Preowned luxury items are something that have become the norm in many realms of the luxury market. A preowned handbag for example can be seen as a great find, or a vintage jacket is often considered more stylish than a new one, so why is it then that preowned watches are still much of a rarity?
That’s exactly the question the founders of WatchBox asked themselves when they for had the idea for their new business that would buy and sell second-hand luxury watches to and from watch owners and collectors. In 2017 WatchBox was born and has since gone on to become the world’s leading platform for buying, selling and trading of luxury pre-owned timepieces with destinations all around the world from The United States to Hong Kong, to Switzerland and their newest store most recently opening in Dubai. This is supported by a global online platform that allows customers to purchase any watch from the company’s network, anywhere in the world.
With over 90 brands in the portfolio, WatchBox has the world’s largest offering of preowned timepieces and guarantees authenticity and reliability with its products that are refurbished by Swiss watchmakers. Their pricing is very transparent and helps to create a sense of trust with its loyal customers. WatchBox launched in Dubai last year as part of Dubai Watch Week. Partnering with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons has allowed the brand to tap into a network of watch lovers and collectors in the region and give them access to timepieces they may previously of not had access too, at a price that is fair and in many cases more affordable than a new piece would be.
Heading up the development of WatchBox into new markets is Global President Amanda Ellison. A trained attorney, Ellison is responsible for overseeing the successful growth of the WatchBox portfolio. A keen advocate for women’s roles in the professional arena, she launched the Women’s Leadership Initiative at WatchBox, establishing a network, resource, and learning and development program for the company. She was instrumental in negotiating the joint venture in the Middle East with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. Soon after the opening of WatchBox in Dubai’s Gate Avenue, we met with her to discuss the plans for the platform’s development in the Middle East.
Can you tell us about the concept of WatchBox and how it works?
We are an omnichannel solution to watch buying but most importantly we are a platform that buys and sells preowned luxury watches. The whole concept was really born out of answering the needs of the clients. Consumers were walking into watch and jewellery stores
every day wanting to trade in their watch against the purchase of a new one or just wanting to sell their watch and retailers weren’t equipped to do this in terms of authenticating the watch, pricing it and distributing it. Even though the customer was demanding it there was no platform offering it and this is how the concept was born. The pre-owned watch market has exploded in the last couple of years but the watch industry is probably one of the last ones for the concept of pre-owned to reach. In other segments, we already have enormous pre-owned platforms for luxury items that are hugely successful so it makes complete sense for this to become the case with pre-owned watches. This disruption of it being OK to buy pre-owned products is happening and we were probably shouting louder than anyone about it. It’s really exciting to be in the middle of a change in history within the industry.
Why did you decide to bring the WatchBox concept to the Middle East?
The Middle East obviously has a huge luxury sector. Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons has done an amazing job at promoting luxury brands in the region but up until now there really hasn’t been any legitimate outlet when it comes to preowned luxury watches. The preowned market is a very tricky one and often lacks transparency and there’s often no level of trust as customers very often don’t know who they are dealing with or if something is genuine – there’s real insecurity around it and what WatchBox brings is the trust and credibility. We want our customer’s experience to be the same as it would be if they were buying a new watch. We want to offer them the same service, make them feel special and give them the same experience that they would have in the original store.
How does the process of acquiring the watches work?
If somebody comes to the store and they want to sell their watch we have a very thorough process that the watch is put through. First of all we want to make sure that it is authentic and that it’s in working condition, or if not at least understand what needs to be done to bring it up to the standard that it needs to be at to be re-sold. We look at the aesthetics of the watch and the mechanical side of it. We check through various databases to ensure that the watch is not stolen and we do a diagnostic test on it. At that point, if we agree on a price with the consumer, that watch then goes to Swiss watchmakers who then repair it, polish it and bring it up to the WatchBox standard. Then we will put it in the retail store and/or post it on our global website. Anything on the website can be shipped to any customer all over the world.
Who do you work with on the process of restoring watches if needed?
If the watch is still under the warranty from the brand it will go back to them for repair. If it’s out of the warranty it will go to our watchmakers. All of our watchmakers are trained in Switzerland. They are highly skilled and will re-service the watches and bring them up to the condition we require it to be in.
What has been the feedback in Dubai so far?
We launched with probably the best platform possible during Dubai Watch Week. So everyone from the industry was here, there was a great mood and the reception was phenomenal. Since then we have had a lot of interest from people who are looking at pre-owned watches in a way that they have never done before. People are astounded that they can walk in and see all these beautiful products in one place. It’s crazy for them to see that and when you’re a watch collector it’s like being a kid in a candy store! There is also a huge market for customers selling watches in the region so we are encouraging them to bring all the watches that are lying in drawers to the store and it’s a win, win situation for everyone.
What about aftercare?
All of our watches come with a two-year warranty so customers can bring them back to the stores or send them to us if there are any issues.
What would you like to achieve with WatchBox now that you are here in Dubai?
When you look at the numbers, in the past eighteen years, the Middle East has received over twenty billion dollars worth of product in the watch industry. So that 20 billion dollars worth of watches is either on someone’s wrist or sitting in their home somewhere not being worn. The Middle East is synonymous with luxury and customers here love high end, collectable products and that’s exactly what WatchBox can provide.
Why would someone come to you over the original brand store?
There’s a number of different reasons. Obviously there is the availability of rare products and that’s why watch collectors have always been much more accepting of the preowned market. I think WatchBox is also a nice entry point for someone who would love to own a luxury watch but can’t necessarily afford it, so it’s a good way to get into luxury watches. The variety is huge – we have over 90 different brands – what store in the world can say they have that? Our pricing is very fair and transparent and we are very open with our customers about how we arrive at the price which I think is also very important in order to build up trust. Most importantly we are passionate about what we do and we really care about the service that we offer.
As a woman in a predominately man’s world what are the challenges you face?
Where do I begin?! I have personally always been in a very male-dominated environment. From growing up in South Africa in a society where women were expected to marry and not work. I clearly didn’t fit the mould and I moved to the US. Then I started to work in law and it was very male-dominated. But I have to tell you, the watch industry is one of the worst I’ve come across. It is still a very old school industry and there are very few women who are the real decision-makers.
Coming back to me, I think part of the reason why I have ended up where I am is because being a woman has never stopped me. I don’t define myself by my gender, I define myself as a person and I think if you’re smart, you’re smart and if you’re capable, you’re capable it doesn’t matter which gender you are and if somebody doesn’t recognise that because I’m a woman then it’s their loss not mine. So being a woman has never stopped me from achieving what I want to achieve. I hold the firm belief that while my opinion may not be more important because I’m a woman, it most certainly isn’t less important. Women have just as much right as anyone else to have an opinion and be heard. That’s always been my attitude.
Where would you like WatchBox to be in five years?
In five years I would like WatchBox to be a brand that is recognised worldwide and a brand that evokes a sense of trust.
What is the professional motto you live by?
“Actions speak louder than words” is something that resonates with me very much. A second would be “don’t judge people until you walk in their shoes.”
What is a book you’ve read that has inspired you?
A really good book I read recently was “Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. It explores is about how very few people are honest about how difficult it really is to start a business.
What watch are you wearing today?
I’m wearing a gold Rolex Daytona with black dial.