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Why leading timepiece e-commerce platform Watchbox still builds physical stores

Co-founder and CEO Justin Reis shares about manoeuvring the digital marketplace.

Last November, The Great Room co-working space at Ngee Ann City became home to a treasure trove of timepieces, including difficult-to-obtain watches such as sporty steel models by Patek Philippe and Rolex. That’s when the Watchbox Lounge was launched, in tandem with the Singapore debut of Watchbox, a global e-commerce platform that sells preowned luxury timepieces.

The co-founders – Danny Govberg, president/ CEO of Govberg Jewelers in the US; Tay Liam Wee, former owner of Sincere Fine Watch; and investor-entrepreneur Justin Reis, who was born in Australia but grew up mainly in Singapore – were in town for the opening. With six locations worldwide, Watchbox owns an inventory with a market value of more than US$80 million (S$107.8 million). Here, Reis shares the company’s plans to become the leading name in the US$16 billion preowned-watch industry.

 

  • WatchBox Greubel Forsey Tourbillon

    The Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes.

 

Why an e-tailer needs a physical showroom:

“Singapore is the sixth-largest Swiss watch market in the world. But in the US and some parts of Europe, e-commerce is a lot more developed. In Asia and some other parts of the world, customers are hesitant about putting a $20,000 watch in a FedEx envelope and sending it off. Part of our online-to-offline strategy is to have a physical point of sale, where people can come in and understand what our business is about.”

 

Watchbox’s relationship with watch brands:

“We built this business to be a friend of the brands; never to be disruptive towards what they were set up to do. Today, once a customer has bought a brand’s watch through an authorised dealer, the relationship more or less stops there. We look to uphold the integrity of that brand over the next phase of the watch’s journey, as the customer continues collecting other watches. We’ve been approached by some watch brands to work with them. They recognise that customers don’t necessarily have just one watch from one brand. They need a platform that allows the transfer of products from different brands.”

 

(Related: Traditional calendars in mechanical watches connect users to their cultural roots)

 

Same but different:

“We’re in six locations worldwide now, with our launch in Singapore and the Middle East [with Middle Eastern luxury watch retailer Seddiqi & Sons]. With Seddiqi, we’ve opened a 1,700-sqft Watchbox physical location in Dubai where people can transact – or they can go to any of the Seddiqi multi-brand stores and trade in their watch for a new watch, or another premium preowned piece. We keep our preowned products separate from new products, although customers tell us they can’t really tell the difference.”

 

Brand to watch:

“Everyone knows the top few brands and model families that sell or trade well better on the secondary market. But recently, we’ve been spending a lot of time investing in independent brands, such as F.P. Journe. My favourite from the brand is the Chronometre a Resonance; it’s a beautiful timepiece. The brand’s watches are also quite rare because they produce fewer than 1,000 pieces each year.”

 

(Related: 5 reasons we like Vacheron Constantin’s brand-new Egerie women’s watches)