Vintage Watches: Fluid luxury wins, secondhand wins out

Teresa Scarale
Teresa Scarale
Read Time: 3'
Alongside store luxury and large six-figure vintage, the second-hand market is growing by leaps and bounds, both in quantity and trade value, with prices exceeding those of list prices for new watches. For an unexpected reason. This is revealed in the latest collectibles report from Credit Suisse Research Institute and Deloitte Private

Watch collectors' love stories. Thus, it is not surprising that growing the most in the watch industry as a whole are only those brands with an established positioning in the luxury and extra-luxury sector, with a narrative of tradition or innovation behind them. A perfect summary of the latest trend is Richard Mille. The brand, an undisputed leader in innovation applied to wrist-worn luxury, has been able to borrow technologies from aviation and motorcycle racing successfully. One on the wrist means "belonging to the millionaires' club." It is highlighted in the new collectibles report by Credit Suisse Research Institute and Deloitte Private (June 30, 2022 edition).

The brand's image has been further strengthened through outstanding collaborations with sportsmen and stars such as Rafael Nadal, Felipe Massa, and John Malkovich. Hublot (created by Carlo Crocco in 1980 and now part of the LVMH group) is also turning to new materials (titanium, black ceramic) and digital technology. Carbon fiber, thin plin technology (TPT), and ceramics are generally alternating more strongly with traditional gold and steel than in the past. In addition to tech and the firepower of testimonials and social media, there is customization: Atelier Akrivia, for example, involves collaboration with Jean-Pierre Hagmann to manufacture cases-produces fewer than 30 pieces per year. The brand was so exclusive that it appeared at auction only once, at Christie's, in 2019. The lucky collector won that piece for 360,000 francs.

If brand-new luxury flourishes, the used market explodes. Whether vintage (thus the privilege of auction houses) or contemporary vintage (also available on platforms), it is registering unprecedented performance rates. One example: in 2021, Christie's broke its historical record three times: in October ($5,592,000), November (5,878,537), and December (7.7 million). The increase in the average online price was 50 percent, as well as the sellout rate. However, the earthquake in the world of crypto assets triggered unexpected consequences in the Rolex segment. Watch manufacturers have seized the opportunity and are gearing up: Richard Mille with its Ninety Mount Street and Audmars Piguet with its buyback service. Patek Philippe is the most sought-after brand in the vintage and the used world.

A stainless success due not only to design and quality, but also to the brand's history. And to its savvy marketing: "A Patek Philippe is never completely owned. It is treasured. And it is handed down." The watch is a generation-passing asset. Unquestionably. Among the models that even more will boost demand for vintage Pateks is the Nautilus 5711 Blue Dial, which has returned remarkable returns in recent years. Destined to increase further: the company has confirmed that the model will go out of production. The difficulty of buying new extra-luxury watches (especially for Rolexes, as waiting lists are years long) has had a curious outcome: used watches cost more than the same models on the list because they are immediately available. Controlling volumes rather than creating the abused "limited editions" is the key to exclusivity./p>

The redefinition of post-pandemic business models has incentivized a more direct relationship between watch manufacturers and customers, benefiting direct sales channels. This is accompanied by increased digital interaction with the customer, a synergy already exploited, starting with the physical store, which has become a place for experiences rather than a pure trading floor. One thinks of Audemars Piguet's AP Houses, where it is possible to meet, have breakfast and live the life of an exclusive club.

But the evolution of the market does not stop at luxury and second-hand. The new socio-environmental demands of consumers (commonly traced back to esg - environmental, social, and governance - principles) have also emerged in the watch industry, changing model production policies, for example. Thus, the trend of gender fluidity has expanded the supply of more fluid collections, with overtly unisex models and increasingly blurred boundaries between genders.

Several brands still keep alive so-called feminine lines (timepieces with more minor cases, mother-of-pearl dials adorned with often multicolored gems), but it is clear that more and more female consumers like to wear watches traditionally considered masculine (larger dials, often severe lines). At the same time, the male slice of the market does not disdain more ornate pieces, even with precious gems. Sustainability, for its part, is now inseparable from purchasing choices, especially in the luxury world. Again, brands are riding the wave. Ulysse Nardin, for example, in its Diver X collection, chooses to make its contribution to the fight against plastic in the oceans by using recycled plastic from discarded fishing nets. Paying the price for the current trends are the premium and mid-range segments, which are also being squeezed by the smartwatch segment. The underlying macro trend throughout the pleasure asset universe is one of polarization: true luxury concedes no half measures.

Editor-in-chief of Pleasure Assets. A professional journalist from Gargano, she holds a degree in Economic and Social Disciplines from Bocconi University in Milan. She writes about finance, economics, art, and luxury markets. Teresa has been part of We Wealth since its founding.


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