Second-hand or “previously owned” is a hot trend. The world of luxury in general, and that of watchmaking in particular, have not escaped consumer’s keen interest in the pre-owned market. The main reason for this craze is of course the price. The possibility of acquiring a watch at anything from 15% to 50% less than its original price tag is continuing to whet the appetite of watch enthusiasts.
Several stats vividly reflect the scope of this fruitful market. In 2012, Cresus, the leading French company specialising in the sale and purchase of previously owned luxury watches and jewellery, toasted its 20th anniversary by announcing that it had crossed the twin symbolic thresholds of 10 million euros in turnover and 20,000 watches sold. While continuing to bet on its cross-channel strategy (combining internet sales with physical boutiques), this fast-growing firm is aiming for a 15 million-euro turnover in 2015. The figures are equally impressive for Chrono 24. This must-visit internet platform created in 2003 consistently features around 175,000 second-hand watches offered by around 8,500 sellers.
Reshuffling the decks
Consumers’ growing interest in pre-owned luxury watches, together with the facilitating role of the internet, have led to a complete reshuffle of the cards when it comes to distribution. Auction houses opt to focus on models that are sought-after by collectors, while less important watches priced between 5,000 and 20,000 CHF tend to remain in the hands of companies specialising in the second-hand trade. But the market lines are not as clearly drawn as one might think. Things are changing, the strategies and game rules are becoming ever more complex, and borders are increasingly blurred. Christie’s has opened its own watch shop on the net, while Sotheby’s announced last summer a partnership with ebay to circulate its auctions among the 145 million subscribers to the famous online auction site. An authentic paradigm shift for the pre-owned luxury goods market within which it can be tough to get one’s bearings.
"Some timepieces stay for barely a few hours on the shelves".
Alongside the global juggernauts that offer a kind of service that is perhaps too impersonal and can sometimes prove perilous, some less adventurous customers prefer to work with independent dealers or be guided by real-life experts… Laurent Ponti, who settled in Geneva 13 years ago, specialises in the sale of previously owned luxury watches. His motto is exclusivity, credibility and quality. “I’m very selective when it comes to brands”, he insists.
Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, IWC, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai are the names he represents. His boutique houses a stock of around 100 models and he sells around 400 watches a year. “Some timepieces stay for barely a few hours on the shelves”, says Laurent Ponti, “while others may take more time. 1970s models are somewhat harder to shift.” The latter tendency is confirmed by Vanessa Chicha, co-founder of Iconeek.
Also located in Geneva, on the Place Longemalle, albeit in this instance in a showroom on the first floor of a luxurious building, Iconeek was born at the start of 2014 from a decision to associate the watch business experience of Vanessa (de Gorski, Jaquet Droz) with that of her husband, horological expert Fabien Chicha (Antiquorum, Christie’s, Hôtel des Ventes de Monte Carlo). The strength of this newcomer to the vintage market lies in a blend of expertise and judicious pricing. “People who come to us are treating themselves to an expert”, says Vanessa Chicha, who guarantees clients the chance of being carefully guided in their purchase of a fully appraised watch, for a reasonable fee. “We take watches on a deposit basis”, explains the director of Iconeek, “which enables us not to immobilise funds and thus to charge a lower commission amounting to just 15% of the before-tax price.” This business model combining internet with a showroom is already proving its worth. “The time lapse between the moment when a watch is posted on a website and that when the seller receives the money from a sale generally amounts to just a month and a half.” Vanessa and Fabien Chicha are already delighted by this ultra-quick turnaround time. “People say it takes two years to turn a profit, but we were profitable from the very first month!” The second-hand market appears to have a bright future ahead of it…