For sales of second-hand watches, Richard Mille bets on the retail trade

LONDON – When it comes to the second-hand watch market, brands are battling it out online. Digitization continues to drive growth in the industry, which is expected to reach around $30 billion in annual sales by 2025, up from $18 billion in annual sales in 2019, according to a joint report by Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company.

But Richard Mille, the independent brand that is one of the Big Four that dominate the watch world today, is placing its bets on the occasion elsewhere: in the traditional world of distribution.

Last year, Westime, an American regional watch chain, began running the only used Richard Mille retail operation in the country from its three stores in California. In late 2020, Ninety Mount Street opened in London, the brand’s only second-hand store in Europe and the Middle East, while the Singapore operation opened in 2020 and in Japan in 2015.

The London store, commonly known as ‘Ninety’, occupies the Mayfair site of Richard Mille’s original flagship, which has moved to Bond Street. Ninety has pieces like the 2011 model RM 035 Ultimate (price on request), one of 35 watches with a case made of Thin Ply Technology carbon, an industrial shock-resistant material. And there are rare RM 002 models, discontinued watches that date back to 2001, the year Richard Mille was founded.

The company says buyers and sellers love the immediacy of a point of sale. “People have quick expectations,” said Tilly Harrison, director of Ninety, adding that most collectors ready to sell “want to do it right away.”

A watchmaker is on hand in London to inspect the movements, so potential sellers can get immediate quotes and get paid the same day. “You can walk in and out with money in your bank account,” Ms Harrison said.

And the setting for the sale is certainly more appealing, she said, than the gas station deals or car sales that some customers have described to her. “Why does it have to be in an environment like that?” she said. “You are always buying a luxury piece and it should be in a luxury environment. You should have peace of mind that the watch has been serviced properly and in good hands.

The watches offered at Ninety as well as other second-hand sites are fully restored and come with a two-year warranty. In London, prices start at around 110,000 pounds ($149,760) for an RM 005 series, the house’s first automatic model with a semi-instantaneous date change, introduced in 2004, and which evolved into the RM 010 . (from £130,000).

These prices are mind-boggling, but compare them to Richard Mille’s average price of around 200,000 Swiss francs ($218,310) for new parts. Moreover, like Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, its Big Four colleagues, Richard Mille watches are increasingly difficult to find. The house said it made 5,100 watches last year, up from 4,900 produced in 2019, but well below the six-figure output of major Swiss brands.

And auctions, which many potential buyers turn to when new watches are elusive, aren’t much help when it comes to Richard Mille. At the Only Watch charity auction in Geneva in November, the RM 67-02 automatic prototype, designed in collaboration with racing driver Charles Leclerc, sold for 2.1 million Swiss francs, more than six times its high estimate.

None of the other Big Four watchmakers have an official pre-owned watch program. Rolex Authorized Retailers sell pre-owned Rolexes, but this is not a corporate program. Audemars Piguet isn’t playing in the space either, while an email from Patek Philippe said it was “not active in the pre-owned and vintage watch business, that’s not our job”.

Achim Berg, global leader of McKinsey’s apparel, fashion and luxury group, said full-service retail stores are best reserved for high-end brands. “It just makes sense to have a physical space for people at this price point to go and see the watches,” he said. “It’s going to excite people just to go there. It’s a bit like going to a wine shop if you’re a wine lover and seeing all the old vintages.

At Ninety in London, the bright, airy interior and lounge-style seating – not to mention a small selection of vintage fine jewelry from Cartier and Chopard for sale (“I like watches, but I like jewelry more “, Ms. Harrison says) – is intended to encourage people to linger.

“I want customers to feel like they can always come back and maybe ask the questions they feel they can’t ask in the Bond Street shop. Or meet Tom and see what he’s been working on,” she said, referring to Thomas Mason, the Ninety watchmaker who has worked at Richard Mille for 11 years.

Mr Mason said: “I like that every watch that leaves here is as close as possible to how it looked when new. And certainly mechanically perfect. I’m pretty emotional about it.

For Richard Mille, Ninety and his global counterparts are about doing the right thing. “A lot of brands wash their hands of the piece once it leaves their retail store,” Ms. Harrison said. “But as an independent brand, we have to take responsibility.

“We produce such a limited number of watches, we have no excuse not to try to help customers who didn’t get the limited pieces when they were in the shop – or customers who joined too late. to invest in the most historic pieces, like the RM 002 or 003,” she added. “It’s about making the customer journey as easy as possible.”

Floyd N. Morlan