Certified Pre-owned Did someone mention CPO?
In just a few short years, the acronym CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) has become a part of our vocabulary. As yet, few brands have climbed aboard, but they’re all thinking about it.
Many watch companies have become obsessed with “tracking” – tracking clients, in the first instance, in an effort to find out who they are, what they buy, and where. Customer data is the holy grail of watch marketing, probably because it’s still one of its primary weaknesses, particularly compared with mass retail. As Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué told us a few weeks ago, data is the future.
The next step is to track the watch, which is a far more difficult exercise. While archives as rich as those of Longines can help to identify the origins of a given watch, even one dating back centuries, it’s far harder to keep track of its successive owners, repairs, modifications and resale price – its entire life, in other words. But not for brands that take care of all this themselves. That’s where CPO comes in.
Old idea, new application
As an idea, it’s been around for a while, although it has only recently come into public view. Back in 2010, some Vacheron Constantin boutiques began offering a small selection of timepieces that the manufacture had bought, documented and restored. These were exclusively vintage pieces, so as not to compete with new watches. It gave them a clever way of controlling the quality and price of Vacheron Constantin watches on the second-hand market, using a small sample, so as to avoid any aberrations that could jeopardise the image of the venerable watchmaker. Another major watchmaker – Audemars Piguet – has also taken an interest. In 2018 the brand started a pilot scheme in Geneva and Japan, working through multi-brand retailers. For the time being, the project focuses on second-hand sales, not (yet) on purchases.
Platform CPO Home © H. Moser & Cie
But since then, three changes have occurred. First: the approach has become commonplace. Panerai (from stores in Paris, Hong Kong, Munich and soon the United States), MB&F, H. Moser & Cie, Urwerk, and soon De Bethune (by end 2020) have thrown their hats into the ring, or are about to do so. Brands with small production volumes are naturally better placed to control this segment – something that would be impossible for companies with volumes at the level of Omega, Seiko or TAG Heuer.
Horological Machine n°2 © MB&F
For Max Büsser, CPO is a win-win. “It’s a way of showing our clients that we’re taking care of them, that they matter to us. We launched our CPO in 2018, and we’ve already matched around 20 pieces from collectors wanting to sell with other collectors hoping to buy. The rules of the game are simple: a CPO piece must never – absolutely never – be available new from one of our partners. Not even a single piece. We only deal in watches that are 100% sold out in shops. We never negotiate the buy-back price, and we are also free to accept it or not. Once an agreement is reached we take the piece back, we refurbish it completely, we check the movement and re-finish it, and the watch leaves our workshop with a two-year warranty.”
New game, new players
The second change is the arrival of “boutique” actors. This is the case of Tourneau, for example. The American label has a dedicated page on its website for the resale of pre-owned watches. The same goes for Bucherer, which is currently expanding into CPO.
But other retailers hold the opposite view. Laurent Picciotto, founding president of Chronopassion, is one of them. “I don’t believe in it,” he states. “It’s a great way of building up enormous stocks of wildly different pieces whose real value is extremely hard to evaluate. What’s more, customers looking for a new watch are not interested in second-hand. Their profiles are completely different. Most clients in the market for pre-owned are looking to sell, not necessarily to buy another, and probably not from the same shop. It is very easy to lose your way in this business. It’s simply not for us.”
Laurent Picciotto, President & Founder of Chronopassion © Chronopassion
The final change is the arrival in the CPO market of specialised actors who do nothing else. The most emblematic example is the Richemont group, which bought the British company Watchfinder, the world leader in the sale and purchase of second-hand luxury watches, in 2018.
Watchbox emerged out of the same concept in 2015, with a branch in Neuchâtel run by former Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrick Hoffmann. The platform recorded 45,000 transactions in the space of two years, with an average price of USD 15,000. The company relies on multiple analysts who are capable of quoting the value of a watch in real time, as if it were a commodity on the stock market. Watchbox owns all its stock, which is valued at around USD 80 million, and has a turnover of USD 240 million.
Watchbox Exterior © Watchbox
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