Saturday 29 September 2012

Adventures In The Wristwatch Trade - Doin' Time For Thirteen Years.

Picture courtesy of
The Omega Railmaster, based on a model from the '50s. Clean sparse dial for those times when all you need is the time.

***EDIT: 8/8/2015 - This post was originally written using a mixture of various typewriters along with the standard Blogger template. I decided to change it all to the Blogger template to give it a cleaner look.***

This is something that I wrote a few weeks ago and posted up on a wristwatch forum that I frequent. It pretty much sums up some of what I learned over eleven years of high-end retail. Thank God I worked in a store selling watches because I would not have lasted so long in the place if I were selling some other kind of product. I don't know about the rest of you who may work in the retail sector, but for me, if I don't have an interest in the product, then I find it difficult to get excited about it when customers walk in the door to buy it. This would probably explain why I never took that job in a lighting store five years ago. 

I started selling watches in 1999 and finished up in January of this year (2012). Looking back, it appears that I must have been paying attention because there are a few things that I learned during my time in the world of high-end wristwatch sales.

                                 The more polite the customer, the less chance that he/she will ask for a discount. So, I'd knock ten or fifteen percent off the price anyway. Sorry, Boss!
'May I help you?'
                               Not all salespeople are out to stiff you. They generally have a maximum allowable discount that they can offer you, and this percentage will be different for each brand. It is, after all, a business, designed to make a profit. If you're not happy with the discount offered you, then you obviously don't have to buy from them. Simple as that. Remember, though, they're in the business of selling, so if they give you a discounted price, chances are it's as low as they can go. Usually.
Oh, and if a salesperson pounces on you as soon as you walk in, it could be for a couple of reasons;

1) He/she works on commission and has no sense of fair play with other staff.
2) Company policy is to acknowledge the customer within 20 seconds of them walking in. 
or maybe...the salesperson could actually be a decent and honest human being who wants to help you choose the watch that best fits your purpose, lifestyle and budget. I'm not kidding here, people. Not all sales staff are sharks. Perhaps you're thinking of real estate agents. 

                             I once spoke on the phone to a customer who complained that my price for a Breitling SuperAvenger with diamond bezel was higher than that being offered by my competitors. I had called my Head Office to get the absolute best price. This guy wasn't happy with it; "But how come your price is higher when you're selling the exact same product, for Christ's sake?', he asked. 
' I don't know. Maybe they pay their staff peanuts, maybe their rent is cheaper, maybe the store operates under candle-light instead of electricity', I responded.
I then listened to him tell me that my Head Office was 'a bunch of idiots and if you have bunnies that are happy to pay that price to some sales guy on a thousand bucks a week', (boy, was he wrong about that figure!), 'then good luck to ya, but I'm not paying that price.'
'Fine', I thought. Nobody's forcing him to purchase. He then went on to inform me that he had his own construction business and that he was married to a beautiful wife. Geez, I usually just ask for name and address details when making a sale. I ended the conversation by telling him that I hoped he enjoyed his new watch when he got it, but before I hung up, I was sorely tempted to tell him that diamond bezels really only belong on a lady's watch...or a pimp's.
Thanks for a twenty-minute phone call where you made me feel dirty about working in this industry, Frank.
Oh, one more thing- it's actually pronounced 'Franck Mee-oo-ler', not 'Mull-ah'.

Franck Muller make some great watches. The Casablanca model of theirs exudes a wonderful 1930s aesthetic. I've always been partial to the salmon-dialled model.

Picture courtesy of 

As for the above-mentioned Breitling SuperAvenger, it looks like this;

Picture courtesy of 

See? It's a well-made watch, to be sure, although not to my taste at all. The diamonds are set with the same expertise employed by master jewellers. It's just not a terribly masculine looking watch, despite its 46mm diameter case. Just my opinion. There's a reason why diamonds are a girl's best friend. It's because they're 'girly'. 
'Nuff said.

