There used to be a lively scene in London for collectors of watches from contemporary independent watchmakers, but soaring rents and rates in Mayfair’s retail heartland made it too tough to maintain physical showrooms for such low volume treasures. Former Graham watches front man Pietro Tomajer stepped into the void with the launch of The Limited Edition in 2015 with a mission to bring some of the world’s rarest and most sought after watches to market. After battling headwinds for now, the strategy is now bearing fruit and the online retailer is now finding watches for collectors all over the world.
WatchPro: Your business is all about independent watchmakers and limited editions from brands that have found it incredibly difficult to get a foothold in the UK market. What attracts you to them, and what do they bring to your business?
Pietro Tomajer: In my view, watchmaking is art. One of the brightest expressions of the human ingenious to master and interpret the most valuable of assets, time.
Independent watchmakers are special as they interpret this art often with no compromises and with the ultimate goal of leaving a trace of themselves in history, in the same way as painters, sculptors and artists in general will do.
The slow production pace, the limited quantities, the necessity to be explained in depth, the non commercial designs make them sometimes non viable for the current high-street retail environment and the constraints of quick sales turnaround.
That is exactly the reason why we have decided to fill that gap, by reversing the business model.
Rather than ask watchmakers to produce more and then trying to sell, we are focused on creating the demand first, before production, by generating educational contents about their art, to then serve the clients who decide to invest; keeping production and demand in balance, preventing timepieces from sitting on a boutique shelve for long.
WatchPro: What are the advantages and challenges compared to the biggest and best-known brands from the groups?
Pietro Tomajer: The advantages are that virtually no timepiece or watchmaker is similar to another. Every single one, brands and master watchmakers, are focused on making a name for themselves not because of the volume of timepieces sold, but for the singularity and unique creativity of their production.
The focus is in producing the strict number necessary to reach the few collectors worldwide that are prepared to understand and invest, without the pressure of having to seek growth at all costs or being obsessed by having to generate, year in year out, additional value for shareholders.
WatchPro: Do you have personal relationships with all the independents you work with?
Pietro Tomajer: Yes, we inevitably tend to. The level of insights and details necessary to confidently explain the art of independent watchmaking almost forces you to dive into not only the details of the design conception and manufacturing steps, but to literally embrace the philosophy and personality of the maker.
Without the latter, it is literally impossible to get the reason why a watchmaker may decide to present a watch bearing the face of the Joker, or showcasing the time anticlockwise.
I believe this is one of the reasons why we were selected as Grand Prix de l’Horologerie Academy members. We are honored.
WatchPro: Do your customers also have personal relationships with the watchmakers?
Pietro Tomajer: They do and they like the personal contact on social medias, as they also empathize with the maker’s philosophy, style and mission.
We not only don’t try to limit this aspect, but we sometimes encourage it. I am a firm believer that if collectors see value in what we do they will still enjoy our guiding service and not necessarily need to purchase directly from the maker.
It is up to us to be good enough to have clients collectors happy to purchase through us rather than going direct.
WatchPro: Which independent brands have been on the rise recently, and what does it take for them to get momentum?
Pietro Tomajer: Czapek Geneve growth is impressive. Francois Czapek was the business partner of Antoni Patek (of Patek Philippe of course) in 1800s Geneva.
Ironically, with the development of the latest Antarctique collection, Czapek Geneve has managed to feed part of that clientele’s appetite that was getting particularly upset with the incredibly long waiting times for classic sports chic timepieces.
Czapek seized the opportunity by launching a model that looks fresh, original and with a newly developed in-house caliber that has really attracted collectors for the extraordinary value it offers.
Similarly, Armin Strom has come up with an incredible in-house made timepiece at around £15,000.00 (the Gravity Equal Force) which offers a micro-rotor, a patented de-clutch spring, Kari Voutilainen’s dial and/or dial plate and the highest Haute Horlogerie decorating standards. So, these day, the accent and the race is on value.
In the more affordable price range, the introduction of Raketa (the oldest Russian company, making watches since 1721) has been massive for us.
The audience is particularly keen to embrace new approaches to watchmaking, and a former Soviet Union watchmaker still making their movements in-house and priced around £1000, turns out to be a great proposition.
WatchPro: Who is a typical customer for watches from the independents in this country?
Pietro Tomajer: Entrepreneurs and collectors that have already experienced the more famous brands and are very keen to explore deeper and beyond.
WatchPro: Would you recommend multibrand retailers consider independent watch brands, and why?
Pietro Tomajer: I would and we actually collaborate with some retailers to support them in their understanding of this fascinating niche.
The main issue is that it takes time. At The Limited Edition we sold virtually nothing for the first two years (2015-2016) but we continued to created content relentlessly until the moment we finally started to reach the right people.
From that point on, we have been lucky to triple our sales for the last three years as we currently serve over 1000 collectors around the world.
WatchPro: Are there any independent brands you would recommend right now for their investment potential?
Pietro Tomajer: Absolutely yes. Value is influenced by two things: availability and demand.
In independent watchmaking, scarcity is a given in most cases and the demand is growing exponentially.
The trick is to be brave enough to discover the next successful name before anyone else does.
And the way to do that is to experiment without being obsessed by the investment side of things. Exactly as we would buy an art piece for, ultimately buy for the pleasure that it gives.
The trick is having the knowledge and guidance to choose and having the patience and belief in the choice made.
Nobody was expecting the incredible quotations that names like F. P. Journe or Philippe Dufour or Chaykin currently have in auction.
However, ultimately, I would always purchase for the pleasure that art gives, rather than the potential return that it can offer.
Life is too short.