Ariel Adams (AA): MB&F has recently launched a section on the website that sells pre-owned MB&F timepieces. Why exactly did you make this decision? What goals are you trying to meet and what problems might you be trying to solve with this move?

Max Büsser (MB): I have always thought that a strong brand is a brand which has a strong pre-owned market, and it is the brand’s responsibility to help the secondary market as much in fluidity as in value.

We are one of the only watch brands (maybe the only one) to offer a free service and one year warranty on all MB&F pieces which come to Phillips, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s auctions. Creating our own Certified Pre-Owned program was just a logical next step. With this new Certified Pre-Owned Chapter we offer pieces which cannot be found at retailers anymore. They have been completely refurbished and serviced, and offered with a two-year factory warranty. This enables the buyers to be completely reassured about the state and provenance, and it enables the sellers to find a new home for them.

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The pre-owned market is truly very tricky to navigate. Over the last year, we’ve come across a few incidents where customers were conned into buying a stolen MB&F piece. The Swiss law is clear: if the piece has been officially declared stolen, and we receive it for after-sales service, we have no choice but to confiscate the piece and hand it over to the police. Those customers therefore lost their pre-owned MB&F when they sent them in for service.

AA: The role and commercial importance of pre-owned luxury watches is currently more important than ever. So much activity in the pre-owned e-commerce space is happening all the time that it makes sense for brands to get involved directly. How long did it take you to make the decision to sell pre-owned watches directly via your website?

MB: For years we have helped customers find that rare MB&F (new or pre-owned). It happened if they contacted us directly, but most had no idea this service existed. On our new Certified Pre-Owned Chapter is an option where you can write to us to let us know which piece you are looking for – and we go hunting for it. Again just a natural follow-up.

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We started working on this concept last year but as we have so many projects in parallel, and we did not have much to invest in the buying back of the first pieces, it took a little more time than planned. At the end of the day, I am really happy with what our team has managed to put together – every piece has its own page with photos and a film of it, and the feel seems right. I actually think our CPO web pages are better than our new piece pages! Need to work on that now…

AA: Explain how the process of buying a brand new MB&F watch will be different from the experience of buying a pre-owned one? How will you reconcile these two worlds to make sure there is a consistent brand experience?

MB: The brand experience when you buy on our CPO chapter is the same as if you buy a new piece at our Geneva M.A.D. Gallery. You are speaking directly to the brand, and everyone who has dealt with us, knows that we truly care. I think the experience will be amongst the best they have had.

AA: From making sure that people are buying a used MB&F that is in ideal condition to carefully not wanting to step on the toes of your loyal retail partners – doing something as simple sounding as selling your own pre-owned watches online has a lot of hard-to-see complexities. Tell us a few of the more interesting challenges this project has discovered that might not be immediately apparent to the general luxury watch consumer public?

MB: Perception too often becomes reality. We lived through a pretty difficult situation in 2012 when we launched C3H5N3O9, the creative joint-venture with our friends from Urwerk. The 2 x 12 watches were supposed to be sold only online for multiple reasons, and even though we had explained the concept and the why in advance to all our retailers, the whole project blew up in our face because a few of them felt betrayed. I definitely do not want to go through that again.

Our multi-brand retail partners account for 80% of our global revenue, and even though sales of an MB&F are way easier today than six years ago, it was crucial that they be on board with our new project. The smart ones understand very well that if pre-owned MB&F prices are high and there is demand, it will boost their new product sales. We make sure that the pieces on our CPO do not exist at our retailers anymore, and that the prices make them proud.

The results after the first week have been amazing! Two out of five pieces are sold, a third one is practically gone, and there is a lot of interest in the two others. What I had not anticipated is that many pre-owned buyers want to trade or part trade, and we are not set up for that. We can if it is a very rare piece, but as we only sell pieces which are not at our retailers, we cannot buy back pieces which are still available.

AA: Where do these pre-owned MB&F watches come from in the first place? Is MB&F plucking them out of the market when they become available? Is MB&F acquiring them directly from former owners or retailers? Help people understand where the stock of currently available and future pre-owned MB&F watches sold by the brand come from.

MB: To prepare for this, we have been buying back over the last twelve months pieces from second-hand dealers, from auctions, or from customers. It was a challenge. My whole team looked at me grumpily as I was blocking precious funds which were needed in other parts of the company. As we did not know how the sales would work, it was a headache trying to understand how many we would need.

Another great fringe benefit of this concept is that I have been trying to buy back rare pieces from our customers, and it completely changes the dynamic of our relationship. As one of our VVIP clients told me with a smile after SIHH this year: “I have visited 20 brands in 3 days – 19 spent an hour trying to sell me as much as they could and you are the only guy spending the hour trying to buy back pieces from us! Are you nuts?!”

AA: MB&F directly probably isn’t going to be the “best price” around for a pre-owned watch. Though in exchange for a price premium you feel that consumers are getting a better, more secure shopping and ownership experience. Speak directly to watch collectors and explain to them why buying a pre-owned watch direct from MB&F (and for that matter any watch company offering a similar service now or in the future) is something you recommend and advocate for.

MB: It is exactly the same as in the car industry – and the watch industry should simply look at what has been happening there for decades. If you buy a car from a guy who has owned and driven it, you have no warranty and no idea what has been done or not to the car. The price is usually the most affordable. If you buy from a second-hand dealer, you will usually get a 6-month warranty and there is little chance the car has had any work done to it except to make it look good to the untrained eye. The price will be higher. And if you buy from the brand itself, the car will normally have gone through an extensive service to make sure it is in perfect state, and it will come with a factory warranty. The price is the highest of the three.

How you buy is a state of mind. I am not a gambler, and the Swiss in me has virtually always made me buy my second-hand cars from the brand certified pre-owned programs. I sleep so much better at night and it of course comes with a price.

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