What will 2024 mean to the luxury watch business?

On a video call last month arranged by The Times, some best guesses were offered by two well-known resale dealers: Silas Walton, founder and chief executive of A Collected Man (A.C.M.), a company in London that specializes in rare pieces by independent makers, and Austen Chu, founder and chief executive of Wristcheck, a consignment platform headquartered in Hong Kong that emphasizes popular steel sport models.

Mr. Walton and Mr. Chu met in person for the first time in August in Geneva, where they were attending a series of watch events, but they both said they had admired each other from afar for years. “During the closing part, we basically spent the whole time chatting,” Mr. Chu said from his office in Hong Kong’s Central district.

Although A Collected Man and Wristcheck both deal with pre-owned timepieces, the businesses target different market segments, resulting in contrasting sales volumes. “There is an extent to which Austen and I are asymmetric,” said Mr. Walton, who joined the call from his home in central London. “We might list four or five watches a week,” while he estimated that Wristcheck probably lists four or five watches an hour. (Mr. Chu said it was more like three to five a day.)

Both men, however, lamented what Mr. Walton called the “frothy waters” that have roiled the secondhand watch business since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know a lot of people who went bankrupt in the secondary space in the past two years because they bought too much,” Mr. Chu said.

They expressed relief that the year ahead seemed to promise greater stability.

“You can see on the buying and selling side, people are much more reasonable,” Mr. Walton said. “And there’s less speculation, which is fantastic because speculation is in no way beneficial — it just pushes things into a frenzy that’s irrational.”

Their conversation has been edited and condensed.

How do you feel about the watch market in 2024 — for both new and pre-owned timepieces?

SILAS WALTON It feels like the secondary market is in a pretty healthy place relative to where it was 12 months ago. Things have largely stabilized or are starting to correct upwards. And even the bits of the secondary market that went up most significantly, such as independents, have had a recent price correction in some areas, which has felt pretty healthy.

On the primary side, from observation and anecdotes, it seems that there’s a lag whereby the primary market has had a delayed experience to what has happened in the secondary. And so, they are now going through some of that cycle that we’ve already now been through. I suspect the primary will still have a bit of adjustment over the next six to 12 months. What about you, Austen?

AUSTEN CHU I agree largely with what you’ve said. From this time last year [December 2022] until August was quite rough for the secondary market. Now, the hot models are 10 to 15 percent higher than what they were listed at during August or September. We see this as quite promising in terms of stability.

What’s interesting is the shift in sentiment has been very clear in terms of what people want to buy. Last year, we were basically just selling Rolex, Audemars Piguet (A.P.), Patek Philippe. And out of those brands, it was just the hot models — the Submariners, the Daytonas, the Royal Oaks, the Nautiluses, the Aquanauts — as well as Richard Milles and hot F.P. Journes. And that was about it.

But now, it’s become super diverse. We have clients who are buying Cartier, Omega — and not even sought-after vintage pieces, but pieces that are 30 percent below retail, brand-new. And that’s true even for young collectors — 70 percent of our clients are under 35.

This time last year, they were just tunnel vision: It was only the three big brands. I think they’re buying more now from a passion standpoint. Whereas in the past, it was more value retention, investment first. So, I think the priorities have shifted a little bit. And it’s wiped out a lot of speculators.

WALTON The reality is that watches as an interest class as opposed to an asset class have been going up and up and up. And I think that’s likely to continue, possibly exponentially. I’m wearing a 30-year-old Cartier on my wrist, and it makes me smile. There is so much more to explore.

Our clients at the top of the indie market, a lot of them are really new to it. But they’re not coming in because they want to flip a watch and make money. In some cases, they’re paying a real premium. They are starting to apply logic that they previously applied only to the art market or to other collectible markets. They’re comforted by the idea that there’s a liquid market, even if it’s not regulated.

