Find out more about the inner workings of a young team of watch dealers with some crazy vintage watches...
On a recent visit to London, Ben and I spent some time with our new friends from Subdial Watches a small young team of enthusiastic watch dealer based in London.
After finding a chilled atmospheric relaxed spot in Covent Garden, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to watches. Below is the result of a near 2-hour conversation over three great burgers and a selection of pretty special watches.
Christy, we’d love to know more about who Subdial Watches, how long have you guys been up and running?
We’re pretty fresh as we started 18 months ago. We have grown quite quickly to where we are today. Both Ross' and mine background is professional services and consulting.
At the time we were trading watches on the side, starting really small just testing it as an idea. We realised soon after that it's really hard to sell a watch. It didn’t take us long to decide this side of the process is what we wanted to focus on, become a company that is really tailor-made for sellers. We wanted to create a very easy process where as a seller you receive transparency about the value of the watch and a sensible offer.
Was there an overriding motivation for you to form this company?
We had a lot of experience trying to sell stuff ourselves. Normally nobody trusts you when selling privately with the first question they ask being “how much do you want for it?” We were always left wanting to ask “tell me what it is worth and then tell me what you will offer me”. We always wanted people to be honest with us. So for us with Subdial Watches it’s about trying to be really honest with sellers.
We focus on acquiring great watches. It's simple really if you get great watches you can sell great watches.
That’s a great quote that makes total sense. For a young business then, how many watches do you see on a regular basis?
At the moment we’re currently processing about 15-20 watches a week.
Wow, that seems a lot, have you noticed this growth continuously weekly?
Oh yes hugely.
What is your ideal turnaround time for watches?
At the moment we’re looking to turn stock quickly. For us, it’s around 30-40 days. This relies on us pricing watches right immediately, moving them and then re-investing. It means we can work on a lot more lower margins.
As an example, Watchfinder who publish their average turnaround time in their annual reports says their turnaround is 30-140 days.
That seems like a good way to build a solid reputation and get the name out there.
Exactly. The number of times you purchase a watch and you then realise maybe it wasn’t the best buy and it didn’t have the margins you thoughts. There's a temptation to sit on the watch and wait for the right price. It’s so much better to cut your loses and re-invest the money.
And ultimately if you buy watches, you like and want to sell it’s not about margins on each model but its more about the figure at the end of the year. That is so reliant on how quickly you can move stuff. We focus on sellers, giving them a good service, turning stock quickly and making smaller margins but growing quickly.
The business is getting quite exciting which is fun.
And it's just the two of you working on this?
Yes just myself and Ross. We’re focused on just buying really good watches and not worrying too much about selling because we spend the time to buy well.
As a company who focuses on quality sellers and building relationships. Do you play on the fact you’re based in London and easy to contact?
Actually, not every customer is in London, we have an even split between the UK, Europe and the western world in general. There is a real possibility in watches to get that network effect. One person buys from you, they’re really happy with the service you provide and they have 50 other watches they want to sell. You can end up building this relationship where sellers really understand the business model and it gets to a point where sellers think ‘why would I sell my watches anywhere else?’
So for a young company, you’ve acquired a lot of impressive watches in such a short amount of time, what do you put that down to?
We buy most of our watches by sourcing directly from individual sellers and collectors. It’s interesting whenever we speak to other dealers as they always say their issue is sourcing. For us, it's just not. It's what we spent a lot of time focused on getting very good at. At the end of the day, we get a lot of stuff in and we see a lot of stuff. 95% of the pieces we see are new to market.
And what about that piece you’re wearing today?
This is an Autavia 3646 we recently got in. I really like this one. A green suede strap works very well on it.
That bezel is crazy it must have been through a lot.
Oh yes, it has, some of the photos we have of the bezel show just how honest the damage is.
So it’s clear you’re pretty deep into the world of watches today, but what was the catalyst that started this hobby?
Realistically I just kind of fell into them. It was that classic story of I received a watch from my Grandad. I then started buying a few bits on the side. I had that spark of interest and it’s grown from there.
The two of us (Christy and Ross) discussed and talked about watches a lot as well which is why Subdial Watches happened. It was because of our passion for watches.
Was there a moment where the stars aligned and it made undeniable sense for you to follow the passion for watches?
When I speak to people who trade in watches they all seem to have a similar moment. When you have been buying and selling a few different watches you eventually manage to land that one watch. Suddenly there is demand coming from every nook and cranny, everyone wants it.
For us, that watch was an early Speedmaster Ed White Soleil dial (It's probably worth adding here that there are only thought to be between 15-25 of these known to exist). To start with we didn’t actually fully know what we had but we soon became quite aware!
Nice! That’s a crazy watch to land early on.
So today we’ve talked a lot about vintage watches, but I can see from your website you don’t exclusively offer vintage as a few modern pieces have made their way online. What's your split between vintage and modern watches?
We sell more vintage. It’s simply what we’re interested in and it’s where we think there is a really good market. Commonly if you like vintage watches you’re very passionate about them. However, in order to value these watches, it does require more knowledge.
Can focusing on vintage models more specifically be tricky with the fluctuation of prices and market demands? An example I know of would be the Polar Explorer. A few years ago they were £3,000, now they’re around £5,000.
Yes exactly, we get this with Heuer’s quite regularly at the moment. People will send links of Autavia’s listed at £20,000 and the reason they’re that price is simply down to the fact that dealers haven’t dropped their prices. Whilst what buyers are willing to pay has dropped what dealers are hoping to sell them at has stayed the same, that’s why we see those watches for 20k. Realistically those watches won’t have sold for the last 12 months.
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Are you looking to specialise in a specific aspect of the market? Brands, price points?
Yes, we like brands that have a heritage in the industry and a good following in the market. In terms of price point? No, we’re not specific. We very much want to build a brand where you can come in age 20, buy your first watch from a company who at the same time sells to the best collectors in the world who buy million-pound watches.
The demands and expectations of someone who is buying a million-pound watch are very different from what someone who is buying a £1,000 watch but we want them to stick within the same brand and ethos.
Well if you’re a collector who wants to sell a watch you likely have a range of watches at different price points, whether that be a Polerouter or Daytona right?
In the community, there is a lot of different services but we want to create something where you can come in at a level of horology and work your way up to as far as you want to go. There is always that next watch. We’re creating something that allows that.
In regards to there always being that next watch, do you have anything exciting coming to the store in the near future?
Sure, we have a lot of vintage Rolex sports watch from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Our more affordable offering is being strengthened.
We’ve also had quite a few people approach us with Heuers recently. Which is absolutely fine with us, we’re confident the Heuer market is still there.
Well, we saw a new time only Autavia at Baselworld this year, I personally can only see the vintage market following this popularity.
Definitely. Oh, we also have a couple of really nice Tudor sports watches with early dials coming in. It’s an exciting time for us.
Thank you to Christy from Subdial Watches for sitting down with us to not only chat watches but also for bringing along this incredible selection of pieces. We look forward to the next one!
Edit - SubDial have re-branded and use to be known as Calibre Co.
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