                                 Repair time-frames and deadlines almost always lengthen. Probably due to the fact that your watch repair is at the mercy of over-worked watch technicians who work for companies that take on more repairs than they can handle in a reasonable time. Then there's spare-parts delays, postal and delivery mix-ups, etc, etc. 
Picture courtesy of and

RUDENESS...on both sides of the counter

This topic probably needs its own website! Rude salespeople do exist. As do rude customers. A rude customer dealing with a polite salesperson, or a rude salesperson dealing with a polite customer, will produce the same result- a less than pleasant experience for the both of them. 

A NOTE TO RUDE SALESPEOPLE- Being smarmy, short-tempered or condescending to a customer gets you nowhere in the long run. I've worked with enough of you over the years to find that you wind up with a poor reputation in the industry and customers tell their friends to avoid your store at all costs.

AND A NOTE TO RUDE CUSTOMERS- Buying a wristwatch should not be some kind of Alpha-male blood-sport or pissing contest between you and the salesman, nor should it be an exercise in sexist behaviour if dealing with a saleslady. If you're parting with some serious cash to buy a watch, then it might as well be as pleasant an experience as possible. There are already enough nasty goings-on in the world. The same goes for snobbery. A high-end wristwatch boutique attracts both snobby salespeople and snobby customers. It's up to you both if you care to deal with them. 

AND FINALLY, A NOTE TO POLITE SALESPEOPLE- Rude customers are out there. They are just plain ill-mannered, so don't take their behaviour personally. They are rude to all salespeople and waiters.
And probably children, the elderly, and dogs, too.

Sales Training
                          I hate this crap. I've sat through a few of these over the years, where some dude shows up and begins telling us how to sell. He (and it's usually a guy. In a bad suit. You know, the ones with shiny patches along the shoulder where their car seat-belt has rubbed against it a million times, but this guy will wear it to death before he goes out and SPENDS MONEY on replacing it. With another $120.oo suit just like it. Usually in black, and not in a good way, like the cast of Reservoir Dogs or Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black.)...where was I? Oh, right, so, he begins talking, going through various scenarios for trying to pry as much money from a customer as possible, and he ends this with;
'Don't take "No" for an answer. If a customer is in your store, he is there to buy. If he walks out empty-handed, then YOU haven't done your job properly.'

                                           I suppose, Doctor, it all goes back to that time I was looking for a shirt...

FLASHBACK to circa 1989. I walked into a menswear store in the city. I did a casual lap of the store and then-

Salesguy - 'Hi. What are you after?'
Me - 'Oh, nothing really. Just looking.'
Salesguy- 'Oh yeah, what are you looking for?' 
Me - 'I dunno. Maybe a shirt.'

Six minutes later and I'm standing in front of a full-length mirror as the salesguy threads an alligator-skin belt through the waist-band loops on the trousers of the double-breasted suit that I had on. The only clothes of my own were my shoes, socks and underwear. 

Now, I knew that I wasn't going to buy this ensemble, and I felt bad that he'd gone to all the trouble. However, I felt mad at myself for not being firmer with him when he first raced off to get this suit off the rack.
I decided on two things that day- Firstly, I would be a little more definite in future when I say 'I'm just browsing, thanks', and secondly, I was never going to be that kind of salesperson if I ever wound up working in retail. That salesguy is now a millionaire, with his own line of clothing boutiques. Truth be told, he's actually a pretty nice guy and I've dealt with him a few times over the years when he's come into my store to look at watches. No hard feelings. He was just doing his job and his method worked for him, but I've never wanted to be a pushy salesperson. 
So anyway, back to the sales traaining. Yes, they emphasise a high level of service (for a while, anyway), but it's all really only designed to close a sale. It's not genuine. One more thing- if this sales training is so slick and effective, then that would mean that any store that implements these techniques must be making an absolute killing.
In reality, five or six months later, whatever you've learned in these training sessions has worn off, or your competitors are shaving an extra few percent off their prices and getting the sales, and all the training in the world can't beat a cheaper price elsewhere in these hard times. 
                                 The more expensive the watch, the greater the chance that it will come back with a problem under warranty. Not always, mind you, but it does happen. Some customers equate 'expensive' with 'indestructible' and they are always quite surprised when their $15,000.oo wristwatch suddenly stops working on the 14th green. That sudden shock on the watch as your nine-iron hits the Slazenger B51 can sometimes work its way along the club and your hands, to the point where something gets knocked out of alignment inside the watch. 
These types of customers are usually pretty shocked to then hear that the service and/or repair cost will be in the neighbourhood of $1200-$1500. 
It is, after all, like having a Mercedes-Benz strapped to your wrist, sir. It's not a Ford Escort. It will be pricier to maintain an IWC or Jaeger-Le Coultre than a TAG Heuer or Longines.
I could probably understand if this was twenty years ago, before the internet came to town. Nowadays, however, there is such a wealth of information out there about wristwatches that there's really no excuse for not gaining a little knowledge about a product prior to making a purchase. 
Especially if you're shelling out ten or fifteen grand. Sir.

