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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : The world of pre-owned luxury watches

Watchbox Hong Kong Collectors' Lounge, Duddell Street_12

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold for a record-breaking $17.75 million was all over the media for a long time, raising awareness of the huge market for pre-owned luxury watches, even outside auctions.

Recently, Retail in Asia visited the WatchBox Collector’s Lounge and met Justin Reis, WatchBox Co-Founder & Managing Partner to know more about pre-owned luxury watch industry and WatchBox Asian expansion.

Justin Reis, WatchBox Co-Founder & Managing Partner_2
Source : WatchBox

RiA : What is WatchBox and what are its specificities?

Justin : WatchBox is a global e-commerce platform for the buying, selling, and trading of luxury pre-owned timepieces; using innovative technology, sophisticated data systems, a cutting-edge mobile app and pricing transparency to build trust across an international following.

With industry heavy-weights Liam Wee Tay; formerly CEO of Sincere Watches, Danny Govberg; CEO of Govberg Watches and I as the three controlling partners globally along with Samuel Lee; founder and former CEO of Elegant Watches as the Hong Kong partner, we bring credibility, trust, and ease to customers looking to buy, sell and trade watches in a way no other buyer or seller of pre-owned watches is currently offering.

Using our industry expertise from the primary market, we have been able to listen to what the customers we have developed long standing relationships with want and what is currently missing through platforms such as the auction houses. WatchBox is the principal in every transaction and doesn’t just act as a broker; we inspect, authenticate, and put a 15-month warranty on every watch that is in our inventory, and we believe that is why we are the chosen partner for many watch collectors.

SEE ALSO : The story of McQueen’s Submariner

Each watch is thoroughly evaluated by Swiss-trained watchmakers in our authorized service centers in the US and Hong Kong, ensuring the highest possible return for clients selling watches, and peace of mind for clients purchasing pre-owned timepieces from our ever-expanding inventory.

We provide a white-glove service, a 24-hour payment cycle and have an expert and passionate team of watch experts who have years of experience both from luxury brands and auction houses and who customers can come and just talk with and share their passion with watches at our Collector’s Lounge in Central, Hong Kong.

RiA : WatchBox is very well established in the U.S. and customers feel comfortable in ordering watches online. Why the need for a concierge service in HK?

 Justin : At WatchBox we are technology driven, but focused on relationships and a personal touch.

Customers in the US are currently more accustomed to trading their watches, and through our online platforms and robust offline services, we are now facilitating that need for customers in Asia.

Based on global watch sales over the last 15 years we estimate that there is close to USD400billion of watches sitting in people’s watch boxes and this is why we saw an un-tapped opportunity to create a trusted omni-channel platform offering liquidity to watch collectors around the globe and changing the landscape of a currently very fragmented sector of the luxury watch industry. With Hong Kong being the world’s largest market for Swiss watch imports it was essential for us to establish ourselves in this market.

It was essential for us to realize a physical location in Hong Kong. Our office in Central fortifies WatchBox’s position as a trusted global partner for buying, selling and trading luxury pre-owned timepieces. It adds credibility to our brand and the omni-channel approach is really what differentiates WatchBox in the pre-owned luxury watch category in what is traditionally a brick and mortar industry.

Our Collector’s Lounge includes art pieces curated by Cindy Chua-Tay. As far as possible she has endeavoured to curate and put together a collection of art pieces that relate to the concept of time. Whether it’s a particular genre the artist was known for at the time when he or she was creating the body of work, what time means to some artists and how they deal and react to the concept of time.

The lounge is showcasing pieces from Do Ho Shuh, a Korean artist, best known for intricate sculptures and installation art. He leads an itinerant life between Seoul (family) and NYC (where he works and creates from) and captures memories of his time in each place through many of his installations. But also David Goldblatt, The most famous of South African artist, known for his B&W photography especially those taken during apartheid. He is a historian, a commentator and accurately documents the developments and pace or lack of improvement in South Africa.

Watchbox Hong Kong Collectors' Lounge, Duddell Street_8
Source : WatchBox

RiA : How WatchBox provides an omni-channel experience and how do you use various digital tools to enhance the customer journey from research to experience?

Justin : Technology plays a crucial role in WatchBox and our omni-channel approach. We are using innovative technology, sophisticated data systems, a cutting-edge mobile app and pricing transparency to build trust across an international following.

In what is traditionally a brick-and-mortar industry, we are offering access to real time pricing and knowledge and transparency to our customers through our app, website, social media presence and dedicated concierge teams.

Our app provides the ultimate Watch Collector’s tool kit allowing you to access real time data and pricing for your watch collection, monitor and manage your collection, interact with the watch community and keep up to date with industry news right through to making a transaction.

Customers are able to browse our inventory of pre-owned watches, view actual photos of the watch, make offers on watches, and submit watches to our traders for a free valuation. Through our social media you are able to keep up to date with our current products, blog and concierge team.

The modern consumer is increasingly sophisticated and connected, and digital technology affords exposure to an endless range of influences. Consumers are empowered by social networks and digital devices, and since they are no longer bound to a store’s hours of operation, they dictate how and when they want to interact with a brand. For that reason, our services are designed to support the consumer at any time of day and from any location – conditions that match the lifestyle of the global consumer.

Editorial content is key to the modern ecommerce experience, and WatchBox leverages the horological expertise and on-camera talent of its team to connect with consumers in a unique and authentic way.

