Watch brands are like car dealers nowadays. You sell a new car to a customer, you make money off servicing the car, and after a certain amount of time, you buy the car back. After hopefully selling another new automobile to the same person, you refurbish the old one and sell it for the second time. Replace the word “car” with “watch,” and you see what I mean. There are similarities, but there are also great differences. We’re not talking mass-produced, five-year-old hatchbacks here. We’re talking real vintage watch gems — collector’s items, rare pieces, and complicated creations with historical value. Longines and Vacheron Constantin already offer a curated selection of historical timepieces, and now Jaeger-LeCoultre also sells restored vintage watches. The brand from Le Sentier calls the new program “The Collectibles.”

Vintage watches are booming. I’m not exactly presenting breaking news here. You probably already read about the outcome of a study by consulting firm Deloitte that the secondhand watch market could be worth €36 billion by 2030. That’s more than half of the market for new watches. But watch brands sell new watches, right? Yes, but things have changed in the last few years. More and more brands looked into the possibilities of offering used watches. Watches the brand once sold and serviced are now bought back, refurbished, and sold again. And with Rolex going certified pre-owned recently, it becomes very clear that there are big bucks to be made in a field that was untouched by luxury watch brands for years.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Also Sells Restored Vintage Watches

Jaeger-LeCoultre also sells vintage watches — “The Collectibles” curated collection comes with an over-500-page book

The most recent newcomer to the field of vending secondhand watches is Jaeger-LeCoultre. Whereas Rolex itself is not active in the pre-owned market — the brand has retail partners like Bucherer to deal with buyers of watches that are at least three years old — “JLC” is. There are a few essential similarities between Rolex and JLC, though. The watches that both brands offer are authenticated, certified, and come with a two-year international factory guarantee. In this way, the lurking fear of buying something fake, composed, or something in between that is so often associated with the secondhand market is eradicated. Jaeger-LeCoultre went an extra step with its introduction of “The Collectibles.” This is a curated collection of watches — some of which are for sale and some of which are not — that comes with a hefty book.

In the book to discover and online to buy

The 10 watchmakers in JLC’s restoration department have been very busy — busier than before. And that’s all because of Matthieu Sauret, JLC’s product and heritage director. Two years ago, the brand’s CEO Catherine Rénier gave him the green light to start a project involving vintage JLC watches that we now know as “The Collectibles.” The idea behind it is to offer rare and historically important timepieces from JLC’s rich past to collectors.

“The Collectibles” starts with a selection of 17 watches in the book, 12 of which are for sale. The curated collection is actually a dynamic entity. It will be a continually evolving series of watches available on the brand’s website. Luckily, capsule collections of “The Collectibles” will travel around the world to be seen and felt in the metal. In the current collection, there are watches from the early days and a Memovox capsule collection. The watches on offer differ quite a bit in price. There’s a 1933 Reverso Small Seconds for €42,400 and a handsome Triple Calendar in yellow gold from the late 1940s for €24,200. And when you move over to the Memovox section, you’ll see the futuristic Memovox Speed Beat GT from 1972 with a price of €18,200. The 42mm Memovox Polaris from the 1960s is a more exclusive watch with a price of €67,000.


An old Memovox Speed Beat GT from Johannesburg and the curated one from Le Sentier

Let’s take the relatively new 1970s Memovox Speed Beat GT as the object of a little test. JLC sells it for €18,200. A search on Chrono24 produces three Memovox Speed Beat GT watches, two with a blue dial and one with the same dial as the watch that’s part of “The Collectibles.” That last watch, the reference E873, is now in South Africa and is listed for roughly €2,260. The watch located in Johannesburg with a professional trader has clearly seen some action and doesn’t come with a box or papers. It will need a lot of attention to reach the same level as the Memovox that JLC offers. But maybe that level is out of reach, even for the team of 10 in the restoration department. That would be a possible explanation for the huge difference in price.

