Cover Silas Walton, CEO and founder of London-based dealer A Collected Man (Photo: A Collected Man)

The pre-owned market is coming of age, says the CEO and founder of London-based dealer A Collected Man

Silas Walton launched his second-hand watch business in 2014 and, fast forward to today, the e-commerce site A Collected Man has surpassed US$34 million in sales.

The pre-owned luxury watch market has boomed over the last few years, fuelled by a new breed of upscale retailers, an increased interest in sustainable fashion, and clients having more time (and, in many cases, money) to invest in their collections since the coronavirus pandemic brought about worldwide lockdowns.

According to the financial services company Kepler Cheuvreux, the second-hand watch market is already worth US$16 billion annually. During a Zoom call with Tatler, Walton explains why this is.

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How did you become involved in the watch industry?

I don't come from a watch background. I was in business school and later law school, which is where I decided that career path definitely wasn't for me. I came to this industry as a relative novice, although my first two paycheques did go to watches when I briefly worked in a law firm.

Tell us about your most treasured watch.

My 18th birthday present was my great-great-grandfather's pocket watch. The very first thing I bought and sold in a flea market in France when I was about 13 or 14 was also a pocket watch, which I'd bought from eBay.

It sounds like you've always had a passion for watches.

I kind of had an unofficial background in watches but I definitely didn't consider myself a 'watch guy'. I just saw how things were changing in the luxury market and discovered that there was nothing particularly sophisticated for second-hand watch buyers and sellers online.

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How has this changed over the years?

It's changed radically. The industry has been led by a number of transformation actors like Chrono24 and Watchfinder & Co, but also by the fact that in North America and Southeast Asia, there's an increased degree of comfort with online transactions and distant selling that's now spread globally. The market had historically been resistant to e-commerce but now there's a general acceptance that you're reasonably protected against fraud provided you act carefully.

Would you agree more collectors are willing to buy luxury watches via social media?

Yes, it's been incredible. Instagram in particular has been the most important social media channel for us. We've never spent on advertising, everything has been organic and direct. We typically put a watch up on Instagram and, I'd say within half an hour, it's usually sold. Some people don't believe that we don't pre-sell our items, but we really don't. We never pre-sell. Everything is listed and available the moment it goes up.

Is there a lack of transparency in the second-hand watch market?

Oh, 100%. This was our biggest advantage at A Collected Man. The market is kind of cowboy-ish and we added an element of professionalism that's traditionally seen in other second-hand markets.

Do you predict that more and more watch collectors will buy online?

I contributed to a McKinsey report recently about how the luxury watch market has and is being transformed. They were saying that between now and 2025, online direct-to-consumer is the fastest growing segment. This is happening in parallel with the pre-owned watch market, which is just booming. It's worth about US$19 billion and they estimate soon it'll be worth about US$32 billion.

How is the pre-owned watch market in Asia?

I suspect Southeast Asia will overtake North America as our biggest market within the next one to two years. In 2017, there was very limited engagement with the idea of selling an expensive watch to clients in Southeast Asia through online platforms. In North America, however, clients were consistently spending millions and millions of dollars with us over several years. Even if they'd never met us in person.

What watch trends should we keep an eye on?

The demand for independents has skyrocketed. It's just booming. It's niche and what we specialise in.

What's the biggest misconception about buying pre-owned watches?

That collectors run a risk buying a watch that can't be serviced. Or that somehow there's negativity associated with wearing used pieces. In fact, the opposite is true.

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