What is the state of the American pre-owned market today?
First of all, in America, I see no negative association with pre-owned timepieces. The motivations of the buyers are diverse. Many people do like to obtain bargains, so they are attracted to the possibility of reduced prices compared with new models. Besides these financial motivations that explain the attractiveness at the entry level, we find, especially among people aged 30-60, a real passion for collectible watches.
Pre-owned timepieces indeed enjoy an interest that has never been seen before, particularly in the United States. Why?
There has long been a US community of vintage collectors but it remained a small group. The shift began happening approximately 25 years ago with the rise of the Internet. Information was limited until then. The Internet became a tool for learning about watches, contributing to the growth of vintage.
The era of social media has been “inflection point number two”, as well as blogs like Hodinkee, which have become influential among people passionate about watches. Instagram especially is one of the most powerful communication tools for the collectible watch community. We estimate the pre-owned market to be worth around 2 billion dollars today, although it is difficult to gather exact figures.
“We estimate the pre-owned market to be worth around 2 billion dollars today.”
What has been the attitude of the brands when it comes to the growth of the pre-owned and vintage watch market?
We consider that we serve the brands and we want to be seen as a resource for them! We have the experience to help them with their heritage. Many of our buyers are actually also buying new watches. Our philosophy is to work together. Of course, the brands don’t like to see relatively modern timepieces coming to auction...
So, we want to differentiate from our competitors. We are very strict in our selections and reject some 70% of the watches proposed to us. We built the auction department from a blank page and we really focus on quality, not on volume. Also, we don’t focus on near-term profit goals, so we don’t have the same pressures as some of our competitors.
To our knowledge, Vacheron Constantin is the only brand having its own vintage department, trading collecting watches. But this question is a challenge for the brands... Do they want to “compete” with their modern watches?
We would like to see more brands buy back their vintage timepieces. It is of course a matter of transparency in the process. But we welcome brands that “buy back their history”, like Patek Philippe for their Museum in Geneva.
“Of course, the brands don’t like to see relatively modern timepieces coming to auction...”
What are your top markets today?
Our top markets are Asia and Europe, followed by the USA. And there is room for growth. For instance, in my opinion, one of the most underrated brands today is precisely Vacheron Constantin. Furthermore, one can find many superb vintage rectangular watches across brands at very attractive prices...