Time Keepers

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson once said, “I think you should dress yourself like you would create a recipe. Add what you want then learn how to edit properly for the best results.” There’s a reason he’s successful.

Let’s cut to the chase: No one reads a watch anymore, and anyone who buys a luxury watch purchases it knowing that the Mickey Mouse watch they just bought their four-year-old out of a vending machine probably keeps time as well as a Rolex. We wear watches as a final edit to the recipe we call our outfit. Base layers include the shirt, trousers, tie and jacket. It’s those extra accessories like a watch that pull it all together like finishing salt on a steak. If you lived in Fargo, you could get away with wearing a Casio or Timex on your wrist. But when you live here a quartz watch from the department store just doesn’t cut it. This is the land of opportunity, you need to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel—inspired by a Xu Beihong painting.

Thankfully, there are about a dozen different ways to get a luxury watch in New York, 11 of which are west of the Midtown Tunnel. So how does one acquire that first luxury watch without the commute? We spoke with Matthew Gross, whose family has owned and operated the historic H.L. Gross & Bro. Jewelers boutique for more than a century. In addition to being authorized Rolex and Shinola dealers, the family company maintains a curated selection of more than 100 pre-owned luxury watches at all times, as well as the newest releases direct from Rolex. From reasonably priced TAG Heuers to complications from the holy trinity of Swiss watchmakers, there is no shortage of beautiful timepieces available right at home. Pricing at H.L. Gross is reasonable compared to the competition, but it’s the service local horologists are interested in the most. “There’s such a demand right now for high end pieces,” Gross said. “When I get them in, they go fast.”

Then there’s the internet. Buying a luxury watch online has never been easier or more dangerous. Rolex is just one brand fighting off the fakes, as counterfeit watches take the stronghold and outnumber the authentic watches in droves. A quick scan of Google will net listing after listing of questionable timepieces. Thankfully, there are men like Hamilton Powell who decided to fight back, offering the watch world a place to buy and sell their most treasured pieces.

Powell, who owns the leading and most trusted online watch conglomerate, Crown & Caliber, is the quintessential southern gentleman who left a career in finance to start the company. He employs an army of watchmakers and support staff who examine each timepiece before it’s sold. With a vault full of counterfeit and franken-watches, his team picks them out of the pile ensuring only authentic pieces make it into their customers’ hands. Down the hall sits another team that scours the internet and uses proprietary software to determine not what a brand says their watch is worth, but what a watch is actually selling for. Crown & Caliber bases its pricing on this information, ensuring every buyer (and seller) walks away happy. It’s this trickle of good karma that has catapulted the young company from a startup to one of the world’s leading purveyors of pre-owned luxury watches.

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Vacheron Constantin Patrimony perpetual calendar.

Since there are a few places to find watches without having to drive into Manhattan, the question that has to be asked is: what should one look for when buying a luxury watch? According to experts like Powell, there are a few factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, make sure you like it. “I think a lot of people get really hung up on buying watches for other reasons, buying them for what other people might think, or buying them for investment [purposes],” Powell said. “The number one thing is to buy a watch that you really like, that you’re going to wear and that you’re going to enjoy.”

If you don’t like how it looks, you’ll likely never wear it. That’s not to suggest one shouldn’t consider the movement that is making it tick, but be sure that it fits into your lifestyle. A Rolex Submariner looks cool, but do you really need a watch designed for professional deep-sea divers? The only splash getting on most watches in the ’burbs comes from the swimming pool in the backyard. Those who wear suits to work should consider something along the lines of a Calatrava or Patrimony. For those who work outside, a rugged sports watch might be a better way to go. For pilots, both H.L. Gross and Crown & Caliber keep a selection of Navitimers on hand.

In addition to aesthetics, a watch should match its owner’s lifestyle. That Calatrava is a great option in a boardroom or courtroom, but when it comes to time off chasing the kids and playing baseball, you also need a watch that can take a beating. This is why a reliable everyday carry watch is a good investment. There’s no worry about destroying the dial and it should be able to work in the office—passing the dreaded cuff test—and on the field. Good options include a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which flips over to protect the face, or the 007-endorsed Aqua Terra from Omega’s Seamaster collection, well-sized to fit with a suit but can also hold up in a nor’easter.

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Rolex Oyster Perpetual DATEJUST 41.

Not all watches are created equal. Just because a watch is expensive, looks good and has great marketing, it doesn’t mean it’s on par with other timepieces. “Brands like Rolex, Patek, Jaeger tend to hold their value very well,” Powell explained. “But other brands like Hublot, Chopard and Piaget tend to really lose their value a lot over time. A watch that has diamonds and gold on it is more prone to depreciate than a watch that doesn’t have those precious metals or gems.”

Then there are brands that don’t always live up to their marketing. Take Shinola. The Detroit-based watch brand has been investigated by the FTC for deceptive business practices and sells a battery-run, meretricious timepiece for the same price as some pre-owned luxury watches. On the other hand, buying any new Rolex from H.L. Gross is a home run in terms of quality and craftsmanship without the fear of it being counterfeit or a franken-watch.

There are dozens of other reputable sellers online such as Govberg, Bob’s Watches, Gemnation and JamesEdition. None have the resources or reputation of H.L. Gross and Crown & Caliber, but they maintain large inventories of vintage, pre-owned and even new timepieces that sell for a fraction of the price found at the official brand boutiques and authorized retailers. As far as brick and mortar stores go, Tourneau has a selection of vintage and pre-owned watches at most of its stores across America and they maintain a large showroom full of new watches they’re authorized to sell. Other local stores like London Jewelers also have watches to choose from. When buying from brick-and-mortar retailers, the price markup is often considerable compared to the grey-market dealers of the internet, but it’s more than made up for with personal service and a building to physically attend should you feel the need to vent about your purchase. After all, you’re not only buying the watch, you’re buying the seller. If you can trust the seller, you can likely trust the watch. And if there are issues, a trustworthy seller will stand behind their product instead of disappearing into the black hole we call the internet.