n June 1st, Richemont announced the acquisition of 100% of the British pre-owned watch reseller Watchfinder.co.uk. Launched just over 15 years ago and employing some 200 people, the platform has established itself as one of the largest players in the pre-owned field, with several special features that distinguish it from other giants in the sector such as Chrono24 or Chronext: it has eight stores in the UK and, significantly, a service centre in Maidstone, approved by brands such as Omega, IWC, Cartier, Audemars Piguet and Officine Panerai. Its turnover exceeds 100 million francs.
Online and offline, Watchfinder has managed to generate a form of recognition from established brands, in addition to choosing a strategy combining bricks and clicks, the famous “omnichannel” model that is on everyone’s lips in the industry. This was the case despite the fact that the parallel market for pre-owned watches was and still is seen mainly as an outlet for unsold stock, discreetly supplied by retailers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Watchfinder has succeeded in generating a form of recognition from established brands, in addition to choosing a strategy combining bricks and clicks, the famous “omnichannel” model.
The beginning of a new era
The acquisition of Watchfinder by Richemont is therefore a turning point for the pre-owned market, which is now entering the official orbit of watch brands. The watch is an ideal object for this type of market, and all the signs point to it getting bigger. Much bigger. In addition to collectors, it is also a meeting place for investors and semi-official dealers. For the industry, it’s now time for them to “clean their windows”. This is only the beginning of a great clean-up, which will no doubt bring with it many acquisitions and mergers.
The disruption caused by the internet did not benefit the new watch as much as the pre-owned watch. The market only validates this new reality.
The pre-owned market is on the move, as shown by the recent installation of WatchBox in Switzerland (read here) or Chrono24’s desire to forge partnerships with brands (read here). This echoes the vintage wave, which sees the old and the new markets becoming one (as we described it here).
Several other signals confirm this turning point and the gradual legitimisation of the second-hand watch market, a situation that has long been the case in the automotive sector. As Johann Rupert, President of Richemont, commented when he announced the acquisition of Watchfinder, this is “a complementary, growing and still relatively unstructured segment of the industry.” It should also be noted that his son, Anton Rupert Jr., has been appointed as a director of Watchfinder.
This is only the beginning of the great clean-up of the pre-owned market, which will no doubt bring with it many acquisitions and mergers.
Pre-owned or never worn?
The second-hand market is a collector’s paradise, but the reality is that a majority of watches sold through this medium are almost or completely new. In addition to “optimisation” of inventory management and better control of brand identity, the acquisition of a dedicated platform thus also gives watch companies the possibility of reaching customers who would never set foot in a store.
“A segment of the industry that is complementary, growing and still relatively unstructured,” in the words of Johann Rupert.
Within Richemont, Vacheron Constantin already has its pre-owned specialist service (see on Instagram here). As for other major players, Georges Kern recently stressed to our Fratello Watches colleagues that there was an “urgent need to structure the secondary market, now totally dominated by the grey market.” At Audemars Piguet, François-Henry Bennahmias has already announced that the brand will launch a second-hand operation this year.
And this also applies to small brands... and the media. MB&F has just launched its own second-hand activity, as Pierre Maillard describes it in his article “Avant-garde vintage”. And a good portion of the specialised media in watchmaking, such as Hodinkee and Revolution, are also turning into second-hand platforms.
A good part of the specialised watchmaking media, such as Hodinkee and Revolution, are turning into second-hand platforms.
The disruption caused by the internet has not so much benefited the new watch market as it has second-hand watch sales. The market only validates this new reality. The acquisition of Watchfinder turns Richemont into one of the biggest second-hand Rolex dealers.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Watchfinder’s co-founder Lloyd Amsdon explained how he had simply capitalised on the conclusions he had drawn running a pre-owned website he first launched in the automotive sector: “I saw how second-hand Ferraris and Porsches were sold by the dealer network. The similarities with watchmaking were numerous. (...) We quickly realised that no one wanted to talk about trade-ins. It has become the heart of our business.”
History is often nothing but recycling... both watches and ideas!