If fashion unboxing videos is your jam, then Tim Mosso takes that to the next level with the YouTube videos he produces. But expect the media director of pre-owned watch e-tailer WatchBox to talk about wristwatches and complications – like why the H. Moser & Cie Pioneer Perpetual MD Burgundy is worth your every penny – in his typical honest style. It gets better on Instagram where he has almost 27,0000 followers. His insane rapid-fire so-called “one-minute reviews” sees him rattling off all the specs and honest opinions at the tip of his tongue like a fast-talking auctioneer.
In person, the Dartmouth-trained former United States Navy officer is as passionate about watches, sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge of horology during the recent launch of WatchBox’s first brick-and-mortar outpost here. Called the Collectors’ Lounge, the 200 sq-ft space at co-working space The Great Room in Ngee Ann City stocks 150 luxury models from the likes of A. Lange & Sohne and Rolex. That number is a fraction of the 3,000 models that the two-year-old WatchBox stocks online but its physical presence here effectively brings that catalogue of timepieces to life.
Dressed in a navy blazer and jeans, Mosso has a pair of lime green Oakleys perched on his head throughout our hour-long interview. He reminds you of a student, albeit one with an idiosyncratic talent. He carries a backpack wherever he goes and sported a Sinn EZM 1.1 on his right hand and a lime green Sistem Frog from Swatch on the other because “one is for the home time and one is for Singapore time”. But his boyish looks belie the fact that Mosso is a respected industry expert and was instrumental in establishing WatchBox’s video-first marketing strategy which has grown to capture over 4.5 million unique views on YouTube each month.
What does having a physical presence in Singapore mean for WatchBox?
“It’s a little bit like being an American going into Britain and starting a rock band in the ‘60s. You’re at the centre of the culture. Back in the ‘60s, the British led the way in rock. Singapore is leading the way in watches from the depth of engagement from collectors to the sheer interest in watch hobby to a point it becomes a lifestyle. I think it is important for us to be where the most important collectors are. The pre-owned space gives us an opportunity that very few in Singapore are doing. If you’re late to the game you’d need a better party favour and the pre-owned category is something where we can establish leadership in what is still a young sector.”
Why splurge on a pre-owned watch when you can get a spanking new piece?
“There was a time when a Jaguar, Ferrari or Austin-Healey from the 1950s and 1960s were just old cars. Over time, as nostalgia builds for previous eras, people who are impressed by those styles and may not have been around during that time start to reach out to them. They represent eras that speak to them. In time, you begin to recognise that they have a character, they have a charm, they have a distinctive feel of their age that you can’t get in a modern watch.
What we try to do is to make the experience as seamless and luxurious as possible. We also acknowledge that most watches lose value after they’re new and we are going to sell them at a better value. People are more comfortable buying online because online is where the pre-owned market dominates. People realise that a $50,000 watch that becomes a $35,000 watch should not be bought for $50,000.
There is also a practical element. Most pre-owned watches can be purchased for far less than a new watch. With pre-owned cars, for example, most of them will last for about 10 years. A watch can last for 300 years. Given the lifespan of a watch, a piece that is two years old or 18 months old, means nothing. Most of the Rolexes and Omegas with five-year warranties will look like watches that are new and will still give you the new watch experience. The stigma of owning something old goes away given just how long a watch can last. Today’s watches are better than today’s watches. And tomorrow’s watches are going to be better still.”
So the expression “they don’t make them like they used to” doesn’t apply for watches I presume?
“In fact, they make them better. You just need to look at how movements are made today. Rolex sent out a notice to its dealers four years ago that due to advances in its machining of components and lubricants, you can now expect a 10-year service interval. In the past, before synthetic lubricants and advanced fabrications, you’d generally talk about a two- to three-year service interval. And when a service could cost $1,000, that’s a big deal.
Watches are made better today. If you’d look at a Rolex or an Omega from the 1960s, the construction is very simple. That’s why most counterfeit watches are models that are slightly older. The detail level of a modern luxury brand – whether it’s an IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Rolex or Omega – is so high that the threshold for counterfeiting becomes so much higher.
If you look at the watches available today, you can get for perpetual calendars, tourbillons, split-seconds chronographs for a reasonable amount. If we are to go back to the 1970s and 1960s, the only way to get a watch like that was to spend an ungodly amount of money and generally have it custom-made. I think when people say that they don’t make it like they use to, they’re being a little bit nostalgic. This is something ingrained in human nature. If you read the ancient Greek epics, they talked about the heroes of yesteryear. These are people who lived thousands of years ago and they were talking about how great things used to be.”
