As a watch nerd, I love to see the stuffy old watchmaking industry try new things. That’s why I was intrigued by the recent changes at Bob’s Watches, a retailer turned website that buys and sells Rolex watches using a very simple exchange model.
Founded by Paul Altieri in 2010, the site was mostly a sales portal for years. Now, however, the company has created a Rolex Exchange, a real-time engine for pricing Rolex watches. Owners can post their own watches for sale and Bob’s gets a cut while buyers can see prices for hundreds of pieces.
First, a bit of background: Rolex watches, unlike most fine watches, tend to hold their value. There is a massive underground of exceedingly obsessive collectors who buoy prices and the brand awareness is such that potential customers are everywhere. A particularly popular Submariner that cost $8,000 retail can usually maintain its value over the years, falling to $4,000 on a bad day but generally staying within 50% of the purchase price. The vast majority of classic watches don’t do this – an Omega or Breitling falls precipitously in value over the years but the price can rise if it’s a particularly nice or historical model. The only other popular brand that truly maintains its value is Patek Phillipe but those start in the tens of thousands.
What Bob’s has done is create a simple market. Buyers can ask for a quote and Bob’s will sell the watch through their site. This gives the seller a better chance of getting a fair price and reduces much of the risk in dealing with an anonymous online seller. Given that almost every watch hobbyist has seen at least one timepiece get “eaten” by FedEx or DHL, it’s nice to be able to pawn some of the risk off on another party.
“Customers are able to see both the ‘Buy’ and ‘Sell’ prices for each model Rolex and the website attracts over 200,000 visitors each month,” said Altieri. “Bob’s Watches serves as an online marketplace, or facilitator, for pre-owned Rolex watch customers as the secondary market was long overdue for a more efficient way to connect buyers and sellers.”
If this seems obvious, it is. However, in the benighted world of watch retail, Bob’s is basically Google. Forums where users bought and sold watches online have been around for most of the past decade and new services like Eleven James and Crown & Caliber are trying to integrate watch resellers and owners into the modern web but it’s definitely slow going.
Many watch brands are going online. Tissot was the first major brand with a stragglers coming up behind every year. Transparency is an anathema to the luxury market primarily because, 99% of the time, you’re buying branding. However, if you’re a lover of fine watches you’ll understand the strange draw they have on collectors.
Bob’s isn’t quite done. The service still isn’t real time and it still requires users to go through Bob’s appraisers to confirm the value of the pieces they’re selling and you don’t really get to see multiple items at once. The average customer will appreciate the “one price” model while savvy customers may look to eBay or the forums to pick up their Rolexi. In the end, however, anything that makes it easier to pick up a nice watch is OK in my book.