Remember the holiday season of 2021? Pre-owned watch dealers sure do.
“Consumers wanted to buy holiday gifts,” Eugene Tutunikov, CEO of SwissWatchExpo, an online watch re-seller based in Atlanta, recalls. “They were flush with cash because they weren’t going out to eat or traveling. There was a limited amount of products. Interactions with our sales team became much shorter. They’d even forget to ask the price.”
As most watch enthusiasts know by now, the pandemic-induced frenzy over luxury timepieces—especially the iconic models from the so-called Big Three: Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet—peaked in January 2022. And over the past 18 months, the industry has faced a reckoning: What goes up must come down.
That was the key takeaway from a recent report on the secondary watch market by Morgan Stanley and WatchCharts, which predicted a continuing decline in prices as supplies of pre-owned watches remain high.
And yet, a handful of pre-owned dealers who spoke to Robb Report painted a slightly rosier picture.
“We’ve seen stable pricing over the last six months,” says Tim Stracke, co-CEO of Chrono24. “Obviously we all saw massive increases at the beginning of 2022, and then a softening starting in April-May of last year. Our view is that prices have reached the low end and have become somewhat stable.”
Tutunikov is seeing much the same thing.
“For the hot models—the [Rolex] Daytona, [Audemars Piguet] Royal Oak or [Patek Philippe] Nautilus in stainless steel—we saw a dip in price of 10 to 20 percent, mostly in the second half of last year,” he says. “This year, since January, we’re seeing most of these prices flat or slightly up.”
Many dealers pointed out that while the gains of the past two years have, essentially, been erased, the most sought-after pre-owned models are still trading above where they were pre-pandemic.
“When I look at Rolex, we’re still above or around early ’21 levels,” Stracke says. “When I take the average watch traded on Chrono24 and take the average price today vs. two years ago, then we’re still at around mid-year 2021.”
Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches, an online dealer that specializes in Rolex, says the market is reestablishing its equilibrium after a wild roller coaster ride, and that, ultimately, the price corrections are a good thing.
“Our average order value at the height of the market—including all brands we carry—was a little over $12,000,” Altieri says. “Now it’s come down to about $10,500, which isn’t that much of a drop. In the grand scheme of things, Rolex watches continue to hold their worth exceptionally well. What we’re seeing now is market stabilization. It benefits customers by creating a more predictable and sustainable pricing environment.”
Altieri pointed to the most-hyped model of all, the Rolex Daytona Ref. 116500, which retails for $14,450. “That model at its peak went up to about $45,000,” he says. “Today it’s down to about $35,000. It’s the one that’s dropped the most, but it also went up the most. It had the biggest room to fall.”
The Royal Oak has had a similar pricing arc, according to Altieri. Although it’s off its peak by about 20 percent to 25 percent, prices have flattened out and are now stable, he says.
For growth opportunities, the brand to watch is, by all accounts, Cartier.
“It’s super successful right now,” says Stracke. “It’s probably had one of the biggest growth trajectories on Chrono24 over the last six months.”
Stracke also mentioned Chopard and Piaget (“Maybe because they’re female-centric brands, and because we’re also seeing a slightly higher female audience on the platform”), but he emphasized that outside of the Big Three brands, Cartier—particularly the Santos collection—is a top performer.
Tutunikov echoed that sentiment. “We’ve had stronger growth in Cartier than any brand in the last few years,” he says.
He added that well-regarded brands such as Breitling and Omega were not as affected by the sharp rise, and subsequent fall, in prices. “Pricing-wise, we see a lot less volatility in those brands,” Tutunikov says. “In the last three years, prices are up maybe 5 to 10 percent.”
There appears to be one major point of consensus among pre-owned dealers: Rolex’s move into the certified pre-owned category has been good—or at least not bad—for their businesses.
“When we compare prices of the Rolex CPO program, we’re seeing a huge premium vs. a comparable offer on Chrono24,” says Stracke. “I still think it’s attracting a target group that’s willing to pay this 30 to 40 percent premium and it’s bringing in a new group of customers into the category, and that is definitely helpful.
“Will Rolex in the long term achieve significant market share?” Stracke adds. “Probably. They will provide quality pre-owned watches, but this also comes at a price. They might attract a lot of customers who opt for a second pre-owned watch and might be happy to buy it at a marketplace where we don’t charge a 30 percent premium for the certificate.”
At SwissWatchExpo, the Rolex business is as robust as ever. “We’ve been selling an obscene number of non-date Submariners, from the ’90s on,” Tutunikov says. “They all seem to be moving extremely quickly. They came down in price a bit, but it’s such a clean tool watch that people can wear to the office or on a fishing trip. It’s just so versatile that people are buying these watches they know they can wear for any occasion.”
Taking all of that into account, Altieri believes current market conditions may not last. “The Fed just raised rates, inflation’s come way down, and it looks like we’ll avoid a recession,” Altieri says. “The market is probably at a low point. It’s probably a good time to buy that model you’ve been looking for. It’s a lot like New York real estate: It’s never undersold. But there are good times to jump in.”