Audemars Piguet says it will embrace the secondary market for watches by accepting trade-ins and selling pre-owned timepieces from its own boutiques.
The company is starting the initiative in some of the 26 stores it owns and operates in Switzerland, but will roll it out to other markets, including the United States, if successful.
“Second-hand is the next big thing in the watch industry,” chief executive Francois-Henry Bennahmias told Reuters at SIHH this week.
The market for pre-owned watches has ballooned in recent years. Auction houses that used to deal only in rare vintage models are now pumping out virtually new models in monthly online auctions.
In the Britain, Watchfinder.co.uk, which sells only pre-owned watches, has turnover of over $150 million, considerably more than the whole of Swatch Group. The company thinks the market could be worth $1.5 billion in the UK alone.
Goverberg Jewelers in Philadelphia, an agent for around 50 Swiss watch brands including Rolex and Patek Philippe, says turnover for its pre-owned business, trading online as Watchbox, is three times higher than its new watch business and growing
The company’s owner, Danny Govberg, told WatchPro that the potential of the pre-owned luxury watch market is almost limitless because they do not age like second hand cars.
“People do not understand pre-owned properly. They think of it like second hand cars, which it is not. A second hand car after 15 years is truly only good for scrap. But a watch should last 100 years, so if a watch is four years old and its owner has taken care of it, then it is just starting out in life,” Mr Govberg explains.
“In five to ten years, the pre-owned market will be bigger than the entire wristwatch market,” he predicts.
The Swiss watch industry inadvertently creates demand by limiting the quantities it produces of the most popular models, leaving authorised dealers of new watches high and dry.
“There are advantages to being in the pre-owned market,” Mr Govberg says. “For example, if you talk to authorised Rolex retailers anywhere in the world, they will tell you how much of a shortage there is of Rolex today. In London, you probably can’t buy a new steel Rolex today; I don’t just mean Black and Blues, I mean you can’t find anything steel. But if you go online to Chrono24, there are probably 1000 steel Rolexes on sale.”