Contrapante.com: Serving The Secondary Market For Watches By Independent Watchmakers
There’s no doubt about it: the watch industry is experiencing a fast and furious interest in vintage watches.
There are many reasons for this, but the foremost is perhaps the rising cost of new watches versus the (relatively) still-humane prices of second-hand watches. Depending on your level of acceptance in terms of how used something may look, you can really get some great watches if you shop intelligently.
What is often hard to obtain, though, is a second-hand watch by an independent watchmaker. Part of the holdup here is the extreme rarity of such pieces. In order to make a viable business, you need serious relationships with both collectors and the independent watchmakers themselves.
And this is exactly where Contrapante comes in. It’s a new division of vintage watch retailer Analog/Shift dedicated exclusively to buying and selling pre-owned independent timepieces. Founded by James Lamdin in 2012, Analog/Shift has become a renowned online dealer of pre-owned and vintage watches.
The recent addition of a new CEO at Analog/Shift, who is not only an experienced manager, but also a big watch collector, sees the company continuing to grow.
Why independent brands?
Contrapante is a joint venture between collector and enthusiast Kiran Shekar and Analog/Shift. Shekar, previously moderator of the Independent Horology Forum on TimeZone, is also the author of a book on F.P. Journe entitled F.P. Journe The First 30 Years.
Particularly enthusiastic about independent watchmaking, the idea for Contrapante was born from a conversation between Shekar and Lamdin, both of who had independently been thinking about the need for a specialized pre-owned retail outlet such as this.
“It’s so difficult to find independent watches for sale, let alone on a website where they are described reliably,” Shekar reiterates a truth that any enthusiast of these timepieces has likely experienced first-hand. He relates a personal example of a timepiece that is no longer in production. “I wanted to buy a Martin Braun Eos, and I was able to find a few for sale.”
To be accurate, a sunrise/sunset or equation of time indication must be calibrated to the position of the wearer’s geographical location (for more details on Braun, the Eos, and why it’s no longer in production click Why The Tourbillon Astronomique By Antoine Martin Is A 50-Year Celebration).
“Each time I would ask the seller for the location to which the sunrise/sunset complication is calibrated,” Shekar continues. “Most of the sellers – who were pre-owned watch dealers, not private individuals – had no idea what I was talking about. It’s the key feature of the watch, but they didn’t even understand the question.”
Another “me too” company? No way.
“We’re trying to do things a bit differently,” explains Contrapante’s director, who I spent some time with in order to understand why a virtual retail space just to buy and sell timepieces made by independent watchmakers makes sense. Why, for instance, could these timepieces not be sold on Analog/Shift?
“The three big barriers to collectors buying watches in general, and more specifically independent watches, are information, ‘liquidity,’ and service,” Shekar states before going on to explain what he means by this. “[Information is important because] people buy what they know, and generally speaking they don’t know that much about independents. How easy will it be to get it serviced, especially if the watchmaker dies or the company goes bankrupt, is another sticking point.”
Information is about spreading the word on what the independent watchmakers stand for. “When you compare it to what brands are doing, the independents look more interesting, authentic, and innovative,” says Shekar. “So, we aim to educate the public, just like you do at Quill & Pad, about the great stuff that independents are doing.”
Shekar has also put some thought into service issues, which is perhaps a bigger reason that some people might be wary of investing in the sometimes highly complicated timepieces that independent watchmakers make. “We have relationships with many of the independent brands and watchmakers themselves, as well as independent repair experts in the U.S. and Switzerland. Regardless of whether you purchased the watch from us or not, we’re here to help you get it serviced,” Shekar promises.
Shekar goes deep into the point he calls “liquidity.”
“Our service is about actively searching out hard-to-find pieces for buyers. As a collector myself, I know that whenever I’ve told a dealer about a watch I’m searching for, I almost never even receive a response, let news about whether they’ve found the watch for me; I suspect they rarely even try,” Shekar continues.
“We aim to be different; we’re not a volume business and don’t carry volume brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex. We just do independents and we aim to do them correctly. By bringing liquidity to the pre-owned market, prices should increase to reflect that added security. If a watch owner decides to sell, he or she doesn’t want it to take forever to move the watch, nor does he or she want to receive pennies on the dollar, either.”
So, basically, if you own an independent watch and decide you want to sell it to perhaps get a different version of it, upgrade it, or even get something else entirely using normal channels, it can take a long time to find a buyer and you might not get much of your original money back. That’s not a great situation for any part of the watch industry.
Current owners may find it difficult to sell a piece they already own, while potential owners may be hesitant to buy due to worries about selling the piece in the future. This entire scenario damages watchmakers’ business because it makes potential customers hesitant to buy, knowing that selling could be a problem.
So Contrapante has set out to change this chain of events by improving the process through creating a good tranaction environment – meaning that the listings are as good as the information, layout, photography, and customer service provided on the site. “We dedicate the company to doing nothing but that,” Shekar confirms. “We can become the go-to destination for pre-owned independent watches, and as such, we can develop a critical mass that attracts even more customers in a self-perpetuating cycle.”
How easy is it to use Contrapante?
There are a few really nice elements to Contrapante that make it quite user-friendly.
One of these is the so-called concierge service. “If you tell us a piece you are looking for, we really seek it out for you,” Shekar, who serves on the board of directors of the Horological Society of New York, explains. “We’re not going to find it every time, but we will make a concerted effort on every reasonable request, which is more than most dealers do.”
Contrapante will also respect privacy wishes. Say you have a piece you are looking to sell, but you don’t want it listed online for whatever reason, Contrapante will try to sell it without listing it on the website by utilizing its customer database – meaning that Shekar and his team would reach out to collectors who have already communicated they are interested in similar pieces.
“Some of these pieces are rare, and the community of independent collectors isn’t huge, so privacy like that can bring real peace of mind for some prospective sellers,” Shekar explains.
And, personally, I really appreciate the fact that the prices are shown on all in-stock inventory, which makes decisions and informed shopping so much easier. I can already see I’ll be going to Contrapante to check out the new arrivals on a regular basis.
For more information, please visit www.contrapante.com.