Prices for luxury watches are near a two-year low on the secondhand market, reversing a rally that brought timepieces like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet to record highs during the pandemic.
The average price of a watch sold secondhand has fallen 31% since March 2022, according to WatchCharts, a luxury watch price tracker. At the market’s peak, the average price of a luxury watch sold secondhand soared to $45,108, with buyers paying up to five times the retail value for in-demand watches.
related investing news
“It was an unprecedented time in history where people were home captive. You also had a little bit of cryptocurrency and bitcoin run-up,” said Paul Altieri, CEO of watch resale site Bob’s Watches. ”What’s going on now is a happy, healthy correction.”
During the pandemic, many people who were stuck at home and flushed with stimulus cash took to luxury spending. With so many watch models unavailable at retail, enthusiasts flocked to the secondhand market.
“It was interesting that the price hike mainly happened among three family-owned brands: Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. But we did not see this for most of the other brands last year,” said Tim Stracke, CEO of Chrono24, a German-based online marketplace for pre-owned watches.
Now, individuals have been flooding the market with the very same inventories, dragging down overall prices. The downturn was particularly stark for iconic models like Rolex’s Daytona, Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, according to Stracke.
“When prices reach these super high levels, that also attracts a lot more sellers, so the supply of the most iconic pieces from the three brands tripled within just five or six months,” said Stracke.
Experts have been warning that a luxury watch bubble could burst along with cryptocurrency and other trendy pandemic booms.
The biggest brands have slumped in the last year, with average secondhand Rolex prices falling 12% from a year ago, average Patek Philippe prices falling 19% and Audemars Piguet falling 17%, according to WatchCharts.
But the recent declines appear to mark a stabilization.
The secondhand market is still well above price levels three years ago. Overall price is about 20% higher since August 2020, with average Rolex prices up 26%, average Patek Philippe prices up 94% and Audemars Piguet up 100%, according to WatchCharts.
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 116500 model, for example — among the most heavily weighted watches on the WatchCharts index, is currently listed at around $29,000, nearly double its original price. A Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 Stainless Steel model will demand $103,357, on average, a threefold increase from its retail listing of $34,890, according to WatchCharts.
“There’s definitely been some landings in 2023, but we see that the prices overall have definitely stayed much higher than they were pre-pandemic. I don’t think it’s a burst of a bubble,” said Pierre Dupreelle, managing partner at Boston Consulting Group. “I think as the economy stabilizes, you can see the prices stabilizing or maybe starting to rise again.”
And the relatively lower prices may present a buying opportunity for a new generation of shoppers and collectors.
Millennials and Generation Z are developing an appetite for the luxury watches and status symbols. A recent BCG report found that 54% of Gen Z and millennial buyers said they had increased their spending on luxury watches in the past two years.
“I would love to buy another Rolex. Seeing the price of them fall kind of makes it less like a risky investment. You don’t want to pay more for something if you could just wait and pay less,” said Brian Burns, a millennial adventure guide and owner of a Rolex Submariner.
“Personally, I really appreciate the craftsmanship of watches,” said Chan Hirunsri, a 20-year-old student at Penn State University. “I bought a Grand Seiko SBGA407 in May when prices were relatively low, and I am waiting to explore Rolex.”