One Bad Customer Can Ruin Your Whole Day 
                                                                             Actually, make that a whole week. Some folks can just be plain childish. One lady didn't like the fact that her watch would not be repaired under warranty without the actual warranty card being sent off with the watch. It's standard procedure. I explained it all to her quite clearly. It's not our store's policy, it's the watch brand's policy. Needless to say, she hadn't brought the card with her.
'I don't like what you said. I want to speak with the Manager.', she stated.
What the hell did I do?
The Manager came over and accepted the watch without the warranty card, thus going against everything that we'd always been told with regard to warranty repair procedures. In the end, I filled out the Repair Card, adding that the Warranty Card had been "lost in a house fire". Might as well go all-out. However, I had a bad taste in my mouth about employing a sneaky tactic because of one petulant customer. 
So remember, kids, always keep your warranty cards. And please, don't anybody give me that old line "The customer is always right". That phrase was first coined way back around 1915.

                                  A lot of Sales Reps think that their brand was the first to do anything. They'll glance at a competitor's watch on display and say something like; 'Oh, looks like Brand X copied our design. Look at the arrow-shaped hands. They're like the ones on our TimeTeller 3000."
That's when I have to delve into my own watch knowledge and say stuff like; 'Actually, those hands are based on a vintage model of theirs from 1955. A lot of brands had similar designs back then, but these guys were the first to used hands of that shape.'
Being into wristwatches, I've always looked at a wide variety of brands, whereas a lot of these Reps only tend to concentrate on their own brand's current output, without knowing what came before or the finer points of their brand's history. And they pretend not to hear me when I give them these tidbits of history; 'Yeah, they copied our design. ..yeah.'

Here's an example;

Above is the Omega Planet Ocean. The dial and hand design is based on one of Omega's original dive watches from 1957.

And here we see the Breitling SuperOcean Heritage 42, based on a design of theirs from, yep, you guessed it, 1957. There were many other, more obscure brands that used this style of hands on their dive watches throughout the '50s and '60s. It was a popular design, meant to offer distinct differentiation between the hour and minute hands to avoid any confusion whilst diving.

Yes, sometimes, you just have to lob in a potential hand grenade to keep things interesting. I served an elderly couple a few months ago who had come in to look at men's rings. The man would have been in his mid to late eighties and he tried on a few rings. It was all very serious. As he put on another one, I asked; 'Is this an engagement ring that you're looking for?' It was obviously meant to be a gag.
They both looked up at me, and with straight expressions on their faces, they answered;'No'.
Which made it all the funnier to me.

                                       Go ahead and buy a watch off the internet if you want. There are many, many reputable dealers out there. And there are also some pretty shady ones as well. Most watch collectors already know this, but I'm talking to those of you who want to come into my store to ask me why my price is more expensive than the price you found on

How should I know? I have more important crap floating around in my head at any given time. 
However...if you do buy your watch off the internet from a less than legitimate dealer and something goes wrong with it and you then bring it in to me to send it off for warranty repairs, I'm gonna give you the cold, hard facts regarding courier fee & insurance ($20.oo), for my store to send it off, and I'll also explain to you that the brand will most definitely charge you to repair your watch because you didn't purchase it from an Authorised Dealer, and so therefore, your Warranty card means nothing to them. 
Oh, and don't even think about calling me in a week to ask how your repair is going. It'll come back when it comes back. But don't worry. I'll be polite as can be when I speak to you, but you won't care about politeness or good customer service. You only care about price. That's why you went with an unauthorised internet seller to begin with. 
Are we clear?

