ince his appointment two years ago, Watchfinder & Co. CEO Arjen van de Vall has experienced the unprecedented boom in the pre-owned luxury watch market, between 2021 and spring 2022, and the correction of the most speculative prices that has followed. “Two intense years!” he says. “It’s about buying the right inventory at the right time at the right price.”
Mr van de Vall has a background in e-commerce, having worked at Amazon then Rakuten. Digital is the main gateway into the secondary market, although Watchfinder & Co. stands out from other players as it also operates a network of physical stores, with some twenty premises worldwide. In its home market of the UK, around a third of sales are concluded in these physical stores, a third online and the remaining third through direct transactions, by e-mail or phone.
- Watchfinder & Co. CEO Arjen van de Vall
Europa Star: We keep hearing announcements suggesting that the markets for new and pre-owned watches are merging at a faster pace. Would you agree?
Arjen van de Vall: Yes and it makes perfect sense as, at the end of the day, we serve the same customers. The acquisition of Watchfinder & Co., a pre-owned specialist, by Richemont, a major actor on the new market, sparked an entire movement. Pre-owned platforms are elevating the customer experience so that it is more aligned with the experience offered by the big-name brands.
There’s also more of an overlap where trends are concerned. The pre-owned market used to be one step behind the market for new, which partly explains why there was a tendency to associate pre-owned with the discount market. Now the roles have been reversed and pre-owned is influencing new! There’s such an amazing catalogue of yellow gold vintage watches, for example, that this metal is making a huge comeback, including for the latest releases.
How do you see Watchfinder & Co. developing in the next few years?
Retail partnerships will be a key aspect of our development. For example, we recently signed deals with Nordstrom in the US and with TimeVallée in the Middle East to open new stores. Another major development, along similar lines, is the launch of our marketplace. Until now, we bought and owned all the watches we sold. Now we’re opening up the platform but not as a traditional marketplace designed for volume. It’s a curated offering.
What prompted this?
Firstly to improve product liquidity. We don’t have the capacity to handle as many watches as we would like. Also, to grow our partner network and global presence. When we developed the marketplace we were already thinking about which partners we wanted to work with. These are retailers of all sizes, some of which specialise in pre-owned watches. Can I just say that none of the watches go straight from the seller to the buyer. Everything goes via us. We aim to offer a curated selection and provide a quality experience– including a two-year warranty which can be extended.
How many brands have accredited your service centre?
Around twenty so far. Each brand has its own rules and criteria. Some focus on having access to parts while for others it can go as far as having the right machines. We systematically test new approaches. Our trade-in programmes are up and running in over 100 Panerai, Cartier, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc boutiques across the world, as well as via YNAP personal shopping departments in the UK and USA. Cartier has also appointed Watchfinder & Co. as its first ever official pre-owned watch partner. Every single one of our Cartier watches is meticulously inspected, authenticated and prepared by our trusted team of expert watchmakers and now comes with a 24-month Cartier International Official Pre-Owned (OPO) Warranty as standard. They appreciate the fact that we offer a large selection of models. We can do this because we’re “agnostic”: we belong to Richemont but we’re independent as to the brands in our portfolio. We strongly believe in this. In fact Rolex is our top-selling brand.
How do you determine prices?
There are two types of price: the price we buy at, which in more than 90% of cases means from private sellers, and the price we sell at, which is informed by a whole host of data. It’s a complex process. We’ve implemented a model that takes different price information into account, although we don’t stick slavishly to it. We also aim to provide sellers with a quote within 24 hours and are currently testing a pilot project to reply within the hour.
Which models have seen the biggest increase in demand?
There’s a growing interest in complications, in large part due to the scarcity of the most sought-after simple models. Several models have emerged strongly on the pre-owned market. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas is a good example. Certain Grand Seiko are also doing well. Panerai is one of the top-performing brands. We still carry all the usual suspects and are constantly on the lookout for newcomers.