The pre-owned luxury watch market in China is poised for a remarkable transformation. Recent developments suggest that this nascent market is on the cusp of substantial growth.
According to a white paper titled Pre-owned Luxury Watches in China: The Time Is Now released by Re-Hub, “it is only a matter of time before the penetration of pre-owned luxury goods and in specific, timepieces, see a significant boom in China.”
The pre-owned luxury watch market in China, while still a fraction of the global market, is steadily gaining significance. Chinese consumers are increasingly open to the idea of purchasing pre-owned watches. Thomas Piachaud, Head of Strategy at Re-Hub, believes that China’s market is likely to outpace other mature markets in terms of growth. But what exactly is fueling this expansion?
At the upper echelons of the wealth pyramid, high-net-worth (HNW) collectors are driving demand for unique timepieces in the secondary market. According to the Hurun’s Chinese Luxury Consumer Survey 2022, 49 percent of HNW individuals in China collect luxury watches, up 23 percent from the previous year.
This trend aligns with a broader interest in passion investments in China, where 29 percent of consumers surveyed recognize the long-term investment potential of watches, versus 7 percent in Japan and 9 percent in France.
“The collector mindset allows for purchasing of pre-owned goods so there is less of a perceived barrier to engage in the secondary market,” says Piachaud.
At the luxury entry level, aspirational and younger consumers are enticed by the prospect of possessing a pre-owned luxury watch at a more affordable price. These savvy consumers are well-informed about pricing through social media and informal networks, and place a premium on securing a good deal.
Re-Hub found that pre-owned watches priced above 2,777 (20,000 RMB) were listed at a significant discount. For instance, Cartier watches on Chinese resale platform HongBuLin, also known as Plum, boasted an average discount of 53.9 percent. Notably, Chinese consumers are no longer subject to a "China premium" on select pre-owned items.
A combination of market supply and demand factors is creating an evolving ecosystem for the pre-owned luxury watch category in China. Despite global price corrections in the secondary market, Piachaud highlights “a clear supply in the market, with many timepieces changing hands as consumers either upgrade their collections or look to obtain some cash.”
Although the Chinese secondary market lags maturer markets, there is growing momentum for key players to establish a defined market presence.
Early entry is crucial for gaining insights into competing in a new market and establishing consumer trust. Notably, Watchbox launched its Shanghai collectors' lounge in June this year, offering a community and services for collecting, selling, and trading watches.
“The expansion of WatchBox into China marks a significant, multi-faceted approach, not only for us but for the entire collectible watch market in the region,” says Andy Zhang, CEO of WatchBox China. “In China, our mission is to instill the energy and joy of collecting into enthusiasts and collectors. Through educational initiatives and an emphasis on building relationships with our extended WatchBox family, we encourage collectors to pursue pieces they truly love.”
A game-changing development is the introduction of certified pre-owned (CPO) watch programs by luxury watch brands. Rolex has already launched its CPO program, and Audemars Piguet is set to follow suit by the end of this year.
Although CPO programs are not yet available in China, the move towards greater transparency guarantees authenticity, setting a global standard for pre-owned pieces. Luxury watch brands stand to attract not only collectors, but also a new segment of luxury watch consumers.
Further development will likely comprise a transformative journey in China's pre-owned luxury watch market. The race is on for players to devise timely strategies to leverage these growth opportunities. In this evolving landscape, the time for pre-owned luxury watches in China is now, and those who seize the moment are likely to reap substantial rewards.
Glyn Atwal is an associate professor at France’s Burgundy School of Business. He is co-author of ‘Luxury Brands in China and India’ (Palgrave Macmillan).