Peer into the windows of Rivoli Jewellers’ iconic green-and-white striped store in St Helier and amongst the twinkling diamond engagement rings and Swiss watchess, you’ll find an investment of an alternative kind – pre-owned watches. Sales of such timepieces are booming right now, for good reason, and Rivoli is amassing an offer of one of the most trusted brands to invest in, Rolex.
The fiscal power of the watch market relies, like any other, on supply and demand. Put simply, watches that are in demand will fetch higher prices and hold their value for longer. “With most other watch brands, unless it’s a collector’s edition, you may need to sit on the watch for some time to make your investment worthwhile,” explains David Speed, the managing director of the family-owned store Rivoli, which has been serving customers in Jersey for more than quarter of a century. “New Rolex watches, particularly the sporty models like GMTs, Daytonas or Submariners, tend to have waiting lists, as jewellers only get a certain allocation of each. This creates demand amongst collectors, meaning that if you pick up a brand new one that has a waiting list on it, there is 100% chance that you could sell it at an inflated price, should you want to.”
With waiting lists a-go-go and resale prices rocketing for new models, the second-hand market is proving an enticing alternative for Rolex buyers – and indeed for collectors of all types of watches. As well as offering more accessible prices and hard-to-find models, these watches also represent great value for money.
This growing market could be worth as much as $17 billion globally, according to business magazine WatchPro, with dealers reporting rapid sales growth. Demand for pre-owned watches is so strong that even luxury conglomerate Richemont – a purveyor of, until recently, exclusively new luxury watches through its brands Cartier, IWC, Panerai et al – capitalised on the hype last year by buying out a dedicated pre-owned watch retailer. At the time, Richemont chairman Johann Rupert described the deal as enabling the group “to better serve the sophisticated needs of a discerning clientele”.
As well as men and women buying for the pleasure of owning a Rolex, David says that it has also become popular for parents to buy pre-owned Rolexes as a milestone gift for children, often making the purchase years in advance to maximise the investment growth. “A lot of dads, in particular, want to pass one on to their sons on their 18th, 21st or perhaps 30th birthdays,” he says. “Some will also try to match the date of the Rolex to the year of their child’s birth, so will ask us, for example, to source a 1998 Submariner for a 21st birthday this year, which is something we are happy to do.”
Rivoli has built up a strong offer of pre-owned Rolex watches at its Jersey store. Recent models included a 1991 ladies’ Rolex Datejust 69174 on sale for £2,600, and a 2003 men’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona had a price tag of £14,250. Like all pre-owned Rolexes at Rivoli, the timepieces have been refurbished to what David refers to as “showroom condition” before sale and are sold with original papers validating their authenticity.
To put these pre-owned prices into perspective, a new ladies Rolex Datejust could cost as much as £8,900, making pre-owned a much more affordable way to buy into the brand in this instance. A new Cosmograph Daytona, meanwhile, will set you back £9,550, demonstrating the fact that some models will actually appreciate in value as the years progress.
“Often certain colourways can really capture the imagination,” says David, of the factors that can impact prices. His own current Rolex obsessions have a comic-book slant due to their coloured dials and bezels – a green Submariner nicknamed The Hulk and the blue-black GMT Master II known as The Batman. “We have had a couple of Rolexes with what is informally called a Pepsi bezel– the bezel is half blue and half red – but they never stay in the window for long,” he adds.
A benefit to buying a pre-owned Rolex from a trusted family jeweller, versus other sources online, is that Rivoli will guarantee the quality of the watch. Though these watches have been worn and loved by others, before it finds a new home it will be fully refurbished and in pristine condition. Rivoli is also able to offer additional servicing support through their in-house watchmaker, an official Rolex Accredited Service Centre. – “Because of this, we offer a two-year guarantee on every pre-owned Rolex we sell, and as we don’t sell watches without official papers, we can vouch for their authenticity,” says David, who has encountered his fair share of customers left jaded by buying pre-owned luxury watches elsewhere. “We had a collector come into the shop some time ago who believed they had bought an authentic limited-edition James Bond Omega Seamaster. He had bought it on eBay for a substantial amount of money and was crestfallen when our watchmakers looked at it and discovered it was a fake. It was a very good fake, but as soon as an expert takes off the back of the watch and looks at the movement, you can tell.”
When it comes to choosing which pre-owned Rolex to buy, David has a parting piece of advice for all his customers, and that is to follow their gut. Though unusual colours, sporty models and limited editions will tend to make for prime buys, he advises against buying a watch purely for investment’s sake. “To buy a Rolex and put it in the safe for 17 years before selling it on is to miss out on 17 years of pleasure,” he says. “As long as the watch is in reasonable condition, it will hold its value. The bracelet will bear the brunt of wear and tear, and these can easily be replaced or refurbished. So, my recommendation is to pick one that you love and will enjoying wearing, because – being a Rolex – judging by past performance, the investment angle will look after itself.”