The market for used or pre-owned watches is huge – some like European financial consultancy Kepler Cheuvreux put yearly estimates of the global secondary watch market at US$5 billion a year, which works out to be roughly 10% of the market for new watches of approximately US$45 billion a year. Others feel that the pre-owned watch market is close to double the conservative estimates at around 20% but what’s not in doubt is that at 5% annual growth rates, the pre-owned watch segment is growing at twice the speed of the market for new luxury timepieces.
It’s a new growth segment that large conglomerates like Richemont Group are finally engaging through recent acquisitions of pre-owned watch resellers like Watchfinder. In fact, fuelled by factors such as the rise of e-commerce, changing consumer tastes and growing communities of watch fans, more pre-owned watch e-tailers are jumping on the bandwagon but through it all, watch connoisseurs could rely on one steadfast pioneer of the pre-owned watch market – Chrono24.
Unbeknownst to many watch collectors, Germany-based Chrono24 has been one of the main eCommerce players of the watch market in the modern age. With offices in Asia and the USA, it is a leading global online marketplace for buyers and sellers of vintage and pre-owned watches with ambitions to work with the brands themselves and market brand new timepieces in the same vein as Mr. Porter.
But with slightly more than one million registered users making annual transactions worth a billion euros annually, the real advantage of Chrono24 hasn’t been in the literal retail of pre-owned or brand new watches either, the platform has been a goldmine of data on everything from consumer purchasing behaviour to market valuations and tracking of our most beloved watches.
Big Data meets Watch Commerce
Founded by Tim Stracke and Dirk Schwartz, Chrono24 had been live since 2003, but it was the entrepreneurial duo who essentially transformed it from a rudimentary “watch forum” (many of which still exist today) into a central repository of watch valuations and also valuable information on almost every reference which has come out of a watch factory – often one can even find the rarest of timepieces offered on the platform – for a price of course. We digress, but with over 200 million clicks a year across an assortment of close to half a million watches, Chrono24 is essentially the confluence of big tech and watch commerce – a power player in big data.
Providing annual reports like ‘Most Popular Watches of the Year”, complete with brand ranking information and percentage clicks, Chrono24 has been providing watch collectors with real-time market information on the true perceptions and real “value” of the timepieces they own, stripped off all the marketing verbiage which often accompanies discussion of fine watchmaking.
More importantly, the report even drills down to the most popular references of each brand (according to clicks and search volumes – Daytonas, Submariners, Datejusts, Seamasters and Speedmasters – if you’re curious) – providing indications of interest. Heck, even the data points are very well analysed – rare watch references which typically wouldn’t get a lot of search volume and yet proportionally attract the most users saw the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon crowned as the Most Interesting Watch of that year.
Controversially, the data cuts both ways and Chrono24 also released information on watches which “despite being plentiful in supply, failed to excite our visitors”. Hence, the eCommerce watch retailer has the power to not just provide powerful insights for the end consumer, there’s plenty of actionable information for the brands themselves – how else would Oris, Mido or Junghans learn that they had moved up in rank positioning that year because they had produced models which had resonated with watch collectors, sold out at traditional retail channels but available for resale online.
Statistically speaking, the majority of watch consumers use Chrono24 for inspiration, price comparison and information before ultimately making a purchase – usually online at between 7,000 and 9,000 euros but as prices go up to the 100,000 euros and 1 million euro mark, the negotiations are done via the platform but completed off-site. Ultimately, the sales side of the equation finds that more than 90% of the resellers are not individuals but rather dealers like Govberg Watches (Govberg recently established launched a competitor to Chrono24).
Big luxury groups react to pre-owned watch disruption: LVMH & Audemars Piguet
Suffice it to say, whether it is $5 billion or $10 billion, this has been a burgeoning trade that has grown to a size that even major Swiss watch brands find hard to ignore. Driven by an industry-wide slowdown in sales, watchmakers themselves are looking for new revenue streams. 75% of Swiss watch sales are dominated by four main companies: The Swatch Group (28.6%), Rolex (including Tudor) (23.5%), Richemont (18.4%), and LVMH (7.9%).
in an interview with Reuters in 2018 Audemars Piguet CEO François Henry Bennahmias estimated that the pre-owned watch market could end up being worth 10 to 20 times the new watch market. As such, he announced that Audemars Piguet will be introducing a subsidiary business dedicated to selling and buying secondhand AP watches.
Jean-Claude Biver, LVMH’s former Head of Watchmaking, sees the pre-owned market as an indirect determinant of commercial success for a new watch. Biver revealed that Tag Heuer had set up a restoration department for its vintage watches, authenticating and certifying them, should owners request it saying, “It protects the vintage market and hence the history and legacy of the brand,” says Biver, who added that “the more collectors are interested in our brand’s history, the more young people will be interested in the brand’s future”.
But ultimately, where Chrono24 is ahead of the curve is their ability to use the data to discern what watch collectors really need – for example: the watch eCommerce platform is aware you’re in the market for an Omega Speedmaster, and while it serve you some Speedmasters, unlike bricks and mortar retailer, Chrono24 is going to be able to serve you similar models based on “technical proximity” based on your search data and make recommendations that a less-knowledgeable human sales agent might not otherwise be able. Speaking of sales agents, Chrono24 also offers personal “buying agent” of sorts, keeping track of listings and notifying you when a specific watch reference appears.
The internet has democratised horological knowledge, available in 100 countries, most if not, all watch enthusiasts have visited Chrono24 at least once when hunting down a particular timepiece. CEO Tim Stracke said that the site transacted 20% more in 2019 than he did in 2018. One ignores this segment or remains oblivious to it at your own peril.