What decades do WatchBox pieces come from?
“What you see for the most part are watches made from the 1920s through to this last decade, the 2010s. This is the era of wristwatches. We’ll always have a significant number of true vintage watches but 80 per cent of the watches we have have been made from the 1990s to the present. We’re not talking about very old watches. I’d say 50 per cent of the watches we have were made in the last 15 years. So you’re getting relatively recent productions and styles that are still current.”
How will the recession affect the way we buy watches?
“The recession will hurt watch houses more than it would hurt us. In good times we can buy and sell a $50,000 watch. If you’re Vacheron Constantin, you/’d only sell watches that are $20,000 and up. If you are Baume & Mercier, you are selling watches that cost $2,000 or $8,000. The great thing about pre-owned pieces is that we can tailor the watches we buy to reflect the economic conditions. When times are tough, we buy steel watches that can cost under $10,000 and more basic models. When times are flushed and people are willing to spend generously, we can buy more expensive watches and raise our profit margins.
But here’s the wonderful thing. A lot of times, margins for us are going to be the same. If you sell $100,000 worth of Omega Speedmasters with a 20 per cent profit margin, that’d be exactly the same as selling one $100,000 Patek Philippe with a 20 per cent profit margin. We have more flexibility than the other brands as most of them sell in a certain price range and make certain styles only. We are able to tailor our buying and shift gears.”
So does the current economic climate affect the kind of watches available to customers now?
“Yes. Right now, there are two ways of looking at it. For the most part, the world is still in recovering from the recession of the late 2000s. Times are still good. So we are generally going to see that more expensive watches from elite brands are easier to sell. So there is more money to be made with expensive watches. Now that is the market as a whole. But there are micro markets for certain models. You can see that we have a full case of Rolex and Patek Philippe sports watches in our lounge here because those have gained values faster than the market for used watches as a whole.
For example, a Patek Phillipe Nautilus would generally sell for about $22,000 in Jan 2016. In March 2019 we would sell that watch for $45,000. By July of 2019, that watch is selling for $70,000. That’s a unique market within a market. Most watches would not more than triple in price since 2016. But the Nautilus has. The Aquanaut is also very strong. Ditto Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, Rolex’s GMT, Daytonas, Submariners and even the Date-Just 41.”
Some observers have noted how women are a unique group of customers because they usually rely on emotions to make their purchases.
“There is an emotional element in buying watches in general. As guys, we like to pretend that it is not about fashion but let’s be frank – it is. F.P. Journe, one of the most important independent watchmakers of our time, has said that ‘When I am designing a watch, the first thing I draw is the dial. Because if it doesn’t look good, why bother?’. I relate to that. There is a fashion element and I think it is impressive to have a fully accessorise appearance whether you’re a man or a woman.
The appeal of watches is like the appeal of cars. People find cars fascinating because of the culture, the community, the excitement of the drive, the mechanical engineering. A watch does give you that sense of excitement you wouldn’t necessarily get from buying jewellery. You’re getting a machine within a fashion shell. A machine on the inside gives you the level of intricacy, craft, content and inherent value that you can’t get if you’re wearing a bracelet. A lot of people fall in love with a Ferrari or Porsche because of the way a car looks and then they consummate the love affair with the drive.”
How has the female customer evolved?
“Female collectors tend to be more sophisticated because they have to think more about what they buy. With a female watch buyer, a lot of the options for men are going to be too large so they have to find ways to find watches that are properly-sized and proportioned but still interesting. I find that a lot of female watch collectors have to decide between a vintage men’s watch that’s a little smaller in size, a modern-day men’s watch in a mid-sized case, or a ladies watch.
Most female collectors have very little interest in watches designed for women. They want a men’s watch that fits their wrists. There is a certain sense of pandering element about watches designed for women. The situation is a bit like brands marketed for younger people. The worst thing you can say to Gen Z is, ‘Hey kids we’d designed this just for you’. It’s the same thing with women. They don’t want to hear, ‘Hey this is a ladies watch for you. Don’t worry about the rest. This is for you’. No, they don’t accept that.
They take command of their collection in a way men don’t necessarily because men don’t have to worry about being patronised by brands. Almost every watch is made for a man. So they don’t have to feel exploited as a less sophisticated niche group. Women who collect watches resent that attitude a bit and they tend to gravitate towards men’s watches that fit smaller wrists. A woman who buys a women’s watch is probably the smallest group within the collector’s fraternity because most passionate women collectors buy men’s watches.”
