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While Secondhand Watch Market Sees Downturns, Christie’s Finds Opportunities Among Younger Clients

As the overall secondhand watch market sees challenges, Christie’s is finding success by targeting a younger demographic with unique auctions.

While Secondhand Watch Market Sees Downturns, Christie’s Finds Opportunities Among Younger Clients

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverai Souscription Model No. 2/20, circa 1999, which sold for 2.7 million Swiss francs in 2023.

Despite the slowdown in the secondhand watch market, Christie’s remains optimistic on the opportunities to continue its success in the category.

According to Christie’s head of sales for the watch department, Rebecca Ross, and watch specialist, Mathieu Ruffat, the auction house has been able to successfully navigate the challenges facing the secondhand watch market thanks to its auctions of unique timepieces, as well as a growing younger clientele.

In 2023, Christie’s came out as the global market leader by generating $234 million through 12 live sales and eight online sales, according to the auction house. 

“Right after COVID-19, the prices were crazy,” Ruffat explained. “The demand was huge, especially for modern watches, and for the last few months, we can feel that there’s a downturn. We don’t really see it at Christie’s because the watches that we offer at our auctions, they are mostly vintage watches. And today, what our collectors are looking for are extremely rare, vintage watches or independent watchmakers.” 

Ross echoed Ruffat’s statement, saying: “The phenomenal collections that we’ve been able to offer our clients in our auctions, we’re able to sort of sidestep the declining market a little bit in that way by offering items that are highly covetable and fresh to the market to our customers.” 

While Secondhand Watch Market Sees Downturns, Christie’s Finds Opportunities Among Younger Clients

Mathieu Ruffat

In addition to the unique auctions, Ross and Ruffat explained that a burgeoning younger clientele has also posed as an area of opportunity to continue Christie’s success in the secondhand watch market. 

“It’s very interesting to see the changing profile for the modern watch collector,” Ross continued. “For the longest time, the watch collector was the same kind of collector with similar interests in brands and similar sort of tastes, but now you have more of the exchange of information on the internet being so obvious and so easy to access. You have all sorts of micro-communities that have the knowledge and the intelligence, but are not the typical collector and consumer that you would have seen a decade or two ago.”

Along with this rise of the younger watch client also comes an increase in female watch collectors, Ross explained. Ruffat noted that Christie’s watch clientele is still predominantly male, however, the auction house sees increasing engagement and excitement among its female clients. 

While Secondhand Watch Market Sees Downturns, Christie’s Finds Opportunities Among Younger Clients

Rebecca Ross

Ross explained that female clients are becoming more interested in the function rather than design of Christie’s timepieces, while male clients are gravitating toward unisex styles. 

“We’re having a shift in what women appreciate as a status symbol,” Ross said. “For generations, women have aspired more for what they wear on their finger versus what they wear on their wrist, but I think that with female independence skyrocketing over the last one to two decades, the status symbol that a watch can represent is really equal to, if not sometimes greater than the engagement ring they wear. Just like an engagement ring can signify one’s unity to one another, a watch is really reflective of your appreciation for yourself and your own achievements.” 

Ross stated the increase in Christie’s female clientele is coming from its luxury division, which saw 20 percent new buyers last December. She stated the expansion of Christie’s handbags and jewelry departments also increased the number of clients coming to its watch department. 

When talking about 2024 trends in the secondhand watch market, Ross and Ruffat named shape watches and styles from independent watchmakers as leaders. Both named brands such as Cartier, Patek Philippe and Piaget as ones reigning in popularity among Christie’s clients. 

“The consumer is becoming more educated and buying pieces that are not just face value,” Ross said. “They’re more interested in the nuances and the details that make differences when you’re a true collector and when you value the specifics. I think you’re seeing people not just following the usual trends of buying the standard Daytona or the GMT or the Speedmaster, but they’re really looking inward to see what they like themselves, and that’s great to see.” 

While the secondhand watch market continues to face challenges, Ross and Ruffat believe the passion among watch enthusiasts will keep the market afloat. 

“Collecting watches for most people is a real passion — and it’s deep rooted in watchmaking efforts that stem all the way back to the 15th century,” Ross said. “But, just like collecting in any other category — art, design, cars — collecting watches I think will always be important, as long as it’s relevant to the collector. As long as the brands continue to produce things that keep collectors on their toes, as long as the vintage watch market continues to preserve in the right way and educate in the right way, I think it’s endless.”