Pass it on: pre-owned market
Pre-owned watches are flying out of retailers’ stores. Laura McCreddie looks at their appeal.
People can be very divided on the idea of owning something that someone else has had before them. Call it vintage and certain people will pay over the odds for something that smells of mothballs and old cupboards; advertise a car as classic and it will have enthusiasts wanting to sign on the dotted line; and then there are those who want that pristine, shiny newness, rather than an object imbibed with ghosts of owners past.
The recession and subsequent economic turmoil has meant that a lot of people have had to re-evaluate their spending, which is why the pre-owned watch market is a sector that many retailers are now getting involved in.
“We were finding people didn’t Trend watchhave the money to buy new Swiss watches but still wanted quality names they could rely on,” explains Wes Suter, director of Steffan’s the Jewellers, which has branches in Northampton and Market Harborough, Leicestershire. “There has also been a surge of people selling watches. During the financial boom, people bought more than one watch and I guess they couldn’t afford to keep them or felt guilty or greedy for having too many.”
Serena Gaugh, sales employee at Goldsmiths in Nottingham, agrees that price point is one of the reasons consumers are more willing to buy pre-owned. “These watches are more affordable than new watches. We sell them because they have a wide accessibility,” she explains.
BQ Watches is Europe’s number one buyer and seller of pre-owned luxury watches, selling to consumer and the trade, and its sales manager Ian Schaffer says that adding pre-owned stock to a business can do wonders for turnover. “We’ve had the business 30 years, but eight years ago we decided to target retail jewellers to sell second-hand Rolex watches to meet demands,” he says. “With second-hand watches, our turnover is triple what we anticipated.”
Schaffer thinks this is a result of gold prices as well as the economy.
“Because of the price rises, gold is increasingly difficult to sell, so jewellers are looking for other items,” says Schaffer. “Second-hand Rolexes fit into that bracket. Pre-owned watches have always been a big market in France, Belgium and Italy but the British public is now aware of it too.”
And businesses are also getting involved via online. Watchfinder.co.uk was created 10 years ago when one of the creators had trouble locating an Omega Moonwatch.
“There was a gap in the market for pre-owned watches,” explains Watchfinder.co.uk content editor Andrew Morgan. “A lot of people wanted something they could invest in without having to spend a lot of money. We provided that service to people online.” Morgan agrees that the recession has been a factor in the growth of this sector, but also says that the audience was always there.
“People will always want new watches, but there are also people who appreciate the value of pre-owned ones because of their price and quality. Now that companies offer warranties on second-hand products, that has taken away the misconceptions about buying pre-owned,” he says.
But that is also one of the possible downsides to getting involved in selling pre-owned watches - the time the retailer has to put in to make sure they are ready for sale. Watches need to be verified, and some need to be cleaned up, polished and checked to make sure they are in full working order and warranty worthy.
“It does take time, but it’s well worth it,” says Suter. “Compared to selling new watches, pre-owned have a greater selection and there is greater variation in terms of age and style. There is something for everyone.”
This is something David Duggan agrees with. He is the owner of an eponymous retailer in London’s Burlington Arcade and has been retailing pre-owned watches for 30 years.
“There isn’t one particular audience for pre-owned watches,” he says. “You could say the people who buy pre-owned watches want good value, but then there are those who want good value who would never consider buying second hand. It just depends on the person.”
Brands to bet on
One thing you can take a reasonable bet on is what will sell. As in many things, backing a brand is invariably a good thing.
“Brands people aren’t familiar with don’t sell well,” says Suter. “Brands that are selling at the moment are Breitling, Cartier, Rolex, Omega and Tag Heuer - the obvious Swiss bread and butter brands.”
Duggan’s best-sellers are Patek Philippe, Rolex and Jaeger-LeCoultre, while Gaugh agrees that “Swiss watches all sell well”.
And pre-owned watches are not all about selling at a low price point. Martin Andrews, director at London’s Armour Winston, Burlington Arcade’s oldest dealer in fine watches and jewellery, regularly sells timepieces that retail between £2,000 and £100,000. “Our average sale is between £7,000 and £10,000,” he says.
And if you are a more jewellery-centric retailer, it could also bring a different clientele through your door.
As Suter says: “The guy who comes in to buy a Rolex Submariner is in my eyes a potential engagement ring or jewellery customer.”
It seems the phrase ‘one careful owner’ could now be a viable selling point when it comes to timepieces.