But people who shop at European Watch Company on Newbury Street in Boston already know the time of day. Typically, they are affluent connoisseurs looking for something more – an artistic treasure, a marvel of mechanical engineering, an investment that never loses its value. Maybe all three.
Albert Ganjei understands. The lifelong “watchaholic” founded European Watch Company in 1993 in hopes of cashing in on his hobby. “My wife and I were living paycheck to paycheck,” said Ganjei, originally from Iran, who has worked for nearly two decades developing engineering software. “At the top, I was making $80,000, $90,000.”
Backed by the earnings of his wife, Caroline, as an IBM Corp. executive, Ganjei began offering relatively inexpensive watches with an average price tag of $300. Today, EWC sells around 400 watches per month for an average value of $40,000. Many sell for much more.
The pandemic has not harmed businesses at all. Reginald Brack, an independent watch industry consultant, said expensive watches sold well despite the COVID crisis, in part because so many other luxuries were out of reach during the shutdowns – fine dining, for example. , or travel abroad. But even at the worst of the pandemic, you could still order a $100,000 watch online.
And it worked well for EWC. The company took in $87 million last year, Ganjei said, nearly double its 2020 revenue of $47 million. He claims it’s Newbury Street’s “biggest merchant by far.” .
Virtually everything at EWC is used. During a recent visit, around 140 vintage Rolexes were on hand, along with dozens of watches from other elite companies, such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. The vast majority of sales involve trade-ins. A customer can trade in five $10,000 Rolexes plus $50,000 cash for a single $100,000 Patek Philippe, an even more prestigious brand known for making virtually all of its watch parts by hand.
Relatively common watches priced in the tens of thousands of dollars reside in drawers inside large safes, while several large safes protect high-end merchandise – watches that cost six figures and up. Shelves in a storage room are lined with sleek boxes from OEMs. Another row of shelves holds only polished metal or fine leather watch straps. Ganjei is holding a hand-stitched Patek Philippe baby alligator leather strap. Price: over $400, watch not included.
Why pay so much for a watch? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Compare it to the non-fungible token, or NFT, craze where investors pay millions to claim ownership of a digital image that anyone can watch. online for free. In contrast, high-end watches are tangible, palpable, real.
Each is handcrafted by a master watchmaker, not out of an automated factory. And a mechanical watch will never become obsolete. Reassembled and properly maintained, it will remain accurate well beyond the life of its owner.
Plus, watches go up in value like few other items. “A lot of people now realize that watches are an alternative asset class,” Brack said. “Like art, like wine, like cars. A lot of people treat watches like investment vehicles.
Ganjei’s staff of 23 includes three professional photographers whose sole job is to take pictures of watches for display on the EWC website and iPhone app. There’s also a team that meticulously cleans and refurbishes old watches, including a master watchmaker who takes them apart – some with over 400 tiny parts – to clean and repair them.
But there is no showroom here. Almost all business takes place in a spacious room where 10 watch traders transact by telephone and e-mail. And when customers drop by, it’s rarely high-profile celebrities following an entourage of minions, like former Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett in the movie “Uncut Gems.”
“They’re actually extremely normal,” said Ganjei’s son Joshua, EWC’s general sales manager and chief curator. “They look very indescribable. They drive normal cars. They are generally very nice.
It may be because they earned their money from unglamorous pursuits. “They’re in manufacturing or real estate,” Joshua said. “Some surgeons. A lot of people gamble on public markets. Investment managers. Joshua sums them up as “the usual suspects”.
As for the sales staff, Ganjei said, only one, a former employee of Boston jeweler Shreve, Crump & Low, is a veteran luxury goods dealer. “Everyone is a watch junkie,” he said, passionate watch enthusiasts. One is a former lawyer; another was a CEE customer for 10 years before joining the company.
Then there’s Robert Reustle, who made a living as a trumpeter and music teacher until six years ago when Ganjei hired him. For years, Reustle has loved high-end watches from afar. “I had sketchy knowledge. I knew the stats, I knew the specs,” he said. “I wasn’t in that stratum of society where I could buy these things.”
But when EWC advertised for a vendor, Reustle showed up. He met not only Albert Ganjei, but all members of the sales team, to make sure they would work well together. “The other things,” Reustle said, he was told, “you can learn.”
“He took a chance on me,” Reustle said of Ganjei, “and I’ll be forever grateful to him.”
Not all EWC clients are wealthy, Reustle noted. “There are people who have been hugely successful in life who can send you tons of money, but I also work with people who have been saving for a long time, and that’s a big step.”
Yet the company’s bread-and-butter business comes from people who have a lot of bread. Brookline’s Stanley Rosenzweig, for example, who started collecting watches as a teenager and is now executive chairman of Nashville-based SVP Worldwide, which manufactures Singer sewing machines. Rosenzweig can pursue his passion on a grand scale. He has about 20 watches in his collection, and they’re not just gathering dust. “If I don’t wear them, what’s the point?” he said.
Rosenzweig has been buying watches from EWC since the store opened. “They are the best at what they do,” he said.
Customers like him can prepay, but Ganjei doesn’t expect that. He routinely ships expensive watches to regular customers at their request, telling them to pay by check or wire transfer if they decide to keep them.
“Immediate trust gets me a lot more lifetime customers than trying to get copies of a driver’s license,” he said. “We try to make it as simple as possible.”
But sometimes he gets cut. Once, a regular emailed him, asking for a $120,000 watch. Ganjei sent it, only to learn that the client’s email account had been seized by an identity thief. Ganjei noted it as wasted money and valuable experience. But he keeps tabs on eBay and other online watch marketplaces, hoping his stolen property will eventually be found.
While Ganjei has plenty of customers who will pay six figures for a watch, EWC has lately attracted collectors with even deeper pockets. His son Joshua now specializes in watches worth at least $400,000, and often much more. Over the past six months, EWC has sold five watches for over a million euros, all FP Journes or Patek Philippes. And, of course, Joshua is looking for a buyer for that $2.9 million FP Journe. This is what makes the job exciting.
“Selling watches up to $150,000 is getting boring for him,” his father said.
Hiawatha Bray can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.