Around 180 or so parts go into a mechanical wristwatch movement. Some watch movements have more, depending on whether or not there are any other functions that the watch performs, such as date, or chronograph (stopwatch) function. Throw in a moon-phase disc and it gets even more complicated. Many of these parts are moving parts, too. The tolerances are quite tight, also. A screw turned an eighth of a millimetre too tight will prevent the entire movement from running.  And, all of these parts have to fit into a case that's around 40mm in diameter. It's an intricate ballet that goes on inside a wristwatch. 
And that's why I cringe so much when somebody pulls out an iPhone to check the time.

Here's what a one hundred thousand-plus dollar Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon watch is meant to look like. Actually, this one is in rose gold, so it's probably got another fifty grand attached to the price.

Picture courtesy of

Needless to say, the customer's watch didn't look like this one. A quick word about tourbillon watches. The mainspring in most mechanical watches is anchored down. Gravity can affect the time-keeping, which is why all mechanical watches will fluctuate on a daily basis, anywhere from 3 or 4 seconds to as much as fifteen or twenty. With a tourbillon movement, the mainspring sits in a little 'cage' which rotates once every minute to compensate for these fluctuations in timekeeping. It's one of the specialised 'complications' that few watch-making houses are capable of producing due to the workmanship and precision involved. 'Complications' is just another word for 'functions'. It's a term used throughout the industry. Bear in mind that my description  of how a tourbillon works is very basic. It's not that I think you're all idiots who wouldn't understand a more convoluted explanation. It's just that, over the years, I've had to come up with an explanation for customers that wouldn't take more than a sentence or two. When you say these things a thousand times a day, you learn to get it down to the shortest possible form that still makes (some kind of) sense.

*Breitling for Bentley- In recent years, there have been a few high-end watchmaking companies that have aligned themselves with luxury car manufacturers. Breitling created a range of watches which used design motifs from Bentley cars and commemorated some of their classic automobiles from the past. They also supply the dashboard clocks for the current Bentley range. It's a partnership that has proved fruitful for both brands.

The Buzz

It was always a good feeling when a customer had tried on numerous watches in different styles and brands and he/she finally made a decision. Their eyes would light up. It was more noticeable with men, since a wristwatch is a truly male accessory.
They would smile whenever they looked at the watch on their wrist. And, as they headed for the door with the shopping bag in their hand, I'd notice them glance at their wrist a couple more times before they left the store.
And that's when I'd know that I had done my job properly.
For all parties concerned.

The absolutely beautiful IWC Portuguese hand-wound. This model is based on a watch from 1939. The story goes that two Portuguese Jewellers asked the International Watch Company (as IWC were known back then) to produce a wristwatch that was as accurate as a Marine Chronometer. Ships had large clocks on board that were set on gimbals to allow for any rocking motion caused by heavy seas and these were said to be highly accurate. IWC went to their drawing board and later announced that it could produce a wristwatch that was as accurate as these Marine Chronometers, but they would have to use a pocket watch movement, which meant that the finished product would be a pretty large wristwatch for the 1930s. And so, they went ahead and created the Portuguese model which measured (I think) about 44mm in diameter at a time when most wristwatches were still around 30mm-32mm in size. The watch above retails for about $10,000AUD.

Those That Mind Don't Matter, Those That Matter Don't Mind

I met some nice people, too, over the years. Actually, I met a lot of nice people. They were always a pleasure to deal with and to go that extra mile for.
Some of them had similar interests to my own. One guy came in to buy himself a Breitling and he was wearing a Rolex Submariner 5513. Ahh, my Grail Watch. The one that got me hooked on wristwatches way back when I was eight years old.
He bought it in 1975. We got to talking and his wife mentioned that he too was a Bond fan and that he even had an Aston Martin. It was an early '70s DB V8. Cool.

