Tick-tock. What’s that sound? With the arrival of cellphones, many people stopped wearing timepieces that didn’t count calories, measure heart rates, or calculate distances. The Bible encourages Christians to make good use of time, (Ephesians 5:16) but increasingly, time wasn’t tracked on our wrists. Now pricey preowned watches—the kind with hands, straps, and gears—have hit the big time.
Analyst Reginald Brack studies the preowned watch market. It’s not well-documented. But some people estimate the demand for used luxury watches is three times greater than for new ones.
Traders at Govberg Jewelers deal in blingy preowned timepieces. It’s big business for them—about $200 million a year. Danny Govberg entered the preowned watch business in 1983. “People weren’t collecting vintage watches back then,” he says.
That’s all changed. “Preowned watches are coming out of drawers so fast and furious now that I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.
Govberg founded WatchBox. It’s a digital e-commerce platform that includes video reviews and a trading market for valuable timepieces.
Why buy used? For one thing, a luxe preowned watch in great condition costs about a third of the price of a new one. So savvy shoppers can score modern timepieces like the Rolex Submariner, plus vintage ones like an early 20th-century Cartier Tank.
With an expensive watch, trade-in value is high. In fact, watch executives say their business is like the car industry—only better. There’s proof on Govberg’s homepage: Watches range from $7,950 to $164,950. For a used watch.
Christian Zeron, founder of Theo&Harris, has peddled vintage watches for three years. His company sells $2 million worth annually.
Zeron founded Theo&Harris with $10,000 in saved-up birthday money as a college sophomore. He has a giant personality and a brash approach to critiquing well-known brands. He believes there’s an emotional and intellectual appeal to owning a mechanical device that could have three hundred small pieces inside.
“Nothing that anyone consumes is very interesting anymore,” he says. Zeron’s first example? The easily replaceable iPhone.
Watches are another story, he says. “If your vintage Omega breaks, that’s it. It’s over. You will never get another one like it.”
As for emotion, Zeron should know. He posts videos on YouTube in which he discusses buying and collecting watches. In a post about his first preowned purchase, he wishes, “Happy 40th birthday, Watch!” to his Rolex. “In the weirdest way, one I would never even try to explain to non-watch geeks, I love you.”