Want to buy a (used) watch?

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ACCORDING to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry statistics, the value of watches coming out of Switzerland has almost doubled since the turn of the century — from 10.3 billion Swiss francs (equivalent to about the same amount in US dollars at present exchange rates) in 2000 to 19.4 billion francs last year. True, there has also been a decline in Swiss watch exports (as opposed to actual sales, figures for which are not released by the industry group) since 2014, but results for the January to September period this year point to a slight recovery when these are compared to exports reported during the same months in 2016 — an especially bad year considering 2014 and 2015 saw export values at 22.2 billion francs and 21.5 billion francs, respectively.

What these values translate into are a lot of watches (exports from other markets like Japan, China, Hong Kong, Germany, France, and the US are not even counted in yet). An estimate by the Swiss watchmakers’ federation put the number of watches produced worldwide in 2016 at roughly 1.2 billion pieces.

Not all the watches built through the years (or even those sold only within the period for which Switzerland’s watch industry provides statistics) have stayed on their original owners’ wrists, of course. And a significant chunk of these have found themselves new owners via online transactions. A cursory check on international eBay, for instance, would show that while over 1.7 million watches listed for sale are new (with or without brand tags, or with defects), more than 400,000 pieces are marked as pre-owned. A similar look at Amazon would reveal over 1.2 million new watches for sale and about 50,000 used ones.

As an April 30, 2014 Forbes article written by Ariel Adams, founder of watch-interest site A Blog To Watch, said: “The purchase of new watches is vital to the maintenance of a healthy pre-owned watch market.”

Not all online purchases of used watches are made through “traditional” channels like eBay or Amazon. Chrono24, for example, lists more than 300,000 new and used watches that, according to an article written by Sarah Shannon in the Financial Times last September, are valued at 2.5 billion francs. A more recent article by Mr. Adams (also published in Forbes, dated June 23 this year) noted there is a “very strong market for selling (and buying) pre-owned luxury watches online.”

Online venues even less formal than Chrono24 and its ilk, widely regarded in the industry as the gray market for watches (and on which “much of the watch sales activity happens,” as opposed to the official sites of brands and/or their retailers, according to Mr. Adam’s later article), also command their share of trade traffic. These venues include popular watch-interest forums like Watchuseek, as well as enthusiast Web sites that have capitalized on their fame by venturing into trading used and vintage watches — like Hodinkee. And then there are the independent enthusiasts who ply their wares on social media accounts set up specifically for such a purpose.

Many of these sites are typically more parochial and thus cater to a smaller circle of buyers — people mostly known to the seller. In the Philippines, where buyers may check out watches online but will most likely meet with the seller to pay for the purchase, a few sites of this nature have sprung up in recent years.

One is Daily Ticker on Facebook, or dailytickerph on Instagram. The accounts are operated by Jay M. Arcilla, who referred to himself as “Dailyticker” on the Philippine Watch Club, a local enthusiasts’ online forum, before starting to sell watches online. Mr. Arcilla said that in about four years he has traded nearly 200 timepieces on his social media accounts.

Over this period he has observed a rise in demand for used or vintage watches, a trend he attributed to “very accessible information on the Internet.”

“The vast [amount] of information posted and shared [online] has increased awareness. This not only helped promote current watch models but also sparked interest in vintage watches,” Mr. Arcilla said.

He noted increased consumer interest on pre-owned watches has led to more customers and informal sellers in the country, in the process driving values up because sources have raised their prices. As an example, Mr. Arcilla said wholesale suppliers — “from first-level traders in Santa Cruz, Manila, to pawnshops” — that previously sold affordable vintage watches no longer do.

“It is different now. These traders have been increasing their prices. So pre-owned watches become expensive by the time these hit the market, [with prices] rising roughly 30%-40% more during the last two years,” he said.

But Mr. Arcilla said independent, enthusiast sellers like him remain accessible. “In buying a pre-owned timepiece, the price is secondary. What is important is that you know the seller. A buyer’s decision will come from the level of comfort he or she gets from the seller. So on both my social media accounts, I keep the communication lines open for any queries. I try to be as responsive as possible, whether this leads to a sale or not,” he said.

“Oftentimes, clients have become friends. And they have made repeated purchases,” he added.

So, want to buy a watch? Find someone you know. Or hit Google. — Brian M. Afuang

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