The Peak and How it Happened
The luxury watch market has taken quite the beating over the last 18 months. Ever since the market peaked in March 2022, the global markets have had to contend with a cost-of-living crisis eroding people’s disposable income through spiralling costs, a war in Ukraine driving up the price of fuel, rising interest rates making money more expensive and general economic uncertainty as we enter a new post-pandemic world whose global supply chain is straining to get back on its feet and become the well-oiled machine that it always has been.
If we cast our mind back to how the watch market was from 2019 to 2022 and considering the causes of the exponential movements that we saw, it is quite clear that the fundamental drives forces behind the market’s movements have either changed, or are no longer there. From a ballooning cryptocurrency and stock market to endless amounts of hype convincing people to pump money into their watch collections, things were getting hot very quickly by the time early 2020 came around.
Throw a global pandemic on top of that which caused governments to pump money into their economies, reduced public spending due to lockdowns and a global travel ban allowing people sitting at home to splurge on their watch collections rather than things they would have otherwise spent on; the luxury watch market, just like plenty of other markets, was primed to explode in value, and so it did. However, when those factors were taken away as the pandemic ended, it is natural that the market would react and fall, and so it did.
The Statistics Behind the Market
From the market’s peak in March 2022, it appears that it has fallen about 25% according to Watches.io, who have a watch market index fund made of 96 watch models from a variety of brands weighted according to their liquidity. This fall is represented by their index as a “Weighted Index Price” (WIP), and the fall is from a value of 122 to 91. However, while that decline certainly is sharp and what we expected, it doesn’t tell the whole picture.
Indeed, what that sharp drop doesn’t tell us is that the rate at which the market is declining is slowing considerably, and is more or less negligible at the moment. Watches.io’s Luxury Watch Market Value Index shows that the market has fallen about 20% over the last 12 months from a WIP of 115 12 months ago to the 91 that is it currently. Furthermore, Watches.io’s index shows that the rate of decline over the last three months has only been 2%. Additionally, the market only fell 2.26% from June to July as show on the 3-month chart below.
In keeping with how the various factors that we discussed can be more accurately priced into the market the longer they are present, their resulting impact on the market should decline. For example, buyers won’t be as put off by rising interest rates when they have gone through several rounds of hikes and know there are more to come, or the possibility that there are no more to follow. Back when we hadn’t had interest rate hikes in years and were living in a world of negative interest rates, the thought of rates rising was much more scary, and the first few rounds of hikes led to a natural state of uncertainty. That uncertainty goes when the impact of a change has been felt for a period of time.
As a result, it appears that the luxury watch market is approaching a period of plateau whereby its performance looks like it will continue to bounce around in either direction a handful of percentage points from month to month. This conclusion is supported by the last few months of data showing small increases and decreases in value from week to week. However, it does appear that the general trend of a decline will continue for some time, as shown by the Watches.io index, and other luxury watch market index funds, such as the Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index.
The Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index, which is made up of 50 of the market’s most-traded watches that combine to represent 20% of the market’s entire volume, shows a 16% drop in the last 12 months, a 0.6% drop in the previous six months and just a 0.7% drop in the last 30 days (19th June to the 9th July), which broadly corroborates Watches.io’s data. However, it is worth noting that Watches.io’s data does include almost twice as many watches, so it is a better indicator of the entire market as a whole. However, Subdial’s index is more representative of how “hyped” watches are performing given that its 50 watches account for such a large percentage of the market’s volume.
Impact for Collectors and Dealers
With decreasing volatility and thereby more consistently stagnant watch prices, watch dealers are seeing their clients become increasingly confident in making purchases. Furthermore, sellers aren’t as motivated to sell their pieces that are falling in value in such a rush as the decline is slowing and not as scary a prospect as it was a year ago when some watches were falling double digit percentages every week. As a result, liquidity within the market is improving, and as evidenced by both Watches.io and the Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index, prices for watches on the secondary market have broadly stabilised.
Primary Market Impact on the Secondary Market
Interestingly, it is also worth mentioning that the vast majority of brands, such as Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and just about everyone else, are continuing to raise the prices of their watches on the retail market. This is also having a positive impact on the secondary market as pre-owned watches remain an attractive option for buyers looking to buy the watches they want while avoiding the often unpleasant politics of having to foster a relationship with an authorised dealer and building a purchase history of watches they might not even want to get on a waiting list for a watch they still might not get before it is discontinued given how long some waiting lists can be these days.
Overarching Outlook and Expected Performance
However, none of this means that the luxury watch market will reach the same heights that it hit in early 2022 anytime soon. For that to happen, the market would have to increase in value by about 35% - 50% to reach comparable prices and liquidity, depending on who you ask. And as we all know, that would be a pretty big ask given the current macroeconomic conditions and how we can realistically expect things to pan out over the next 9-18 months.
As such, luxury watch prices are likely to continue to decline from month to month in the low single digits, with small periods of relief with some months seeing prices rise. Eventually then, a slow and gradual reversal should occur where prices begin to consistently gain low single-digit percentages from month to month signalling a change in the trend and the emergence of a bull market.
How long might it take before we see that reversal and the emergence of a bull market? Estimates vary but the consensus is that anywhere from 12-18 months is somewhat realistic, however it could take a lot longer should the macroeconomic conditions change in an appreciable manner. However, what we can say for sure is that collecting watches, as a hobby, has never been cheaper than in the last two years, and anyone interested in watchmaking and watch collecting should probably make the most of it while they can and snap up deals as they see them, because they might never see watches as cheap as they currently are ever again.