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Sun 12 Jan 2020 02:40 PM

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Middle East's pre-owned luxury watches marketplace is getting an innovative new platform

Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons joining forces with WatchBox, the world's biggest online platform for pre-owned luxury watches

Middle East's pre-owned luxury watches marketplace is getting an innovative new platform

Middle East's appetite for high-end watches is one of the highest per capita in the world and has spawned its own grey market, with second-hand boutiques, watch clubs, Instagram resellers, influencers, networking events and online portals contributing to an ecosystem that was previously dominated by official retailers.

Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the region’s largest official brand distributor to more than 60 Swiss luxury and high street watch brands in the region, is joining forces with WatchBox, the world’s biggest online platform for pre-owned luxury watches.

“This partnership signifies a very important milestone for the luxury watch market in the region,” says Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, Chief Commercial Officer of Seddiqi Holding. “We want to create a safe space for those looking to invest in a second-hand luxury watch, and we believe that it is our duty to drive this movement into the second-hand space. WatchBox is a renowned global leader in the industry and we are thrilled to join forces with them, not only to provide this exciting concept to Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons’ customers, but to revolutionise the sector across the Middle East.”

“The history behind WatchBox is a company called Govberg that has been around for many generations,” says Watchbox co-founder Amanda Ellison.

“There is a respect for the brands and the rules. We want to elevate and underpin the watches and brand value.”

The global grey market for watches is estimated to be in the billions of dollars a year. Meanwhile, according to figures released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Swiss watch exports from the beginning of this year to September alone totalled CHF15.9bn ($15.9bn). The US, China, Japan and Singapore are the biggest markets, with the UAE coming in ninth, with watch exports in 2018 totalling CHF911.9m ($911.9m).

It’s a well-known fact to those who buy and collect watches that there are some models that appear permanently unavailable to purchase anywhere except through resellers. Brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe are perhaps the best-known examples of this, with collectors bemoaning the fact that the most desired models never seem to actually arrive in boutiques.

The region’s appetite for high-end watches is one of the highest per capita in the world and has spawned its own grey market, with second-hand boutiques, watch clubs, Instagram resellers, influencers, networking events and online portals contributing to an ecosystem that was previously dominated by official retailers. With the increasing democratisation of how a watch seller can reach their audience, the partnership between the region’s largest retailer and the world’s largest reseller is redefining the industry as we know it.

“WatchBox has a $80m global inventory – the largest in the world – that is owned by us and is not on consignment or a marketplace. There are 4,000 pre-owned watches, and more than 90 unique brands. The breadth of collection is unlike anyone else’s,” says Ellison. “Our average per watch sale in the United States is around $15,000, although we suspect it will go up once we launch in the UAE.”

To date, the most expensive single purchase on Watchbox reached $2m, while the least expensive watches go for around $1,000, the entry level.

The top brands represented at Watchbox are Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Panerai, F.P Journe and A. Lange & Söhne, reflecting the high-end focus of the company. Complementing the brands is a team of traders, watch enthusiasts and experts who are passionate about watchmaking. Authenticity is guaranteed and watches are serviced before being offered for sale. The company has established a sophisticated production studio and platform to enhance the user experience.

“Technology and the user experience is something we have focussed on, and we have a robust video platform, live streaming, reviews, interviews and expert commentary and since launching we have achieved a cumulative viewing minutes of 125 million,” she notes.

The brand has achieved an audience of over 14 million views of the Watchbox studio, with 110,000 Instagram followers. There are 3 million monthly web page views, 325,000 WatchBox app downloads. The app has a feature that allows collectors to see the current value of their watches within a private space accessible only to them.

There are $1.3bn in assets within it in total, a figure expected to rise when WatchBox users in the Middle East begin to come on board.

“We have invested heavily in technology such as AI, analytics, data capture, which I think distinguishes us from other players in the industry. We have a fully loaded ecommerce site at watchbox.com and three apps – the WatchBox app, an instore app allowing the customer to choose to browse instore as well as speak to our experts, rather like having a guide in a museum. And our third is our Chronofy platform and app to help retailers and an acquisition tool for our inventory.”

The trader’s desktop is a highly proprietary technology that the company has been working on for the past two years and Ellison describes it as the Bloomberg of the watch industry. All of this allows WatchBox to harness a data-driven understanding of the watch marketplace at any given moment in time.

“We always ask what the customer wants. They want trust, transparency and enjoyment. We provide a white glove concierge service for the highest value purchases, just as if you were standing in a Seddiqi boutique. They want to sell, trade and buy – rare models, those no longer available and that’s not always available in the primary market.”

A risk management division monitors its inventory, looking at factors such as the brand, style, quality and criteria based on inventory turn and market demand which are all calculated within the trader’s platform.

Ellison adds that the perception of repurposing watches has now become a good thing, thanks in part to millennial mindsets; the company engages its customers through a range of digitally led communities. “We call it ‘personal commerce’, not ecommerce. We want to talk to our customers and be part of their watch journey.”

In a global first, the company is opening its first standalone boutique in Dubai, which will be supported by the Seddiqi service centre.

“We know that this is something that will be exciting for our customers. We never had the option to offer this service at Seddiqi in the past, and our customers often ended up going to the Gold Souk and getting ripped off. It will give options to end consumers to trade their watches. It will be exciting!” Seddiqi says.