By Silke Koltrowitz
Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet said it would launch a second-hand business this year, becoming the first big brand to announce plans to tap into a fast-growing market for pre-owned premium watches
The company told Reuters it had carried out a test run in one store in Geneva and would launch the business more widely at its outlets in Switzerland this year. If this proved successful, it said it would roll out the operation in the United States and Japan.
“Second-hand is the next big thing in the watch industry,” Chief Executive Francois-Henry Bennahmias told Reuters in an interview at the SIHH watch fair in Geneva this week.
Luxury watchmakers have hitherto eschewed the second-hand trade, fearing diluting the exclusivity of their brands and cannibalizing their sales. They have instead ceded the ground to third-party dealers.
But some are now looking to change tack, driven by an industry-wide sales slowdown combined with a second-hand market that is expanding rapidly, fueled by online platforms like Chrono24 and The RealReal.
“At the moment, in watches, we leave it to what I call the ‘dark side’ to deal with demand for pre-owned pieces,” added Bennahmias, whose company is known for its octagonal Royal Oak timepieces that sell for 40,000 Swiss francs ($41,680) on average.
“Anybody but the brands (is selling second hand) – it’s an aberration commercially speaking,” he said, without giving any details about how they would price pre-owned watches
Several smaller brands, including H.Moser & Cie and MB&F, have signaled interest in the second-hand trade.
“It is important to control the sale of second-hand watches to protect the owners and the value of watches already in the market by keeping the grey market in check,” H.Moser & Cie boss Edouard Meylan told Reuters.
MB&F, which plans to launch second-hand sales via its website this year, told Reuters it expected to typically give a 20-30 percent discount on second-hand watches. A spokesman said customers buying from established watch brands could feel confident they were getting genuine products in good working order and with a valid warranty.
Bigger brands Rolex, Patek Philippe, Swatch Group, Richemont and Breitling all declined to comment, when asked whether they planned to enter the second-hand market, while LVMH‘s watch division was not immediately available.
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