Luxury Swiss watches are in high demand, and that extends to second-hand ones, the booming market driven by Generation Z buyers wanting high-end goods but with an eye on sustainability. The global second-hand watch market is estimated to be worth nearly 20 billion Swiss francs (US$21.7 billion), and could reach 35 billion francs by 2030, according to a study published in October by auditing and consulting giant Deloitte. Historically the realm of collectors scouting for rare watches at auction, the second-hand market is turning increasingly professional, with the proliferation of online sales sites that verify authenticity, and even the watch manufacturers themselves getting involved. “Nowadays, there is a realisation that we need to consume more responsibly,” says Fabienne Lupo, the former head of the Foundation of High Horology, who organised a second-hand luxury watch show in Geneva last November. The event was attended by representatives of the online auction giant eBay, the watch sales platform Watchbox , and Swiss brands such as Zenith. Lupo says the second-hand watch boom can be explained by the consumer choices of millennials (born between 1980 and the late 1990s) and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2010) who are “very concerned about the future of the planet, and no longer want to buy new”. Also, vintage objects “that you can’t find everywhere” are in vogue, she says. Furthermore, buying certain Swiss luxury watches new is getting harder, as higher demand is resulting in longer waiting lists. Swiss watch exports hit a record in 2022, climbing 11.4 per cent from the previous year to 24.8 billion Swiss francs, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry announced on Tuesday. Amid luxury watch boom, other Swiss brands copy Rolex with pricey models “And then there is the digitalisation which has accelerated with the pandemic ,” Lupo says. The growth in the pre-owned watch market is such that the British online platform Subdial has developed an index tracking the 50 most-traded models. Despite this, the average price fell from a record 45,000 Swiss francs in February 2022 to 35,000 francs in September, which Deloitte called a “correction” – a drop that returns prices to their longer-term trends – rather than a sign that the market was shrinking. Sales platforms for certified pre-owned (CPO) watches are multiplying online, with the sector still attracting new entrants, including the US site Bezel, which counts former Disney president Michael Ovitz, comedian Kevin Hart and singer John Legend among its investors. The luxury giant Richemont – which owns the Cartier , IWC and Piaget brands – entered the field in 2018 when they bought the British platform Watchfinder. Rolex also took the plunge in December , pulling the rug from beneath the counterfeiters by launching a CPO programme with the Swiss retailer Bucherer, which authenticates the watches. The programme operates in six countries, including Britain and France, with the aim of extending it to the United States in the future. “Watch manufacturers typically have been worried about the secondary market as it was closely associated with the grey market, where discounted watches could be found,” says Jon Cox, an industry analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux financial services company. “However, they realise there is a halo effect of having strong secondary prices, enhancing the brand value of the primary watches.” Wearing your Rolex or Patek Philippe in Europe? Why you should be worried For top-end luxury brands like Richard Mille, where average watch prices exceed 260,000 Swiss francs, second-hand timepieces are even a way of enhancing their image. “We might have a client who tells us, ‘there was a limited edition of 100 watches; it was always my dream to buy one and now I have the money – but you no longer make them and they are almost impossible to find’,” says Alexandre Mille, who took over from his father, who founded the brand. Mille adds that his company can then find the sought-after timepiece for its client. Deloitte’s study found that buying a cheaper watch was the main motivation for 44 per cent of respondents. But Cox also says second-hand watches are a “store of wealth”, being “worn and shown off for years but still retaining value to be resold so another watch can be bought in its place”.