atchBox, a leading global platform for pre-owned and collectible watches, was one of the pioneering companies that decided to take part in the first Re-Luxury fair, dedicated to the luxury second-hand market and the circular economy, which was organised by Fabienne Lupo from 4 to 7 November 2022 in Geneva.
During the event, WatchBox held an exhibition sale of rare watches by F.P.Journe and De Bethune (which was bought by WatchBox last year), two brands that have helped to shape the face of Haute Horlogerie in the 21st century. This travelling exhibition, entitled Two Decades of Complexity & Beauty, takes the form of a retrospective, paying tribute to the contributions of François-Paul Journe and Denis Flageollet to the world of watchmaking with a curated selection of timepieces available for purchase.
Promoting the work of independent watchmakers, particularly through their presence on the secondary market, has been one of WatchBox’s principal goals since the company was founded in 2017. This retrospective celebrates the collections of two of the industry’s most talented master watchmakers. We took the opportunity to meet Patrik Hoffmann, Executive Vice President of WatchBox Switzerland.
- Patrik Hoffmann, Executive Vice President of WatchBox Switzerland
Europa Star: What convinced you to participate in the new Re-Luxury fair?
Patrik Hoffmann: I come from the primary market [Ulysse Nardin and Oris] and I have known Fabienne Lupo for a long time. She first came to us because she wanted to understand in depth what WatchBox is. She had an idea in mind, and then she came back to us with the concept of the Re-Luxury event. The fit between our company and this show is obvious. For me, the end consumer is the most important person, and that’s what this show demonstrates. Re-Luxury is compatible with the ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] mission. It hits the nail on the head. It was an obvious choice to participate in this project. We combined our presence at Re-Luxury with the launch of our travelling exhibition on De Bethune and F.P. Journe, and Fabienne Lupo gave us a stage. The retrospective we unveiled, nobody had ever seen anything like it before.
Re-Luxury seems to be a perfect platform for pre-owned watches, in fact.
We think the word “pre-owned” is no longer the right term. What we do at WatchBox is high-end and luxury, and the correct term should be “collectible”. We’re even trying to change the word internally, and think carefully about the way we express ourselves: we don’t sell second-hand watches, we sell collectors’ watches. Someone who buys a vintage Porsche doesn’t say: I bought a second-hand car. He says: I bought a collector’s car. All F.P. Journe and De Bethune watches in our exhibition are collectors’ watches.
“Someone who buys a vintage Porsche doesn’t say: I bought a second-hand car. He says: I bought a collector’s car.”
The watchmaking world needs visionaries like François-Paul Journe and Denis Flageollet. They came with a mission and a vision, and they always have the end customer in mind. Fabienne Lupo involves the end consumer. Ultimately, they will decide whether this fair is the beginning of something bigger in the long run. And I think it is.
Do you think Re-Luxury can be exported to other parts of the world?
I hope so. What’s happening with collectibles is a global movement, and WatchBox is a truly global company. We believe that you can only succeed if you think globally, and that is our mission. Geneva is the right place to start with this travelling exhibition.
How do you explain the explosion in demand for collectors’ watches?
The interesting thing is that we have all kinds of customers. Some of them buy certain brands and models because they can get them at what they consider a good price. There are customers who come to us because they know they can get something that’s no longer available: either because it’s a limited edition or because it’s a piece they like but it’s not available on the primary market. In theory, they can find everything at WatchBox. The third category of customers are those who buy watches that have a pre-owned value far in excess of the retail value, the true collectors’ items. In today’s world, it’s cool to buy second-hand luxury items. We always talk about millennials and Gen Z, who have reinforced this movement, but we are part of it too!
The crisis, the war, the fall of the stock market and crypto-currencies ¬– they all seem to have had an impact on sales. Violent robberies, too. How do you see the secondary market evolving?
It’s no secret that there’s been a market adjustment over recent months. What we do at WatchBox is entirely comparable to the stock market. The people who work with our end customers are like portfolio managers. The bubble has deflated but it hasn’t burst. I think this market correction is something we were all expecting, and we’ll work with it, as will our customers.
I like to make the comparison with the automotive industry. New car sales in Switzerland are in the region of 350,000 units a year. Used car sales are more than double that. The watch market is very similar to the car market and I’m sure the numbers are comparable too. There is enormous potential. We need to get on top of it. There is real demand from the end consumer.
“What we do at WatchBox is entirely comparable to the stock market. The people who work with end customers are like portfolio managers.”
So things are slowing down, then?
Collectibles were selling for three to four times their retail price and are still selling for twice or two and a half times retail price. Looking at the long-term situation, the trend is the same and the market overall is growing. We see no cause for alarm.
What main trends are emerging?
Younger generations love second-hand items. They have a real awareness of the economy, sustainability and circularity, but also of brands. I think that today’s customers are increasingly brand-oriented: they want to know what is behind a brand. When Gen Z and millennials buy shares in a company, they want to know what they are investing in. When they buy a watch, they want to know who’s behind the brand. They do far more research now than in the past, and that will influence what makers create going forward.
Does the fact that some of the big brands have a scarcity policy have a strong impact on secondary sales?
Yes, absolutely. On the secondary market, we can get these pieces and sell them. I spent 30 years of my life in the primary market, where there are retail prices. When I chat with our buyers and sellers, we never talk about price. They know the value, the price at which we’re selling the watch, but they have no idea what the original price is or was. When you buy shares on the stock market, you don’t know the nominal value. As Warren Buffett famously said: price is what you pay, value is what you get.
“I think that today’s customers are increasingly brand-oriented: they want to know what is behind a brand.”
Which brands have made the most progress in the last two years?
If you’ve walked around our stand, our exhibition will have given you the answer!
What are you doing to reassure consumers in terms of servicing and certification?
I think the most important trust factor we can convey is that we are not a platform where we simply put the buyer and the seller together. We buy all the pieces: we select them, we service them and then we sell them. That is our responsibility. Of course, we have our internal certification, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we invest our money in the product itself.