Oh, yeah, I dealt with a handful of celebrities over the years as well;

* Sold a watch to Carlos Santana. Nice guy.

* Sold an Oris to Chad Smith, the drummer from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It was a 44mm Big Crown and he was buying it for lead singer Anthony Kiedis. I told him I thought "The Zephyr Song" was a great track. He smiled and said; 'Thanks very much.'
He was weraing a steel Rolex Daytona Chronograph that he'd picked up in Mexico.
* Got Adam Levine's (from Maroon 5) autograph for one of my female co-workers who was too shy to ask him. He happily obliged. 

* Spoke briefly to singer/songwriter John Mayer about a Chanel J12 that he was looking at. After he left, we thought that he was shopping around for a gift for his then-girlfriend, Jessica Simpson. If I had know just how big he is into wristwatches, we probably would have talked each other's ears off. He's actually very knowledgeable about Rolex watches and has gotten onto a few forums in the past to discuss vintage models. 

* One of my colleagues was serving this couple one day. I glanced over at them. The girl was pretty. Long blonde hair. Very tall, too, but I didn't get a good look at her face. 
After they left, my co-worker came up to me and said; 'Did you see that couple I was serving? She was in a James Bond film. Her name was uh...Ivana.'
'WHAT!!!??? Ivana Milicevic? That was her? And you didn't call me over!? What's wrong witchoo!!??'
Ivana Milicevic appeared in Casino Royale (2006) as Le Chiffre's girlfriend, Valenka.

Picture courtesy of

My one near-brush with a Bond Girl. Dammit. Still, it puts me within six degrees of separation with Bond himself, Daniel Craig. I suppose that's something. I'm stretching it, aren't I?
I guess if he had called me over, I probably would have blasted any chance of a sale, since I would have spent more time talking Bond films than watches.
Better that he didn't.

* Liam (or maybe it was Noel) Gallagher from Oasis came in with another guy one day. They headed to the Franck Muller display case, looked at it for about ten seconds before one of them said; 'Dey 'aven't got it.'
They then made a bee-line for the door and I never saw them again. 

The Omega Speedmaster Professional. First produced in 1957, it has been in uninterrupted production ever since, with a few minor changes to its design. A classic watch among collectors. I've already covered this watch elsewhere on my blog, so I won't go into too much detail here. 
Oh yeah, it's been to the Moon.

* Australian swimmer Grant Hackett came into the store once. The 2008 Olympics Edition of Omega's Lifetime Magazine had just been delivered a few days earlier and there was a profile inside it about US swimmer Michael Phelps. 
I resisted the temptation to go up to Mr Hackett with the opened magazine and a pen and say in a nasally American accent; 'Can I have your autograph?'

* Oh, I almost forgot. I sold a Longines to somebody who later became our Prime Minister. 

That's a circa 1962 Omega Seamaster I'm wearing here. This watch is from what I, and many others, consider The Golden Age of Watchmaking. Most of the technology used in wristwatches today was pretty much perfected by the time this watch was produced. Any improvements over the last five decades have been more to do with better alloys and production methods.
I bought this watch about ten years ago when they were reasonably easy to find in such clean condition. A virtual impossibility these days. Here's a close-up;

After serving some customers, they would often say to me; "Thanks very much for your time."
And I would always reply; "No problem. All I have is time."


The opinions expressed herein are my own. The watch knowledge, such as it is, is also my own and may not match the knowledge of somebody out there who knows much more about wristwatches than I do.
Chances are, I've probably forgotten more about wristwatches than I've retained. So if there's anything in this post that you'd like to know more about, well, Google is your friend, as they say.

Thanks for reading!


  1. WOW! This post must have taken you many hours to do!

    Very interesting glimpse into the world of retail wrist watches, something I knew nothing about until today.

  2. That was an absolutely amazing read! I have always been somewhat interested in watches, but have never purchased a nice one for myself. A few 'dollar' pocket watches, sure, but never a nice wristwatch. Hell, I'm wearing an Empire Strike Back commemorative watch! The band is...plastic. Ha! Up until this watch, I would wear a digital with a large display. I know, blasphemy. My father would often ask how many channels it got.