CHU And we have the Apple Watch to thank for a lot of that. Millions of wrists around the world are now used to wearing a watch. Once you build that habit into someone, it’s very hard to get rid of.

WALTON I remember in 2014, when I was just about to launch the predecessor to A.C.M. called Watch Xchange. I was sitting with a banker, and the Apple Watch had just been announced, and they said, “Don’t you think the Apple Watch is going to lobotomize the watch market?” And I had just read something about the idea that every Apple Watch is putting a watch on someone’s wrist, and therefore, ultimately, you’re creating a piece of real estate that didn’t exist before. And therefore, this was likely to be exceedingly beneficial in terms of getting the new generation in. And I said that to the banker, but there was a degree of skepticism. But I think it’s ultimately very true.

What do you think the dominant aesthetic trends will be this year?

CHU I think the dominant aesthetic will be that there isn’t a dominant aesthetic. And I think that’s very different to what we’re used to. In the past few years, it was either super high-end independents or luxury sports watches. But moving forward, because people are now buying more for passion, they’re buying more what suits them. In the past, I would be able to predict what my clients would want next. Now, it’s much harder.

But I do think the general trend is moving towards smaller watches. I see way less people in Asia looking for 44, even 42 millimeters. It doesn’t even move anymore. Thirty-six to 41 is the sweet spot.

WALTON You’re absolutely right about the trend towards smaller case sizes. The only other thing I’ve observed recently on the indie side is that brands are coming out with things that are much more traditional. As a result, I think we are moving to a place where the young brands coming through, they’re going to be looking to the recent past and they’ll see what succeeded has been the more classical kind of interpretations of things.

Look at the Akrivia line, then Rexhep Rexhepi’s Chronomètre Contemporain line, and the enormous success that the C.C. line has understandably generated for Rexhep. And they’ll look at other independent watchmakers who have come through equally in the last few years and say to themselves, “Well, there’s a safety around very traditional kinds of aesthetics.” And so, I think for the next 12 months or so, we’ll see some pretty traditional watchmaking coming out of the indie space.

Which style, brand or model do you expect to make a comeback?

WALTON Urban Jürgensen. It’s a brand with an incredibly storied and long history that has gone through multiple generations of ownership and has had highs and lows, but ultimately never really had the success that it deserved. At one point, Derek Pratt — a watchmaker who was very much, in my eyes, an equal to people like George Daniels and F.P. Journe and other contemporaries, but never really got the credit that he deserved because he died — was heavily associated with Urban Jürgensen. And then, obviously, it changed ownership. And now we know that Kari Voutilainen is back in the front seat and working with a number of very important collectors to bring this brand back.

Of all the brands that have a real promise because of the fundamentals of their aesthetic, the fundamentals of their history, and the people behind them, I think that’s a brand to watch.

Austen, are there any brands, models or makers due for a comeback?

CHU If I’m being completely honest, I still think the dominant brands next year, at least for us, will still be A.P., Patek and Rolex. But I do think that for our clientele, they’re going to be looking more at discontinued vintage pieces. Two years ago, they only wanted the newest, hottest thing.

The other category is just independents in general. And it’s not one specific brand, but all the independents, at least the ones that either have A.) contributed to the horological world in the past or still are contributing to the horological world or B.) brands that actually have substance.

Because in the past two years, there have also been a lot of brands that have come out of nowhere that don’t have a proper DNA. And so for those brands, I actually think it will be extremely tough next year. But the good indies are going to kill it. The group brands, I don’t really want to talk about because I think that’s bleaker if you’re talking about modern watches.

WALTON I’m curious, Austen, what are you most looking forward to next year?

CHU I’m most looking forward to the reduction of interest rates because that will really help the watch market and every market in general.

WALTON That’s obviously something that we can’t predict, and that has a big impact. The risk of the wars in Europe and in the Middle East expanding rather than receding, that’s also obviously very potentially frightening and destabilizing. But I do feel genuinely, sincerely more optimistic than I’ve probably ever felt.

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