Jess Gendron is a seventh generation watchmaker, having learned by his father Dan’s side since childhood. He can be reached at talktothewatchguy@gmail.com.
People everywhere are asking why watch sales are slumping as well as why attendance at the Baselworld show was down.

To begin with, let me say that there are many fine watch companies that are striving to offer truly unique products. But as a monolith, the watch market is undergoing a major metamorphosis and I predict there will be a major falling out soon.

First of all, I have noticed a big change in watch buyers in the last few years.

Recently, I had a customer turn down a repair on a very popular quartz chronograph. He offered to sell me the broken watch and I bought it. We repaired the watch by replacing the movement with a new ETA movement.

Shortly after, we offered it for sale (at a greatly discounted price) a customer stopped by to see it. He looked at the watch while looking at his phone. He then asked, “Does this have an ETA or Harley Rhonda movement?” I explained to him that we had just replaced the ETA movement and went as far as to show him the old, rusty movement.

He continued to study his phone. What he was looking at on his device? It was a watch blog dedicated to that watch. This customer knew as much about it as I know. For example, he wanted to know if it was the old or new style crown, etc. The new customer base is so sophisticated that they know the obscure idiosyncrasies of something they are considering buying. I understand how watch companies might not have seen this coming. To no small extent, the seminars my father used to do for jewelers opened many eyes.  

Second, I would say that finding a mid-range watch company that truly sells unique, exclusive products is very rare. One needs to buy a Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex, etc., to get a truly unique, luxury, exclusive product. These companies have no problems at all selling their watches because they are unique and without parallel in the market, albeit their market is the highest of the high-income bracket.

But, this leaves those in the upper-middle and middle class without a wide choice of watches to get excited about.

It would take a space much larger than I am afforded here to point out to you all the different marquee watch brands that source their cases, movements, dials, crowns, boxes, etc. all from the same manufacturers. It has long been considered that ETA Swiss movements, both quartz and mechanical, are the foundation of a fine Swiss watch. Although they are fine movements, what this really says is: “no need for innovation.” And so, innovation is dead.  

If I can buy a higher-end watch with an ETA 955.412 movement, and I can buy the same movement in a lower- priced watch, then the only difference is what the outside looks like. The facts are not lost on the buying public --a public who, as I mentioned above, now knows as much about the inside of the watch as the outside. The sentiment is, “Gee, what’s the difference?” Perhaps a little innovation is called for, after all.

Now on to the next issue, which I will address by asking and then answering a question: Why are so many jewelers dropping their watch lines?

The simple, quick answer is that for most, there is no money in it. Mom-and-pop jewelers are placed at an extreme disadvantage by taking on a watch line. Many companies require a very large opening order to hang their plaque on your wall. For most it is just not worth it, with buying restrictions and your opening order made up for you, the latter of which means being required to buy slow-sellers in order to get more fast- sellers.

In today’s watch market, popular styles change very fast. The only way to make money in it is to move product quickly. But within many watch lines, the slow sellers are nothing more than dust collectors.

We in the watch industry need to realize that the market and the consumer base is evolving quickly. I have a few thoughts on how we can adapt.

--Celebrate innovation. I don’t mean that as a marketing phrase so people in the watch industry can pat themselves on the back as they celebrate mediocrity. How about some new, brand-specific movements, cases and designs that the average middle-class person can buy and cherish? I repair watches all day long and it’s easy to notice a watch from a bygone era and identify it without having seen the brand name on the dial. Today, except for a few of the aforementioned brands, everyone is trying to look like everyone else, hoping to find some success.  

--End predatory marketing of watches. Allow jewelers to determine what they want to buy. The slow-movers that they are required to buy in order to get the few popular models are winding up on sites like Overstock.com and eBay. No one who retails a product line wants to see the same watches they have in inventory all over the internet, heavily discounted.

Right now if you go to Overstock.com and search virtually any marquee brand for deals, plan on staying a while. They have a plethora of them, as does eBay. And now with the avalanche of retail store closings being announced, expect the surplus liquidator market to be really full of product with which to compete. This is a fact not lost on virtually any watch customer. Gone are the days of customers preferring to buy from the retail jeweler who happens to have a watch dealership. Customers are just very, very savvy. Most look online to find the specific watch movement a particular watch uses. An $11 movement in a $900 watch? Kind of destroys your perception of the watch, doesn’t it?

--Watch sourcing. For many savvy retail jewelers, independent watch sourcing is their bonanza. Sourcing watches is finding a particular brand and style for a customer that is not part of your regular inventory.

There are several reasons the retail jeweler is at an advantage here. First of all, jewelers can offer to ensure that they are buying a working watch. Many times on eBay a watch is listed as being in “running condition.” Running condition can mean that if you shake it enough, you might get to hear it tick. Usually, it will still need to be serviced to be a truly working watch. This makes end-users leery of buying online, opening a niche market for you.

Jewelers also can offer a free lifetime battery (for around 30 cents you can have a buying customer back in your store every year) with a sourced quartz watch.  

I should add that the internet is not the only place to source watches. There are wholesale watch dealers to which the general public does not have access, among other “tricks of the trade.”

20170426 Gendron special

-- American made? My goal is to make a totally American-made watch, specifically a “Gendron Special” (pictured above and below is the original from 1891.) I’ve got several ideas knocking around as to how exactly to get this done. Why? Because people today are proud to wear anything that reads “Made in the USA.”

20170426 Gendron special 2

To sum up, I hope this article sparks some debate in the watch industry as to what direction to take. This discussion should include watchmakers, retailers, distributors, watch designers and movement manufacturers. Let’s talk.

Jess Gendron is a seventh generation watchmaker, having learned by his father Dan’s side since childhood. He is now the owner of Colorado Timeworks, a watch repair service center in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and his website is Timeworks.biz.

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