Minutes & Seconds

Market here is strong for pre-owned luxury watches

Gym owner Mohamed Fazlon with three pieces he bought from pre-owned luxury watch dealers: (from left) Hublot Big Bang, Panerai PAM 1BT and Panerai PAM508. Mr Nick Lim, director of Chuan Watch at Golden Landmark, says his shop offers buy-back guarante
Gym owner Mohamed Fazlon with three pieces he bought from pre-owned luxury watch dealers: (from left) Hublot Big Bang, Panerai PAM 1BT and Panerai PAM508.PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Gym owner Mohamed Fazlon with three pieces he bought from pre-owned luxury watch dealers: (from left) Hublot Big Bang, Panerai PAM 1BT and Panerai PAM508. Mr Nick Lim, director of Chuan Watch at Golden Landmark, says his shop offers buy-back guarante
Mr Nick Lim, director of Chuan Watch at Golden Landmark, says his shop offers buy-back guarantees for pre-owned luxury watches. PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The pre-owned luxury watch market is booming, thanks in part to the Internet and social media

A couple of years ago, Mr Mohamed Fazlon shelled out $30,000 for a mint-condition Hublot Big Bang 18k Rose Gold watch.

It saved the 42-year-old gym owner more than $10,000 compared to if he had bought one brand new.

"If you are smart and you know your watches, you can save as much as 25 per cent on a piece," says the watch collector, who has bought and sold more than a dozen pre-owned timepieces - from a Panerai PAM 190 to a Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Solid Gold - in the last two decades.

Buyers like him are the reason why the market for pre-owned luxury watches in Singapore is hale and hearty. In addition to scores of pawnshops, there are more than 20 outfits selling such watches here. The choices become more dizzying when one includes specialist international websites such as chrono24 and JamesEdition.com, e-commerce giants such as Amazon as well as classified ads platforms such as Craigslist and eBay.

The boom is driven by several factors, chief among which is the Internet and the rise of social media.

Facebook and Instagram have fuelled not just the visibility of such watches, but also fanned aspirations to own them.

There are two segments to the pre-owned luxury watch market: relatively new models and vintage watches - timepieces pre-dating 1990 or even earlier.

  • Wrist taker

  • Who: James Quan, 49, founder and chairman of Bynd Artisan 

    What I'm wearing: G-Shock Rangeman, Love The Sea and The Earth 2014 (GW-9400KJ-8JR)

    How much I paid for it: $750 two years ago 

    Why I like it: I saw Singapore photographer John Clang wear it one day and said to myself, "Hey, that is an interesting Rangeman. I've never seen one in grey with red accents before."

    So I did some research and realised that it was a limited, Japan-market-only edition. Its launch price in 2014 was $550. I scoured the Internet and called up everyone I knew in Singapore, but no one had it.

    Finally, my G-Shock contact called me to say he was going to give up the one from his own collection for $750. It was a ridiculous price then, but worth every penny now because it is rare and the colours are unusual.

    A Japanese website is selling the same model for more than $2,000.

    I drove out in the middle of the night to get it before he changed his mind.

    I've been wearing it almost every day since. I have a real affinity for it. By the way, the seller still calls me every now and then to gripe and moan over the sale.


    PHOTOS: JAMES QUAN

Mr Sam Cheng, who runs Watchlink, which deals in new and pre-owned watches in Far East Plaza, said his clients come from all walks of life.

"They range from bankers and housing agents to hawkers and contractors," adds the 55-year-old, who has been in the trade for more than a decade.

He declines to reveal sales figures, but says that business has increased at least 30 per cent compared to five years ago.

Many of his customers are drawn by the savings, and do not mind that the timepieces have previous owners.

Over the last decade, Mr Ho Xiao Yen has bought a few pre-owned watches, including a Franck Muller Casablanca 10th anniversary edition and an IWC Big Pilot.

The 43-year-old communications specialist said: "When the economy was buoyant, a lot of people bought luxury watches and seldom wore them. You can find quite a few on the resale market which are in mint condition."

Mr Cheng says: "Buying a pre-owned watch is like buying a second-hand car. You don't have to take the first knock, someone has taken it for you and you will be saving quite a bit of money."

In fact, many of his clients own several timepieces. When they see something new, they often sell a piece from their collection to help pay for the purchase.

An added attraction is the buy-back guarantee offered by some dealers such as Chuan Watch at Golden Landmark.

Its director Nick Lim, 26, tells The Straits Times: "Before customers commit to the purchase, they roughly know what they can expect back. For watches above $5,000, we guarantee 80 per cent of the purchase price if they sell it back to us within two years, provided it's in good condition, of course."

Not all watches depreciate in value. Several brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet hold their value well.

Some, such as limited editions or out-of-production models, can be highly sought after and fetch even higher prices. In fact, many pre-owned watch enthusiasts are collectors on the hunt for hard-to- come-by pieces.

Mr Fazlon, for instance, buys only models he likes and which he knows will hold their value.

"You have to do your homework. Some years back, I managed to get a Panerai PAM 1BT. I paid $12,000, now it's worth about $17,000," said the fitness trainer and co-founder of Energia Fitness gym.

That is because the 1BT used tridium - a radioactive isotope which changes colour over time - as a luminous marker for its dials. Because of its rarity and the changing patina of the dials, this model is now highly sought after.

But before rushing out to get a bargain, one must be mindful that the path to a pre-owned watch can be littered with pitfalls.

It pays, for instance, to abide by the maxim "buy the seller".

"Buy only from authorised or reputable dealers or someone you know and trust," advises Mr Fazlon.

He scrupulously reads all he can about pieces he is interested in, compares prices, studies the service history, looks out for dents and scratches and insists on proper boxes and papers.

"If you are not sure, tell the dealer you want to send the watch to a service centre and that the deal is on only if everything is in order," he says.

It is sensible advice, especially if one is buying a vintage piece, since unscrupulous dealers have been known to replace parts with wrong, old or fake ones.

Mr Cheng says: "You don't want to end up with a Frankenstein of a watch, with too many modified parts."

Buyers should also bear in mind that authorised service centres have the right to compound their watch and call in the authorities if it is found to have been stolen or procured through illegal means.

Many luxury watch brands keep a list of missing timepieces as a service to their customers.

Swiss watchmaker Montres Breguet states clearly on its website that it "does not take a position as to the proprietary rights of timepieces" on their list.

These risks are reasons why some watch fans do not venture into the pre-owned market.

Mr Bernard Oh, 51, owns several luxury watches, including IWC and Graham models, which he purchased new from licensed retailers.

The founder of AMC Asia!, a marketing and events group, says: "I'm a businessman and I'm superstitious. I don't like the idea of buying a watch which may have been worn by a bankrupt or someone in financial trouble.

"I also don't want to worry about authenticity and warranty, and whether there are scratches. Anyway, I always make sure I get a discount when I buy my watches."

But whether one is buying a luxury watch brand new or pre-owned, Chuan Watch's Mr Lim says the purchase should not be driven by impulse or the hope that it will increase in value.

"Sure, you'd want one which has a resale value, but you should really buy a watch because you want it.

"And you should buy one that suits your character and your personality. You should buy a watch because you want to wear it. Buying it for any other reason is defeating the purpose."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Luxury watches for less'. Print Edition | Subscribe