Through WatchBox Studios – an in-house creative studio and video production division – we have a remarkable opportunity to tap into the watch consumer’s emotional journey by connecting people with people.

But it is more than just the application of technology that WatchBox’s success is built on; it is intuitive e-commerce solutions united with personalized client service, education and expert council.

RiA : As you deal with luxury pieces how do you create a luxury experience?

Justin : Watch customers are quite sophisticated in their purchases and often very knowledgeable. Asia is one of the most sophisticated markets, as we know from the records set at auctions in Hong Kong, and we are providing these consumers a unique service and opportunity to further grow and curate their watch collections through buying, selling, and trading.

We believe that vertical selling is the key to any luxury brand’s future success. WatchBox offers a unique experience built upon a proven and profitable model for the pre-owned space.

In recognising the limitations of an online shopping platform and the fact that the ‘traditional’ store environment is not aligned with the interests, behaviors and needs of many modern consumers, WatchBox developed its Personal Commerce division as a solution to the client’s needs. Personal Commerce reinforces our commitment to the modern, connected consumer who wants to buy, sell and trade pre-owned luxury timepieces with confidence and ease.

Through our innovative technology, proprietary marketing tools and data system, a mobile app and our Collector’s Lounge we are able to provide the ultimate experience with ease and trust.

RiA : What are your bestsellers and why do they occupy the podium more than others?

Justin : Some of our best sellers include Rolex, Panerai, Audemars Piguet, Breitling and Omega. Trends are continuously changing and are very personal and dependent to where someone is on their watch collecting journey.

At the moment we are seeing huge demand for stainless steel sports models and with all of our inventory being shown on our website customers have access to our full global inventory. We also have the WatchBox studios, the WatchBox blog and the collector’s lounge in Hong Kong where customers can learn about the watches they are interested in or come to the lounge to learn more and talk with our concierge team.

Watches are a personal choice and we cater to clients at all points along the watch collecting continuum, from the veteran collector with a penchant for highly exclusive and limited models to the novice enthusiast buying their first watch.

We have approximately 3,000 pre-owned pieces currently in our inventory.

RiA : What features would determine the price of a pre-owned luxury watch?

Justin : We leave the market to drive pricing for watches. At WatchBox we have extensive data on watch prices from our own experience as well as our proprietary technology that has recorded millions of watch transactions. We use Big Data to predict the price that a watch will sell at on the market, combined with solid estimates of the cost to refurbish them to like-new condition, to offer a fair valuation for watches submitted to us.

A pre-owned watch can certainly be more expensive than a new one. It depends on the brand, the design and the quantity available in the market.

RiA : Based on the data collected by WatchBox, can you give us an overview on the pre-owned watch industry and any striking differences between U.S and Asia?

Justin : About a decade ago when you wanted to sell a watch, it was not a good omen. You went to the pawnshop and didn’t want to be seen. There were a lot of negative connotations, especially in Asia. But today, looking at millennials coming in, the old is becoming the new ‘new.’ Recycling and selling or trading old watches has a certain cache; there is a change in mentality and an appreciation for pre-owned.

Second-hand timepieces are especially popular for models that are well sought after and hard to get. And the lower price bracket of the secondary market has also broadened the appeal of luxury timepieces to a wider consumer base, particularly millennials.

Thus, it translates into an increasing number of transactions in the secondary luxury watch market. The size of the preowned market is about $5 billion annually, including the timepieces sold at auction, according to Jon Cox, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich.

WatchBox capitalizes on an estimated $500 billion global pre-owned watch market by offering consumers a scalable platform to buy, sell and trade pre-owned timepieces.

To give you an idea, the average spending on luxury watches in Hong Kong is US$57,000 per year, compared to US$24,000 in the US and US$43,000 in Singapore. This further emphasizes Hong Kong as a key market where we can capitalize on and elevate the pre-owned luxury watch category.

WatchBox_App
Source : WatchBox

RiA : Who are your customers?

Justin : We cater to clients at all points along the watch collecting continuum, from the veteran collector with a penchant for highly exclusive and limited models to the novice enthusiast buying their first watch.

The modern consumer is increasingly sophisticated and connected, and digital technology affords exposure to an endless range of influences. Consumers are empowered by social networks and digital devices, and since they are no longer bound to a store’s hours of operation, they dictate how and when they want to interact with a brand. For that reason, our services are designed to support the consumer at any time of day and from any location – conditions that match the lifestyle of the global consumer.

Our watch customers are often very knowledgeable with Asia as one of the most sophisticated markets from the records set at auctions in Hong Kong. With WatchBox, we are providing our customers with a unique service and opportunity to further grow and curate their watch collections through buying, selling, and trading.

In the US, customers are currently more accustomed to trading their watches, and through our online platforms and robust offline services, we are now facilitating that need for customers in Asia.

SEE ALSO : Paul Newman’s Rolex sold for record $17.7 million

RiA : Any change in terms of trends for women customers?

Justin : In what was predominantly a male focused category, there has definitely been a great shift in ratio towards female customers in the luxury watch market in the past few decades. We also observe a growing number of female customers in our database as they become more and more interested and knowledgeable in collecting luxury timepieces.

In Asia approximately 20% of our customers / Instagram users are women. We find our female customers are already more accustomed to trading and purchasing pre-owned due to the recent trend of pre-owned in the fashion sector. We also see a lot of women trading in their smaller models towards larger men’s watches such as Panerai and Rolex.

 

 

 

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