With the success of vintage, the online sale of second-hand models is expanding rapidly. A market where high-end watches remain the most sought-after.
In the window, Rolex cars from three to thirty years old, whose price varies between €3,000 and €30,000, stand alongside Patek Philippe cars, almost untouchable as they are listed. We also discover from every angle Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, whose success over the past five years has mechanically impacted the old models. This enticing showcase, which makes lovers of second-hand watches dream, is… virtual. Because as in the world of fashion, digital players are gradually taking over the second-hand watch market, from Chronext to Montredo, via Watchbox or Chrono24.
“The process of buying a watch is long and emotional, customers return to our platform up to 36 times before finalizing the act. “Tim Stracke, CEO of Chrono24
After renting between private individuals, delivering dishes to their homes and transporting them with drivers, will these sites use vintage watches? Probably not. Because on the Net, high-end models are not only the best-selling ones, but also the ones that generate the most interest. “At Chrono24, Rolex represents about 30% of sales, followed by Patek Philippe. For some, it even rises to 50%,” confesses Tim Stracke, CEO of Chrono24. Behind the blue chips, whose prices are stable and homogeneous throughout the world, the pack is heterogeneous. But prices are 25% to 70% lower than new, depending on the model.
This second-hand watch trade is nothing new. He has always had his audience, looking for a business or an investment. But the craze for new watches with a vintage look ended up creating an appetite for the original models. “More and more people are realizing that they have watches that they no longer wear, for which there is a demand, and they want to monetize them,” explains Patrick Hoffmann, CEO of Watchbox’s European activities. Clicking on a site to sell a watch has something less impressive and accessible than pushing the door of a specialty store…
The emergence of eBay in the landscape has shaken up this small world, bringing buyers and sellers face to face for a commission. In 2005, there was no luxury second-hand player on the Internet,” explains Sébastien Le Pont, co-founder and manager of CornerLuxe. Realizing that these products are the ones where we bring the best added value to our customers, we have specialized. We offer products for sale on behalf of customers with our recognized sales profile. We provide them with our expertise in sales promotion, by publishing information that highlights the product. These are codes that change and are quite subtle depending on the platforms, such as eBay, Chrono24 or CollectiveCloakroom.”
Because the second-hand watch is not a product like any other, specialized sites have quickly become professionalized: “The question of technicality is more complex than elsewhere,” explains Sébastien Le Pont, explaining that the risk of malfunction is higher, requiring more checks on more parameters than any other product. Behind the screen, the customer is demanding and takes his time: “The process of buying a watch is long and emotional, customers come back to our platform up to thirty-six times before finalizing the purchase,” Tim Stracke analyses.
To seduce and retain the buyer, it is often the careful presentation of the object that will make the difference. There are many photos, the watch must be seen from all angles. The starting price is accurately fixed and then lowered when necessary, at the appropriate time. These sites must also reassure buyers and sellers by securing transactions and, above all, by authenticating the product. Because counterfeiting remains a major risk. This is logical, since certification processes are at the heart of the identity of merchants and platforms. But how can we certify thousands of watches physically present on the other side of the world?” We select one by one all the salespeople on our platform,” continues Tim Stracke. For its part, Chronext has a dozen permanent watchmakers, which makes it possible to authenticate and offer a two-year guarantee.
There is still one last obstacle to buying an old watch online. More than any other object, it only reveals itself once worn. Acquiring without trying is an inherent difficulty in any electronic sale. To this, two answers are given. The first is that second-hand watches are often known and recognized models that buyers have had the opportunity to put on. The second is a virtual fitting as proposed by the Chrono24 application. On his smartphone, everyone can superimpose the image of his wrist and the coveted watch. This augmented reality tool, however, struggles to account for the real presence of the watch. Faced with these uncertainties, all sellers offer to take it back within a variable withdrawal period: “Online fashion sites have return rates of 30% to 50%,” explains Tim Stracke. Chrono24 is closer to 1%.”
The craze is confirmed, especially since the relationship to second-hand purchases is different: “Our company is in a bulimia of purchases,” concludes Sébastien Le Pont, “the better I buy, the more relaxed I am. At the high price, I’m careful. At -50%, the act is de-dramatized, as for the sales: “Between the success of the vintage style, the multiplication of the offer and good deals, we understand well the enthusiasm for the second-hand watch. It remains to be seen whether the new Web players will succeed in establishing themselves beyond the circle of connoisseurs… In stores too…
The major brands and watchmaking groups are joining the ball of the occasion, so are the prospects. Houses like Audemars Piguet or F. P. Journe have already implemented their Certified Pre-Owned program, an anglicism that refers to opportunities sold alongside new products in their own stores. Cartier Collection has long offered the possibility of buying a vintage, refurbished Cartier in the same environment as a piece of the year. Historical specialists in second-hand watches such as Romain Réa, Crésus, MMC or Olivine have long since taken the turn of the Web, but are taking full advantage of their installed reputation and their shops with street credentials. Another first-generation player, auction houses remain a two-speed world. Among the half-dozen watch auction specialists, the world is divided into huge batches that generate buzz, Rolex and Patek Philippe exceeding 100,000, even a million euros, and the rest. In this mass, a few Panerai, TAG Heuer with an impeccable pedigree, pieces that once belonged to movie stars panicked collectors. Behind these “trees”, a forest of watches of all brands and types. The rate they will reach is a real lottery.