Vacheron Constantin has “Les Collectioneurs”

Same group, a different brand, and more or less the same strategy when it comes to vintage watches. The watches you find in Vacheron Constantin’s “Les Collectionneurs” collection are sourced by experts in vintage timepieces who work for the brand. The next step is the restoration, and after that, the pieces come up for sale with a certificate of authenticity and a two-year guarantee.

This is the same thing that JLC now does. And just like the historical watches you find in “The Collectibles,” the timepieces under the “Les Collectioneurs” banner are a link between past and present. And also just like JLC intends to do with its capsule collections of “The Collectibles,” it brings the brand and collectors together at special events. These events not only cater to the needs of seasoned collectors but also try to attract and captivate a new group of young watch fans.

The Longines Collector’s Corner

If you think refurbished vintage watches are only offered by Haute Horlogerie brands, you’re mistaken. In the Longines Collector’s Corner, a special section on the brand’s website, you will find an interesting selection of vintage watches. What about the 1968 Ultra-Chron Diver for CHF 4,250 or the very svelte Conquest Automatic ref. 7771 from 1965 with a price of CHF 2,850?

All of the watches in the Corner have been carefully serviced and revised by Longines’s specialized heritage workshop. You can’t buy the watches directly from the website. After clicking and reserving, you will have to make your way to the Longines boutique in Geneva where you can pick up the watch.

Do you want to buy an avant-garde future classic?

Selling refurbished watches is not a vintage-only affair. You can also buy a secondhand future classic from the contemporary makers of visionary watches. MB&F offers certified pre-owned Machines on its website. If you’re unsuccessfully hunting for an MB&F Machine that keeps escaping you, pre-owned could be the way to go. Now the Horological Machine No. 4 Thunderbolt Titanium (CHF 180,000) is finally in sight. And the secondhand watch you buy first went through a full checkup and got new parts if necessary to make sure it’s in perfect working order. It also comes with the guarantee that the piece is 100% legit as well as a two-year unconditional warranty.

Like-minded avant-garde brand URWERK does the same as MB&F. In the online URWERK shop there are certified pre-owned watches that come with all the guarantees you need. That makes acquiring a secondhand, ultra-futuristic UR-203 BPT Deep Challenge for €124,447 without tax (but with free shipping) a lot less stressful.

Peace of mind and a piece of the market

The biggest benefit for the client of a brand selling vintage timepieces directly is the guarantee of authenticity. The client no longer has to toss and turn in the bed, pondering questions like “is the watch in good condition? Do I get a warranty? Was the watch once stolen?” For the brands, the benefits are more economic. Watch resellers have been doing very well in the past decade, and that didn’t go unnoticed. Richemont acquired Watchfinder back in 2018 for a very good, economical reason.

Apart from making direct money from selling watches, brands also hope to make money in another way. It’s like this: high prices for vintage pieces at auctions create prestige and desirability, which affect a brand’s contemporary collection. When a brand does well on the vintage market, the value of the new watch just bought at the boutique doesn’t evaporate once the client walks out the door. And when the demand for new watches goes up, the brand can also start raising the prices. The more popular the watch, the steeper the curve that shows the price increase over time. The most famous example of this happening is the Patek Philippe Nautilus, of course.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Also Sells Restored Vintage Watches

A curated experience

There are also emotional reasons for established luxury watchmaking brands to sell vintage watches themselves — emotional reasons that are economically driven, of course. No matter how convenient buying from an online platform might be, the sales experience isn’t exactly luxurious. The Haute Horlogerie universe is founded on emotions, storytelling, and experiences, and this universe can only perpetuate with those elements in perfect condition. So brands offer the ease and practicality of the internet — it shows exactly what’s up for sale all over the world — and after that initial stage, they welcome the client to the plush buying environment of a luxurious boutique to pick up the watch.

Brands are not only carefully curating collections but also carefully curating brand experiences to keep the watch dream alive — as I wrote earlier, a watch is not a hatchback. And in the world of luxury watchmaking, the right emotion is worth a lot of money.

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