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Understanding Japan’s Used Luxury Timepiece Market

Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

Here are some things you might not know about Japan: it is home to more than 50,000 people who are over 100 years old, there are more pets than children, it has 5.52 million vending machines, and it is the second largest market for used luxury timepieces on earth. Yes, based on a sample set of data tracking Omega Speedmaster sales between December 2014 and March 2015, Japan, the island nation of 126 million, accounts for 33.9 percent of luxury timepiece sales on online auction site eBay. Considering Japan is the third largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP) after the United States (the largest market) and China, this may be of little shock, but as seems to always be the case, a deeper examination reveals contradictory facts, unique cultural beliefs, and uncommon economic trends that belie immediate conclusions.

In line with its economic status, Japan is the third largest overall luxury market in the world. Interestingly, though, this is not driven by the upper-middle and upper classes, but rather by all segments of the population. Japan is what’s called a mass-luxury market (which is a bit of a paradox, really). For generations, laborers in the country have worked under the understanding that all products made should consist of both thoughtful design and quality execution. It makes sense, then, that as these same laborers turn to spend their hard earned money, they would expect the same design and quality out of what they were purchasing. Price is less a factor than quality for the typical Japanese consumer, and as luxury brands can typically provide the latter, these brands have become powerful icons.

Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

In 2010, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company produced a report titled “The New Japanese Consumer,” in which they reported that Japanese consumers were moving away from luxury goods and instead “flocking to discount and online retailers.” According to the report, a less materialistic younger generation was a key driver, and a 2009 survey cited in the report, which claimed that 53 percent of respondents to a survey said they were more likely to “spend time to save money” rather than “spend money to save time,” seemed to suggest that the days of Japan’s mass-luxury market were over. Yet, five years later, the findings of the report have not panned out. In fact, the percentage of people in Japan who own two or more luxury watches has increased, according to Crown & Caliber, a luxury consignment boutique. A report from Bloomberg supports this reverse trend. Since Shinzō Abe became Prime Minister of Japan in 2012, luxury sales have increased across the board by 20 percent and luxury retail sales for department stores in 2014 hit a staggering $2.5 billion. In contrast, total retail sales increased only 2.6 percent.

Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

Here again lies a contradiction. That same report by Bloomberg states that the wages of the average Japanese worker had fallen every month from July 2013 through December 2014. So why the uptick in the luxury market? Here is where culture again comes into play. In the United States, at least, consumers purchase goods that promote their individuality. Everyone knows the dated cliché of the two girls showing up at a party wearing the same dress and the embarrassment that follows. Yet in Japan, group culture reigns supreme. If you were to sample a collection of ten friends, it would not be uncommon to find that nine of them owned the same luxury item (be it watch, bag, etc.). Stylistically, Japanese consumers will still seek out classic items with longevity, but if the group’s taste goes from, say, Rolex to Omega and then back, it is a lucky few who can make the switch without having to first flog an already owned watch.

Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

Jeanrichard Aquascope Hokusai, with a wave pattern on the dial inspired by 18-19th century Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai

So here is the explanation for the number of used luxury timepieces being sold from Japan. From that sample data, Japanese based sellers, as was stated earlier, account for 33.9 percent of sellers. The United States accounts for 41.0% and the United Kingdom, the third largest, accounts for only 10.7 percent. These three were also the only countries to reach above the ten percent marker. The infographic above will allow for more views of the sample data, but one insight that should be highlighted is the fact that watches sold from Japan, on average, sold for 18.7 percent less than watches sold by sellers based in the United States and 12.8 percent less than watches sold by sellers based in the United Kingdom. This could, of course, be due to the editions of watches sold, but certainly worth noting, as any chance of a deal is worth following, especially when dealing with luxury timepieces where ten percent savings could mean hundreds of dollars… or (a lot) more.


Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

For watch collectors from countries with different buying habits to those of their Japanese counterparts, the unique philosophies of the second group offers interesting takeaways and considerations for your own approach to buying luxury timepieces. Are you buying for longevity or for style? If you regularly grow tired of one watch and quickly seek out another, what level of quality should you really be seeking out? If you are on a budget, does it make sense to pursue an inexpensive watch or a more robust, classic option that will cost less over a lifetime? Most importantly, it is important to know who you are when it comes to collecting watches. What are your goals, and why are you drawn in?

Understanding Japan's Used Luxury Timepiece Market Featured Articles

1965 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

We’d love to hear your thoughts on those questions in the comments below! And as for closing, here are a few other things you might not know about Japan: it suffers 1,500 earthquakes a year, black cats are considered bringers of good luck, and late-night dancing is illegal. But what you now know is that if you’re looking for a well-priced, used, luxury timepiece online, filter for the Land of the Rising Sun.

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  • Ooooh this looks interesting! I’ll comment first and read later!

  • DG Cayse

    Well done piece. Very helpful information.
    Thank you Mr. Wagner.

