Musings on Independent watchmaking and the beginning journey for me
At the risk of sounding like a broken
record, I thought I'd pen or rather type this little missive about why I
have chosen to work in the Independent watchmaking end of the watch
business, rather than the broader big brand market or the second hand
Yes, it is a more difficult (read less financially rewarding) way to operate professionally, but infinitely more rewarding as the business aspect of the watch world changes each year.
I saw the change coming almost ten years ago, with the opening in NYC of the first branded boutiques, and I certainly understand why the brands are doing this. As an independent watch store, this had some benefits and disadvantages for us. Unfortunately the disadvantages outweighed the benefits rather significantly and it is why when setting up Passion Fine Jewelry three years ago, we chose to only represent real Independent Watchmakers.
One of the reasons Janna & I do this, is that these relationships we develop with collectors over the months & years often turn to friendships and a group of like minded individuals reward us with their loyalty and support, as we continue to support the artisanal aspect of fine mechanical watchmaking by helping these Independent watchmakers who have chosen the path less travelled and certainly more difficult, within the watch business. I fully believe that people like to help others if they can, it is a human need on many levels and brings a level of happiness and contentment that other pastimes can rarely offer. It just feels good!
Seeing the joy in a collectors eyes when they first open up a new watch box to reveal that piece they acquired, especially when it often takes months to get sometimes even a year, is amazing and knowing it helped a watchmaker build his little business, is a large part of why I do what I do.
I know that the big brands create many lovely watches, some of which I personally own and would own more if money were no object, however there is that human connection with the watchmaker that cannot be duplicated with a big brand, and it is this aspect that I first found compelling 9 years ago when I started working with Peter Speake-Marin. Back then, we were both in quite different places professionally and personally. I was part of an existing fine jewelry store who were big brand authorized dealers for many great brands such as Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron-Constantin, Glashutte Original etc, etc., whose products I'm still fond of to this day, with quite a healthy annual turn over of several million dollars feeding an expanding business. Two children, married and working to build this business, with a couple of pieces of expensive CA real estate to my name, I came across this fellow Peter, married, no kids, working with his wife and just getting going in his independent phase, having recently created the Watch Workshop to design and make watches under the Speake-Marin name. With an annual production of around 35-40 pieces, he wasn't making himself wealthy by a long shot. Probably just about covering his bills with a long road ahead, I was immediately taken by his humility and straightforwardness when discussing a potential business relationship over coffee in Basel that initial meeting.
Basel 2004 Peter & I discussing his creations at the AHCI stand.
His watches were stunning and I wanted to help promote him and sell his watches to our collector clients, who I was fairly sure would be as compelled with Peter and his watches as I was. Committing to buy 5 watches, 3 gold and 2 steel classic Piccadilly pieces, with 4 enamel dials and one hand frosted, I was going out on a bit of a limb professionally, as it was a fairly significant chunk of our open to buy dollars being spent on a completely unknown then watchmaker, whose products we had to pay up front for before he would ship them over to California. No glossy catalogs, Facebook or a fantastic website like he has now with which to market and promote his amazing work. Just a few rudimentary photos I managed to snap in Basel, which are in this message for you to see, and my enthusiasm!
Basel 2004, his only model, the 38mm Piccadilly with three dial variants, enamel (top) Hand frosted solid 18K three layer dial (middle) & hand engraved solid 18K three layered dial (Bottom)
to find out if I was correct, I talked about the watches we ordered
that first year in 2004 for several months after Basel, to as many
watch aficionados as I could. When the FedEx box arrived in September,
we had several collectors, and you know who you are, eagerly awaiting
in the store to see these first pieces from Peter. Three left that day
to new homes within a couple of hours of the FedEx truck leaving!
I have to say I was rather excited about this, as one doesn't know if that "leap of faith" one takes is a good decision or not, until the market reacts. Suffice to say it propelled me on a path, that to this day I am thrilled to say is the one I'm staying on the watch world. Getting to know the watchmakers personally and finding out why they create their life's work is pretty compelling to me, after all there are many "things" one can spend money and resources on, and to support artisanal watchmaking at this level is very satisfying.
Basel 2004, the two enamel options, stylish arabic or the lovely elongated romans
On that note I'll end off, but before I say goodbye, please consider where you buy your next timepiece, remember the people who help you and have steered you well and most importantly, who value you as a client/friend and not just some sales target to make. There are still a few of us in this business that value the relationship over the dollar. I think you know where I stand.