Crown & Caliber brings transparency to an opaque marketplace

Crown & Caliber brings transparency to an opaque marketplace

Hamilton Powell, CEO of Crown & Caliber LLC, which buys and sells used luxury watches, was never a “watch guy” before starting the web-only retailer. But as a former private-equity investor, he understood the value of scarcity and credibility when selling expensive second-hand goods.

“My desire to get into this business was not led by a passion for watches. It was actually led by research,” Powell said Thursday at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition @ RetailX in Chicago.

Powell says his research led him to discover most consumer markets had “an active, flourishing professional secondary market,” but luxury watches did not. And a friend’s bad experience helped him see the need for one.

Powell’s friend sold a used Rolex to a local retailer for $5,200 and later saw the watch for sale at the same shop for $12,500. “That right there pretty much sums up what happens when there’s not an efficient player in a secondary market,” Powell said. If he had better information, Powell’s friend might have negotiated a better price.

Powell estimates there are $125 billion in luxury watches on wrists, in closets and bank vaults around the country. Given that, he saw an opportunity to bring some efficiency and transparency to the secondary market for such timepieces.

Jessica Young |
Jun 26, 2019

“We decided we would create and provide a uniquely better way for consumers to buy and sell the right watch for the right price and with the right experience,” Powell said. The company focuses entirely on watches “because it’s such a big niche,” he said.

Also, because its products are expensive and sales cycles can be long, the company does several things to help make customers comfortable buying an expensive watch online, Powell said. For example:

Crown & Caliber photographs every watch it sells. That way, each listing shows images of the exact watch a consumer would purchase and not merely a watch of the same style.
The company sets buying and selling prices based on active price data, similar to the way used car dealer CarMax prices its cars and uses only non-commissioned customer service representatives.
Instead of merely selling watches as-is, Crown & Caliber has a staff of about 20 watchmakers and technicians that authenticate, evaluate, repair or resurface each watch as needed, before it is sold. That’s important, he says, because watches have “the complexity of a small car.”
The company seeks to educate customers about luxury watches with video blogs and other content.
Crown & Caliber also seeks to “be authentic” and friendly. As an example, he says, customers buying a watch to celebrate the birth of a baby receive a onesie for the newborn.

The effort to be personable and friendly might not meet the traditional idea of how luxury goods are sold, but the goal is to connect with customers and “meet them where they are.”

Crown & Caliber (No. 563  in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000) launched in 2011 and sells a variety of luxury brands, including Rolex, OMEGA watches, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Cartier and Patek Philippe.

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