Bezel members browsing or purchasing watches that do not meet the Bezel standard,” the company states.
Second, is a post-sale authentication process, where watches have to be dispatched to Bezel’s in house team where they are inspected for each component’s quality, overall uniformity, period-correctness, indications of wear or prior servicing, and expected execution/finishing.
Bezel specialists take the serial and reference numbers of the watch into account because they are a guide to what to look for in the case, dial, hands, bracelet, lume, accessories, and more.
Serial numbers are also checked against a database of lost and stolen watches.
This authentication process, and others like it by competitors, is said by Bezel to be crucial because a staggering 23% of watches — almost one in four — are rejected.
Bezel points to research by black market threat intelligence provider Havocscope, which estimates there are 40 million counterfeit watches sold globally each year as evidence for the need to authenticate every watch.
Over half of watches rejected during Bezel’s authentication process were either counterfeit Rolexes or so-called Frankenstein watches pieced together using authentic and counterfeit components.
Patek Philippe and Cartier watches were the second most commonly rejected watches.
Bezel intends to be transparent with sellers and buyers, and is sharing data on both pricing with its own Bezel Index tracking the value of the top 100 traded watches, and with data like a break down of its sales by brand.