    Due to reading this, I have been checking out older watches on the web. Some WWII era Soviet and Swiss watches, along with a few German ones. I like simplicity, and one that really caught my eye was the Helios. Know anything about these, by chance? I do not claim to know a single thing about watches, nor do I have a bunch of money to spend on one, but I would definitely like to have a nice vintage watch. Any suggestions or direction you could point me in would mean the world!

    Thanks so much for sharing all of this. It was a very personal and insightful little article, and I enjoyed reading to the fullest extent. I am now off to read through some of your older posts about watches!

    Also, at a somewhat local antique shop they have a few clockwork mechanisms from the last quarter of the 1800's. Still working, if you believe the slip of paper. The intricacy of these machines really tickles my fancy. It makes a typewriter look simple!

  3. That's very interesting. I've always liked wristwatches but had the sense to keep away from collecting them. They're too dear for what I know would happen to them if I owned them.
    If you have time on your hands, your watchband is too loose.

  4. @ Cameron, yes, this post did take some time. I spent this past week transcribing it from my computer by giving my '46 Quiet De Luxe a good run. Damn thing performed flawlessly. As you and Richard P have both said, it's to do with typing technique.

    @ Ken, I'll be coming out of self-imposed watch-selling 'retirement' to assist you with your hunt. Looks like it'll be an open letter to you via a blog post. Darn it, I've also got some homework to do this week. No matter, it'll all get done. However, let me say this- a WWII-era wristwatch is a cool item, but the timekeeping will be...uh...'leisurely'. If you want practical accuracy for day-to-day living, go for something from the mid-Fifties or later. If you want even better accuracy, go for a quartz (battery-operated) watch. I haven't heard of Helios (can't get them in Australia, AFAIK), but if that sparse dial design is what you like, then look at Braun watches and, while we're at it, check out the Hamilton Ventura. Very '50s sci-fi. Like Phillip K. Dick.

    @ notagain, ha,ha! Over a decade in the game and I've never heard that line before. And yes, watch collecting can be a slippery slope.

    1. Ha - I had just made that up and figured it was the thing every newbie would say to a chorus of crickets. I really appreciate how complete this post was. The part about the repair/restoration costs was very interesting. I would just have to be super lucky to get a good, genuine article and then I'd be scared to wear it.

    2. Nah, they're meant to be worn, NotA. Back in the '50s and '60s, watches were, in many ways, more fragile than they are now and that Generation pretty much had one watch that they wore through thick and thin. Nowadays, a lot of young professionals own three or four watches that they baby, too afraid to wear them in water, etc.
      Regarding repairs, a vintage watch can cost $200-$400 to service every three to five years. They ARE a machine, after all, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Go to a reputable second-hand dealer if you decide to look into them further.
      Some day soon, I'll have to do a write-up on repairs and restoration.

  5. I enjoyed this informative post. I imagine retail would be a difficult job. At least you weren't selling commodity items like the typical Best Buy employee. Is it safe to assume you made more money selling watches than what you spent on them?

    The celebrity encounters are particularly interesting. I'm sorry you missed the Bond girl. The snarky comment on the diamond encrusted watch buyer is on the mark. Sometimes the 1% have no clue how tacky their bling looks to mere mortals.

    I love the understated simplicity of your Omega Seamaster. Gorgeous! I have no classics but am happy to have one watch that so far has not tanked on me. My Momentum Transformer (solar recharge quartz) has taken a nearly continuous beating for six years. The titanium housing and sapphire crystal are scratched and scuffed from under hood and red rock encounters but it is keeping good time and has only required annual band replacement to keep soldiering on. I am hard on equipment.

  6. Awesome work! That was a very interesting insight into a world of pricey watches. Myself, I wear a $200 Swatch.

  7. @ Dwayne, yes, I didn't spend too much on watches over the years...relatively.

    @ maschinengeschrieben, nothing wrong with Swatch watches. That brand rescued the Swiss Watch industry back in the early '90s, so I have a lot of respect for Swatch.