I’ll probably never buy a new car again. Why? Because I have a friend who runs a quality used car service, specializing in BMW, Audi and Mercedes. He locates specific vehicles for buyers at auction, checks them out at his full-service center, and delivers amazing savings with reliable quality. I’ve bought my last three vehicles from him, saved a lot of money and been very happy. Cars depreciate – by many thousands of dollars – the second you drive them off the lot, and unless you are ordering a rare or heavily customized model, there is little economic sense in buying new, even for higher end models. Other friends have used my dealer for Porsches and Range Rovers, and I’ve had acquaintances drive 250 miles to do business with an honest used car salesman. The main reason not to buy used is because you don’t feel comfortable in the quality, you don’t want some hidden damage or someone else’s problem, which is why in the past two decades the industry has shifted heavily towards much more reputable resale, through manufacturers’ own certified pre-owned programs, verification services like CarFax, and modernized, specialized retailers like CarMax.
It’s the same for replica watches, except most watches have never been smashed up in accidents. On the other hand, the used car market is not flooded with counterfeit fakes. Watches typically depreciate substantially when you take them out of the box (or store), but whether you wear it for a week or someone else does, it’s going to be the same watch – only a lot cheaper. If there was an efficient model for evaluating, certifying and transparently marketing used watches, a company that could check out the inner workings, quality, verify authenticity and guarantee your purchase, all for a great deal, it would be a home run for watch buyers. That company now exists, and it is called Crown & Caliber. I have not used the service nor received anything from them, but I’ve been researching it and spoke to the owner and some watch loving friends, and I will almost certainly buy my next watch here.
But the thing is, unlike the used car business, where dealers are incentivized to buy as cheaply as possible, Crown & Caliber also offers a big win for those selling watches, especially regular individual owners. If you have a very rare watch or one with special provenance, maybe owned by Neil Armstrong and worn on the moon, an auction is still the best way to go. But if you have your father’s Patek Phillippe in a drawer and your style runs more Breitling, unloading the watch that is collecting dust is surprisingly tricky and costly.
Private equity firm manager Hamilton Powell bought a Rolex online and it turned out to be a fake. But the tipping point for him came when a friend sold a Patek Philippe to a local jewelry and watch dealer for $5,200, and the dealer turned around and flipped it for over $12,000. So three years ago he launched Crown & Caliber, because, as he told me, “He got screwed, and I’ve been there. The watch market is just like the car market was in the Seventies, it’s just starting to mature in terms of preowned. We’re doing what CarMax did, allowing people to shop confidently in the pre-owned market. The only good reason not to buy pre-owned has been because the industry was shaky.” The supply is certainly out there: Powell told another interviewer that he thinks there’s around $100 billion in Rolexes, Breitlings, and Omegas in people’s closets – in the U.S. alone. He saw a $7 billion annual luxury watch market in this country with no scientific or management effort applied to the aftermarket and decided to professionalize it.
Today the Atlanta-based company has 40 employees, including half a dozen full-time Swiss-trained repair specialists. An article last month in United’s in-flight Rhapsody magazine said that they typically offer about 4,000 models at any time and that 2016 saw a 300% increase in sales. When a watch comes in, it goes through a 45 point inspection process, undergoes any needed repair or cleaning, is professionally photographed and listed for sale online, with a detailed description that incudes any alterations. “We don’t sell any watches that have fake parts. But some owners accessorize, maybe swap the bezel on their Rolex to another genuine Rolex one that’s not standard for that model, so we note that in detail. We are very careful to make sure the movement, the hands, all those things are original.”
I adore watches, have visited Swiss factories to see how they are made, and I’ve gazed lovingly at vintage watches in jewelry and antique store windows from London to Louisville, but never made a move because of the same concern – I can’t tell if it is real. With this model, buyers know that the watches are authentic, that they have been through the 45-point inspection process, that they have a one year full-return satisfaction warranty, and that they are saving significantly over retail. How significantly? Up to 90% on less demanded watches, such as “Chopard, Hublot, and women’s watches that are gold and diamond encrusted, not watches per se so much as ticking jewelry. Our top three brands in terms of value retention are Rolex, Patek Phillippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre, and out most popular are Rolex, Breitling, Panerai, IWC, and Omega. You typically can save fifty percent or more on these.” They offer many other desirable brands as well, including Cartier, TAG Heuer, Audemars Piguet, A. Langhe & Sohne, Bell & Ross, Breguet, Baume & Mercier, Blancpain, Vacheron Constantin and many more. Powell told me that interest in Tudor is rapidly heating up.
Thanks to the substantial savings, simplicity of the process, warranty, and large selection, it is pretty easy to see the appeal to buyers. But the appeal to sellers is even more compelling because they are looking to make money, not just save some.
“We don’t really have competitors on the buying side. Our biggest competitor is complacency: someone has a watch in their closet and they don’t know they can sell it. For watches that are not one-offs, auctions don’t make any sense. They owner is paying a buyer and seller fee, usually over 30%. It’s like me paying my lawyer to mow to my lawn. If you take it to jeweler, you’re selling it ‘as is.’ We add value by helping realize the full potential. We take out scratches, clean it, tune the movement, and most of the time there is no fee for that. We are doing the inspection anyway, we have polishing machines.”
The process is straightforward: you go the company’s website and clock on Sell My Watch. You fill out details about the brand and model, and they offer an estimated valuation. “No one really knows what luxury replica watches uk are worth for the most part, but we have a database of over 100,000 data points, and one of our biggest strengths is that we have real expertise in value, actual selling prices, whether we sold it or it was sold at Christie’s. We’re like the Kelly Blue Book of watch values. So one of our staffers will call you and say, okay, we can sell your watch for $10,000. If that sounds good to you, we send a FedEx box, do the evaluation, list it, and 90% of the watches we list sell within 60 days.” It helps that the company has an email list of 300,000 subscribers worldwide who have voluntarily opted in so they can see new watch listings. “Lots of our watches leave the country, and likewise, we just got 30 watches sent in by a collector in the UK. Europe, Asia, the Middle East, they all have this same problem with the pre-owned market.”
If the watch is damaged or needs substantial repair, they will give an estimate and let the customer decide whether to move forward, but the routine clean up, including scratches and tuning, is usually included in their fee, which is 19.5% of a higher price than you can typically get elsewhere. They do not sell any watches for less than $1,500 and to date, the highest sale at Crown & Caliber was a Jaeger minute repeater for around $300,000. They also get a lot of trade-ins, for which they offer a premium over the sales price against new purchases. “We have a lot of customers who don’t want to tell their wife they bought another fake watch, so they trade up,” said Powell. Looking through the current mouthwatering selection online, it is easy to see why.