Wristcheck, a Hong Kong-based luxury watch consignment retailer, raised $8 million in a seed funding round led by Gobi Partners GBA, which oversees Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund – one of the city’s largest startup funds.
The funding round included participation from K3 Ventures, a venture capital firm founded by Kuok Meng Xiong, grandson of Malaysia’s richest person Robert Kuok.
“We’re the first [resale], asset-light watch platform based out of Asia that is actually recognised globally,” says Austen Chu, 26, cofounder and CEO of Wristcheck. “And we’re the first ones to actually be completely transparent…buyers know what sellers net, and sellers know what buyers pay.”
Launched in 2020, Wristcheck claims the value of its consigned watches is $80 million, a total year-over-year growth of 75%. The startup offers fixed rates for their luxury watch resales, at 8% for sellers and 4% for buyers – as opposed to the steep margins imposed by auction houses or individual dealers, Chu says.
The fresh capital will assist Wristcheck’s regional expansion into “underserved” markets in Southeast Asia, and the development of new features for its website and app. These additions include a digital portfolio tool, which users can use to catalogue their watch collection and track the real-time market values of their pieces, and watch insurance.
Watches sold on Wristcheck’s website.Courtesy of Wristcheck
“Combining Hong Kong’s competitive edge as a global-facing watch market with Wristcheck’s leading team and capabilities, we are confident that the company will be able to continue building on their current momentum,” said Chibo Tang, managing partner of Gobi Partners GBA, in a statement.
E-commerce in Hong Kong and China shows potential, Tang previously told Forbes. Gobi has backed KICKS CREW, a footwear seller that announced a $6 million Series A round last March. Both Gobi Partners GBA and K3 Ventures invested in sneaker and limited-edition collectibles online marketplace Novelship, featured in the 2022 Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list.
Wristcheck has amassed over 80,000 community members, people who have either registered for accounts or used the website. In particular, the brand’s user base consists of younger customers – 43% of its paying customers are under 30, the company says.
“The consigners are well over 30, while the buyers are under 30,” adds Chu. “It’s the most amazing thing to see for myself as a watch enthusiast, because it’s showing the passing of a watch from the older generation to the next generation.”
Emerging from the pandemic, younger consumers are buoying the global market for secondhand luxury watches. Almost half of Millennials and Gen Z customers would consider purchasing a secondhand watch – at 48%, compared to 12% of Baby Boomers – an analysis from Deloitte found last October, citing factors including lower prices, sales of discontinued models and eco-friendliness.
A woman poses for a photo in front of an Audemars
Yet counterfeit items are a thorn in the side to brands and resale platforms alike. Watches are the fifth-largest category of faked goods globally, according to an OECD report from 2021. Individual customers can refer to the Watch Register, which tracks stolen or faked watches, by paying for its checking service. Some brands have taken a proactive approach to validating their goods. Last December, Rolex launched a certified pre-owned program for its watches, enabling customers to provide proof of their items’ authenticity when selling them.
Wristcheck plans to unveil an AI tool to verify the items on its platform, leveraging talent in Hong Kong and mainland China to sort through data on the movements, watch bases, and details of each design. The company collaborates directly with primary
brands such as Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet, which led a design competition in conjunction with Wristcheck. In the meantime, manual verification can easily distinguish dupes, or “clones,” from genuine luxury watches, Chu says: “It’s night and day, when we see real or fake.”
Chu, a self-professed watch lover, says his passion for timepieces began with his first Flik Flak watch from Swatch. In 2016, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at NYU, he launched Horoloupe, an Instagram account to chronicle his journeys as a watch collector. As his content gained traction online, he collaborated with Audemars Piguet on a limited-edition 2019 release – and the year after, he set up Wristcheck with cofounder and director Sean Wong, a veteran of fashion publication Hypebeast who led the company’s e-commerce arm, HBX.
Years on, the young entrepreneur is pursuing a long-term mission, as opposed what Tang described as “a quick flip.” “I moved [to Hong Kong] in July 2020 to start Wristcheck, and it was really tough, because Hong Kong was entering its second wave,” Chu says. “You really just have to believe in your vision, and you need to hope that you have a great team