Retail in Asia had the pleasure of interviewing Austen Chu, CEO & founder of the second hand luxury watch concept, Wristcheck. Passionate, astute and highly knowledgeable about his trade, we were interested to find out more about both his online and offline concepts.
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RiA: Austen, you are only 24 years old, where did your love of watches come from?
Austen: My mom bought me a Flik Flak when I was very young. It quickly became my ‘safety watch’ – my safety blanket, in a sense. I wouldn’t be able to sleep without it, and I couldn’t leave the house without the watch on either. It just became a habit! This passion began to truly materialise when I started my first company at 15, and saved up enough money to buy a Hamilton when I was 16. That was a big investment: it represented 70 percent of all my money at the time.
Back in 2012, there was very little information about watches on the internet, other than old-school forums like PuristsPro, and very few others, which made it very lonely being a young person with this hobby. Nobody else my age loved watches like I did, especially growing up in China. There also weren’t many collecting communities at the time. The market was still immature, and the preferences were for gold and diamonds and heavy watches, mostly to show off. It wasn’t really about craft, tradition and history; but now it has obviously shifted very much so towards that.
When I started my Instagram page ‘@Horoloupe’ during my first year of college in Shanghai, it was anonymous for three years — I just wanted to share my passion with other people. I didn’t disclose my name or age because I knew no one would take me seriously if I had done, considering I was just 18 at the time. Then, when I hit around 30,000 followers, I serendipitously ended up premiering a watch for Audemars Piguet on my Instagram, instead of via their traditional ways of launching a new model. It was an incredible honour, so I really had to ensure that I perfected my watch photography in order to give them something special.
This sowed the seeds to the long-term relationship that developed between myself and AP, and I actually ended up collaborating with the brand for the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar ‘China Edition’ ref. 26609TI, limited to 88 pieces — which I am actually wearing today! This was the first time a luxury watch brand had ever collaborated with a collector for a commercial release, and I will always be grateful to them for the opportunity. It was a huge success, with the first watch hammering in at auction for CHF 300,000 (at the time, the second most expensive Royal Oak ever auctioned) — with all proceeds going towards charity.
RiA: How did you then go from collector to business owner for second hand watches?
Austen: Throughout the whole time I was collecting watches and meeting brands, horology was just a passion – again, my relationship with AP was not commercial when it began: they knew I could only afford the one watch I had. However, they could see the passion I had for watch collecting. I suppose my ability to speak English in China also helped foster this relationship: I was able to meet other regional CEOs who would visit China, and whilst I certainly was not a VIP at the time, I was able to communicate with both the clients and the AP team, and our relationship only grew from there.
Fast forward a few years to 2019, when I serendipitously met my (soon to be, at the time) business partner Sean Wong, who came from Hypebeast.
The whole idea of Wristcheck is to inspire the next generation of watch enthusiasts and to bring in as many people into the hobby as possible. That is the mission, and we achieve that by having a fully transparent exchange: buyers know what sellers net, sellers know what buyers pay, and both parties know what we as a platform made.
We authenticate the watches either with the brands or with our watch specialists, and we’re currently working with five or six watch brands to be their official pre-owned partner. This is an important part of the process, and these brands will give extended warranties even on old watches that they refurbish.
We want to be completely transparent and provide peace of mind to our customers, so our selling and buying process is safe and easy to navigate for everyone. I’ve been scammed before buying watches online, and our priority is to protect our community from that. We want to foster lifetime clients instead of just having one-time sales and transactions, so our approach is very holistic. We’re also the first company in Hong Kong offering B2C insurance for watches.
RiA: Is this Landmark location your first store? Why Hong Kong?
Austen: Yes it is. Hong Kong is still the commercial capital of watches globally by far — nothing comes close to it. Last year was the first time that Hong Kong was not number one in terms of watch sales: it was number three. But the fact that Hong Kong, a place with just seven million people, is number one every year and sells more watches than the entire United States or Europe is in itself just remarkable already. And we’re not even including the sales of second-hand watches in these numbers.
For second-hand watches, Hong Kong is the largest market on earth by far. Especially with young people. For Wristcheck, 80 percent of our clientele is under 35. These young people have the means and the interest, and want to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes the brands don’t treat them that way.
RiA: So is your store geared towards younger people? Tell us a bit more about this new generation of watch enthusiasts.
Austen: Not really. It is for all watch lovers. I also would not classify it as a store — I call it the Wristcheck Experience. It’s an offline manifestation of our online platform, which is constantly improving.
The younger generation are very used to waiting for goods. For example, when they were 15 or 16 years old, they would be queuing up outside Footlocker for the newest Air Jordan Ones to be released. They were also used to having those shoes retailing for an affordable price, and then reselling for ten times more on StockX or eBay — so they already have this “hype culture” mentality built into them.
Today, these people are older and making more money — and the natural progression from sneakers is watches. It’s especially true right now in this crazy world that we are experiencing. With the existence of NFTs, the metaverse, and other intangibles, a watch, on the other hand, is something that is very tangible. It also just resonates with them as something that combats inflation, especially in the past few years, if you’re buying the right models.
The other factor today is that the down payment for an apartment in Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York — or any large city — is out of reach. So for these young people who work in these big cities, when they get their first job, their first bonus, none of them think about buying property — they would rather buy a watch. The new generation is very different in the sense that they’re fine with spending a lot of their money on things they love — be it watches, art, whisky, wine or other collectibles.
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RiA: Tell us more about your retail concept.
Austen: This is my idea of what I think modern watch stores should look like. Not super commercial — there’s not a single watch in this VIP room we’re currently sitting in. It’s comfortable: you can host a watch gathering with friends, have a KTV session, or game with our PlayStation on T.V behind the mirror in this room, if you want.
At the end of the day, it’s all about inspiring the next generation of watch lovers. That is the goal. Every decision we make, every product we create, every event we organise, only has one goal in mind: to open the door into the watch world for anyone who is interested, and creating an inclusive community of people to share this journey with us.