  • leviticus1935

    On a recent trip to Tokyo I stopped by two well regarded watch stores. In the first store I purchased a beautiful Grand Seiko Anniversary model in excellent condition with box and papers for 1/2 of of its original retail price. In the second store I bought an absolutely beautiful rare model of a 1960s Swiss chronograph for about 1/3 less than a similar (not as good) example I bought in New York a couple of years ago. This may be in part due to currency changes but in the latter case I think it was because Japanese buyers did not like that particular model of Swiss chrono. So perhaps there are opportunities to find watches in Japan that local buyers don’t like, but are wanted in other parts of the globe.

  • ScubaPro

    “That same report by Bloomberg states that the wages of the average Japanese worker had fallen every month from July 2013 through December 2015.”

    Wow. Bloomberg is predicting the future, which is impressive. Does anybody read this stuff before you post it?

  • Ulysses31

    I’m always amazed by the bargains you can get out of Japan.  Importantly, the Japanese seem to take much better care of their watches, so even a second-hand piece is worth getting.  I guess they’re not too fond of their home-grown watches, which means more bargains for the rest of us.  Lovely Cosmograph by the way.

  • toothbras

    That continent underneath the US on the map looks like a happy Shel Silverstein character.

  • ZL

    ScubaPro Fixed. Thank you.

  • BradSeefeldt

    Really interesting article!
    It’s certainly an interesting phenomenon (Japanese luxury goods purchasing habits). I’ve often noticed how many Japanese tourists lug Rimowa luggage (which have eye-watering price tags in Asia). They are well built, though, so presumably it’s for the exact reasons you articulated here…
    Regarding watches, I was in Tokyo this past March and visited a second hand watch shop on afternoon. I floored by both the variety and prices of the watches on offer. I hadn’t really thought about it much at the time, but in retrospect, there was a clear difference between what was on offer relative to what I normally see in Europe.


    Interesting piece. Any recommendations for stores in Japan to check next time I’m there? I know of a few interesting websites but local second hand shops around Tokyo would be helpful. Thanks.

  • Timothy Burks

    I have noticed the ebay sellers in Japan.

  • Triaed

    What is the effect of import duties? I am sure they play a big role in transcontinental transactions. I would venture to guess that most watches would be sold within the same country.
    I have looked at buying a watch from Japan in the past; it is true that you can find a better deal from there, but the import duties and taxes always make me buy from someone closer.

    Regarding the questions asking “why we buy watches?” Do we even need a reason?!

  • Erekose

    I’ve lived in Japan for about 11 years in total, the last 6 in the heart of Tokyo. You can indeed find large quantities of very high quality used watches in mint condition. I picked up my Omega Speedmaster pro last year for about 2200usd. The Japanese take very good care of their luxury goods which makes the second hand market a great one. Another curious thing to note is that while there are more young bargain hunters than before most Japanese will happily pay top price for luxury goods.

  • ChiLot

    JCCJR I was there last week.  I didn’t have too much time but would recommend Lemonsha in Ginza (central Tokyo).  They stock a variety of second hand watches from Seiko, Citizen and foreign brands.  You might get lucky.  The store also has second hand cameras, pens etc so is interesting just to walk around too.  There is a bit on them out there so if you Google, you should find details.

    If you were also interested in new from the Japanese brands, then check out the outlet mall at Keihin Makuhari station in Chiba (0n the tokyo transit network).  You won’t find grand Seiko but there is a decent choice tax free (just show your passport).  There is also a baseball team there if you are interested.

    I also visited Bic Camera in Ginza who have a large choice of Seiko, citizen and orient watches and good prices – sign up for a points card as that can work out well to spend on other stuff and Wako department store which I believe is part of the Seiko group and sells their largest range of top end grand Seiko and credor models – not cheap but worth a look especially if the exchange rate is favourable.

    The Seiko museum is worth a visit too.  Not the easiest to get too and you need to book an appointment first but you can’t go wrong with a free personal tour!  Check their site.

    Hope some of that helps.

  • BradSeefeldt

    JCCJR  I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place I visited, but I found it through Chrono24….I’d just pop over there, filter for watches in Tokyo and look a the Seller’s details….many of them will have a bricks and mortar store you can visit.

    Happy hunting!

  • egznyc

    Now that is a relief. ;-). Might cut down, however, on demand for accurate timepieces, since there’s no need to end the festivities by midnight anymore.

  • egznyc

    Thanks for sharing. Would you be able to provide some examples of the differences between what you saw in Japan vs. in Europe, watch-wise? (As well as price- and condition-wise.). I hope to get out to Japan in the next year or two and it’d be great to have a better sense of what to expect in the watch marketplace. (I figure I’ll happily be surprised by what I discover in other realms that might be different from what the guidebooks and friends’ anecdotes had predicted.)

  • jim worrall

    The vast majority of low cost Omegas currently listed on Ebay are for sale by three Japanese sellers. This is especially concerning as almost all counterfeit watches are produced in Asia.

    Authentic vintage watches repaired with counterfeit parts is another concern. I would love to hear from buyers who bought Swiss watches from Japanese sellers and had their watches inspected by an expert.