Op-Ed: Behind The Grey Watch Market

Arab Watch Guide

Hassan Akhras, the luxury watch guru behind Arab Watch Guide in Dubai, explains his view on the Middle Eastern ‘grey watch market’ and how social media comes into play for both the collectors and brands. Below, we address the pros and cons of buying from the secondary market and Hassan’s exclusive tips on how to purchase sensibly.

About Hassan Akhras

Hassan Akhras is a Syrian watch collector and aficionado living in Dubai; he started his watch collecting passion in the early ages of his school years and since then never stopped. He established his Blog online and on Instagram in 2014 under the handle @ArabWatchguide where he set up the first Arabic platform that connects watch aficionados to each other and to their beloved watch brands. Since then, he has been covering all the major watch fairs around the world and the region bringing the latest news of the Horology world to his Arabic network of collectors while collaborating with all the major watch brands in the industry reviewing their latest releases and showcasing some amazing activations through his active athletic challenges.

He also established the first Arab Watch collectors group in the region – as the name reveals it – it was called AWC – Arab Watch Club spanning across the entire GCC and Levant area, connecting watch collectors from all the region in one place who share the same passion for Horology.

1. Tell us about yourself and your involvement with the world of watches.

I am a watch collector and also a watch specialist part of the GPHG Academy that hosts the annual watch awards in Geneva every November. I run the Arab Watch Guide page and the Arab Watch Club and I have collaborated with almost every luxury brand in the industry whether in terms of reviewing their watches or creating special editions for myself and club members.

2. Please define the ‘grey’ watch market for us. Is this technically legal?

The grey market is a parallel market of watch sellers and resellers that is legal since many of the dealers have contracts with the brand manufactures directly or their official distributors. Their prices are always more competitive since they don’t have many overhead costs and obligations like official retailers.

3. Why do you think the grey market or ‘secondary’ market exploded over the past few years? 

The grey market focused on the top pieces in the past few years, such as the likes of AP Royal Oaks 15202, the Patek Nautiluses, the Rolex steel watches, Daytonas, GMT, since the demand for those watches skyrocketed and the supply in the official retailers was never enough nor available. The secondary market was able to capitalize on this situation and also open up a platform for many individuals to leverage their connections in the watch world to source those watches and make a large profit quickly. This is the current situation with all the highly-demanded steel watches. 

4. How does the grey market detriment brands’ direct sales? Is the grey market still a direct threat today?

There are two sides to this situation and it’s not always detrimental:

If we are talking about the highly demanded brands such as Rolex , AP, Patek, VC etc… the grey market is actually playing a big role in increasing the prices and the desirability of their models and is creating a new parallel market for collectors who are not willing to play the waiting list or “database” game.

On the other hand, for the many other brands that are less desired in the market – not because they are not good enough, but just because perceived value is not as high as the others – the fact that you can find new releases at 40%-50% off is extremely detrimental to the brand value, which makes it harder for brands to compete with but also to rectify their brand positioning since users can find their watches all over the grey market at lower prices. 

5. As an end customer, what are the advantages of buying on the secondary market versus the primary market? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

End users can be flooded with offers from many underrated brands or models. For avid collectors who are seeking deals, they end up finding so much out there. At the end of the day, it is a choice to be made by the collectors depending on which watches they are focusing on now versus what they want to collect in the future. Hence having a strong relationship with the brand is very powerful for them to get their hands on limited editions and right of choice on the latest releases. But all this comes at a high cost too.

6. As per Arabian Business, “The region’s appetite for high-end watches is one of the highest per capita in the world and has spawned its own grey market, with second-hand boutiques, watch clubs, Instagram resellers, influencers, networking events and online portals contributing to an ecosystem that was previously dominated by official retailers”; what do you think the future looks like for secondary watch market in the Middle East?

We already can see a huge growth in online auctions since lockdown, which has opened up a new platform for collectors, dealers, flippers, and all kinds of individuals to get on the watch-buying wagon with very different motives. Several clubs have been established in the region but their relationships are direct with the brands and not with the secondary market because they all seek recognition from the market. The secondary market is here to stay as long as it can provide the collectors with a cheaper offering for their desired watches and also a faster, more reliable way to offload their watches in order to buy new ones. 

7. The new trend of trading/ repurposing watches has emerged in the region; in your opinion, which company has been doing an effective job providing outlets for customers to do this in Dubai?

I don’t think any company has been able to provide a proper platform for trading in Dubai with a fair valuation of the watches – collectors usually find themselves losing a huge amount on any watch they have unless it is one of the highly demanded ones – which usually they can sell to friends or to any dealer in the market.

8. How has social media altered the dynamic of how people buy and sell luxury watches?

Social media single handedly changed the world of watches. There is no collector that doesn’t look at what is being pushed and seen on the top platforms before deciding what to buy. Buying a Nautilus has become a must since social media has pushed those models and has made them more desirable among fresh collectors who want to feel like they belong to the ‘big boys club.’

Many brands have emerged only because of their social media investments and marketing efforts on Instagram. The recently launched Instagram auctions have created a new era of buying and selling watches and are manipulating markets also.

9. What are the most important factors one should consider when buying a watch from the secondary market?

  • Always make sure you are buying from a trusted source and that you know someone who already purchased from them and had a good experience. 
  • Make sure all papers and boxes are legit and authenticated.
  • A deal that is too good to be true is always fishy.  
  • Make sure to build a good relationship with the dealers that you trust and had a good experience with – they can always help you source the watches you desire. 

10. How do external environmental factors, such as political issues or the coronavirus, effect peoples’ willingness and purchasing power to purchase luxury timepieces in general?

From what I have noticed lately, people seem to be buying more than ever – the fact that many day to day expenses were eliminated, loans were postponed and there has been less traveling, people saved up for sentimental luxury goods such as watches. Some have also used the watches as a safe investment vehicle that can become quite lucrative in the future, depending on the piece that was purchased.

"Social media has single handedly changed the world of watches."