Austen Chu Goes All Out with Wristcheck’s First Store in Hong Kong

Wristcheck’s flagship store in Hong Kong’s plush Landmark mall is all set to redefine the pre-owned watch business with its ultra cool, immersive experiences especially curated for the younger watch collecting community. Just before its formal launch today, we did a walk-through of the store with Austen Chu, founder & CEO, Wristcheck.

NB: How do you feel about launching your own store in a market where other experienced pre-owned players from larger groups are already operating their stores? How do you plan to have an edge over them?

AC: First of all, our business model is inherently different in the sense that all the watches that are displayed in our store or on our website are consigned with us by actual owners of those watches. So we make the same spread. We make eight to 12 percent on every single watch. So we’re actually motivated in allocating the right watch for the right person, because the spread is the same. Whereas all of our competition, they buy watches at a lower price, service it, mark it up and then sell it at a spread that is much higher than eight to 12 percent, including everything.

The Wristecheck flagship store at the Landmark mall in Hong Kong
The Wristecheck flagship store at the Landmark mall in Hong Kong
The Wristecheck flagship store at the Landmark mall in Hong Kong
The Wristecheck flagship store at the Landmark mall in Hong Kong

Our platform is the only one that’s transparent. The sellers know exactly what buyers have paid and buyers know what sellers have netted, and they know what we have made as a platform. So this in itself is very different from everyone else out there because as I’m sure, all collectors know that the world of pre-owned is very murky and it’s like venturing into the unknown. With Wristcheck, the goal really is to just guide the next generation of collectors through this storm and show them how you’re supposed to collect watches. And because we’re making an 8 percent spread, actually collecting with us is very sustainable. As bad as it sounds, I think people should treat watches like how they treat relationships. It’s like, you can have a one night stand with someone. You can have a one week relationship or you can have relationships that last an entire lifetime. Watch collecting should be the same, because I feel like there’s too much emphasis on buying something once and keeping it forever, but that’s not realistic because your tastes keep changing. So it’s about creating a sustainable environment where people can trade and if they take an 8 percent hit, they buy something, it goes up in value more than 8 percent, it’s fine. They can collect more and sell that in a year’s time and maybe it goes up 20 percent. It’s nicer, it’s sustainable. Whereas with the other models, you usually get 60 to 70 cents on the dollar and that’s not sustainable because that’s what I lived through when I was a collector.

Austen Chu, founder and CEO of Wristcheck
Austen Chu, founder and CEO of Wristcheck

When I was starting out at the age of 18, I only had two watches in my collection. And whenever I wanted something, I had to sell something in order to get my next piece. I would take a massive hit every time and I’d have to constantly put in extra money into the hobby. With Wristcheck that wouldn’t be the case, so that’s essentially what sets us apart. And another thing that sets us apart, which is very important for Hong Kong is that we will be the only pre-owned store in a mall in Central. We will be at the Landmark, in the company of Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. We want to create an unforgettable experience.

NB: What is the highlight of Wristcheck’s flagship store?

AC: There’s something that’s really cool. We have this eight meter floor to ceiling glass pane where you can display around 30 watches. It is the first thing you see when you walk into the store. There are three sliding TV screens behind the glass. If you see a watch that you like, you tap the touchscreen and the watch does a 360 rotation behind the glass, giving you a peek at the movement as well. And then all of the corresponding information on the watch will be blasted on the TV screen next to it. So it’s an immersive experience that gets people more interested in watches. So when we open the wall of watches there will be historically significant pieces from different brands. We will probably have 15 to 20 watches displayed, but the value of the wall would be around USD9 million. These are watches that you can never see outside of Wristcheck, essentially because these are pieces like the De Bethune DB 28, the first ever blued one. Then there will be historically significant vintage pieces from Patek Philippe, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Rolex as well.

We also have watches that are under USD1000. We just happened to sell more expensive watches so far but we have everything available for everyone. We focus mainly on discontinued watches from the early 2000s when social media did not really document the existence of some of these pieces. The idea is to encourage people to look beyond the usual “covetables”.

The store’s highlight is an eight meter floor to ceiling glass window displaying over 30 watches that can be discovered through a LiDAR touchscreen offering an immersive experience.
The store’s highlight is an eight meter floor to ceiling glass window displaying over 30 watches that can be discovered through a LiDAR touchscreen offering an immersive experience.
The Wristecheck store has a modular design which can be altered every now and then
The Wristecheck store has a modular design which can be altered every now and then

NB: What kind of participation have you had from the brands so far in terms of what is displayed at the store?

AC: I don’t want to get any brands involved at this point because I just want to do this for the community. I want to cultivate a watch community in Hong Kong with different demographics and also get more women into watch collecting. Our store is designed in a way that’s modular, so we have two living room areas. One is a VIP room and one’s a regular retail area. We can wall off different parts of the store based on our needs and craft the customer’s journey based on what we want to do. So the whole point is about creating different experiences and that’s something the pre-owned market should really invest in. The experience is very important, especially for younger customers, who are now buying their first luxury watch on receiving their first bonus at work. This is very different from the watch buying habits from 20 years ago.

NB: Tell us more about your clientele.

AC: Over 80 percent of our customers are under 30, which is crazy. Watch collecting is a knowledge-based hobby which can be very lonely at times. So with Wristcheck, we’re trying to give the next generation the community they crave. It’s the community that I craved when I was in Shanghai and it is partly the reason why I co-founded Shanghai Watch Gang. The Wristcheck store is an offline manifestation of the online platform, built on the same ideas of knowledge exchange within the community. We’re going to start doing podcasts and educational videos soon.

NB: Did you always plan to have a physical store for Wristcheck or was it an obvious progression?

AC: The idea of something like Wristcheck has been brewing in my mind since I started watching collecting. In 2020, I was just completely grounded, not travelling anywhere and that cemented my thoughts. I’m so grateful to my business partner, Sean, who understood my vision and helped me take it to where it is today. However, I never started Horoloupe with the thought of having a store one day. I think, I was so passionate that it just morphed into my life. It was totally unintentional.

NB: You’ve got a lot of independents on board. What kind of response are you getting from your clients for these brands?

AC: We are really blessed that we are actually able to sell independents to young people. In a traditional watch collecting journey, people buy independents after they have bought the APs and the Rolexes but we’re noticing that the next generation of collectors wants to skip everything and just go straight to the indies. I started buying more independents over the last two years and realized that they are the ones, who are driving change in the industry. For instance, Greubel Forsey recently announced that starting next year, they will not be using any animal straps. That’s amazing!

NB: What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in the last couple of years?

AC: From my whole experience of watch collecting so far, I’ve learned that it is very important to always be trading, and I don’t mean flipping. You shouldn’t ever tie yourself to one brand at the beginning because I guarantee you that the brand that you’re buying is probably being influenced on you in some way, shape or form. It might not actually be something that you love because you don’t know what’s out there, as there’s so much that’s more than what you see on Instagram. You need to experience the buyer’s remorse, the seller’s remorse and everything in between. That’s the only way you can truly learn what brands or watches suit you best.

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