What female-centric watch trends have you observed lately?
“The most interesting thing for me would be the appetite for very small watches like the smallest Rolex Datejust that have now been phased out. I see that women settling on a size that used to be considered a men’s watch in the 1950s and 1960s like those that are 34mm to 38mm in diameter.
Also, women are getting more into vintage models. I went to a Breitling event in 2017 and I spoke to the actress Olivia Munn and asked her about the watches she owned. We had a great discussion about her vintage Rolex. I made a video of the interview and, of course, I couldn’t use it because Breitling sponsored me for the event but she wanted to talk about the Rolex. That’s revealing to me because it shows that whether you’re Olivia Munn or whether you’re a garden variety collector researching from her computer, there is more and more interest by women about vintage men’s watches.”
What’s considered a vintage model?
“If we’re being arbitrary and say that the vintage watch is 30 years old or older, then every single year, the vintage time frame will creep a little newer. The rule of thumb that I’m using for now and probably for the next 24 to 36 months is that I’d consider vintage to be a watch that existed before the quartz crisis of the ’70s to the early ’80s. But I do think that we would have to give up on that definition as the quartz crisis becomes more and more distant. When we’re talking 40 to 50 years since the end of the quartz crisis, I think we are going to define vintage in a couple of terms.
First is a ‘dead’ brand which is a watch made by a brand that’s no longer existent. A watch that features a style or technology that are no longer current. So think tonneau cases, think elaborate lugs, think 35mm men’s watches. Also, compare the watch to what the company is currently making and how different that piece is that you can’t simply consider it as an evolution.
For example, the Rolex King Midas of the 1960s and 1970s look nothing like what Rolex makes today. The same can be said of the Oysterquartz. It didn’t go out of production until the early 2000s which by most definition doesn’t make it vintage. Yet because it’s so different in shape and design and technology than other Rolex watches, I’d consider a 2001 Oysterquartz Day-date or Datejust to be vintage. With modern brands like F.P. Journe, he didn’t make watches under his own name until 1999. So a 1999 or 2000 F.P. Journe piece is considered vintage.”
Some people still shy away from quartz watches when they talk about serious collecting.
“The attitude towards quartz watches is nuanced. People need to have a more sophisticated understanding of quartz. We don’t really think of mechanical watches as disposable. Think the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s: there were many watches that sold for US$5 or US$10 that were basically using pin-level movements. They had one jewel, they weren’t designed to be serviced for a lifetime or handed down to your children. They were just junky entry-level products that were meant to be thrown away when they were worn out. We don’t have mechanical watches like that anymore. I’m wearing my (mechanical) Sistem 51 from Swatch which is made of plastic and held together by glue. When you see a disposable mechanical watch today you’re shocked because it’s so rare.
We’re in an era where you have quartz watches ranging from a disposable and inexpensive range up to a high luxury segment. A Seiko Credor Eichi II is a watch with a hand-finished movement that has a spring drive quartz oscillator. That is a watch that is finished just as well as any piece Philippe Dufour would offer – and it’s a watch fundamentally built around quartz technology. But that’s a watch that will also last a lifetime and your kid’s lifetime, and your kids kids’ lifetime. The finishing on that watch is uncompromised. If a person tells me that quartz is just junk I’m telling you that person is unsophisticated. He or she doesn’t know the difference between an entry-level quartz watch and a luxury quartz watch and the whole spectrum they sit on that ranges from a Seiko Credor Eichi II to a watch you’d find in a Happy Meal.”
What are some of the quartz watches that have wowed you?
“The Breitling Aerospace Evo, the Omega X-33 Skywalker, and the F.P. Journe Elegante would be on that list. These are all luxury quartz watches that are meant to be kept for life and handed down to your kids. Think about it, there are things you’d not do with a Patek Philippe Nautilus. But if you’re going to buy a $2,000 pre-owned Breitling Areospace Evo, all of a sudden you’ve got a watch that’s a luxury product but it’s also less vulnerable than your Patek Philippe to things like shock and rough treatment. And it’s cheaper to fix if you damage it. Even if you do completely damage it, you’d be out $2,000 rather than $70,000. So quartz is something you can work into your collection because they’re great daily drivers but still staying within the luxury threshold.”
If you can choose some watches that should be on a female collector’s cache, what would they be?
“The F.P. Journe Elegante is a women’s watch that came out about five years ago. It gives you an F.P. Journe timepiece that is shock-resistant, anti-magnetic, and swimmable. It boasts a unique engineering, beautiful fabrication, a remarkable luminesce visibility, and comfort on the wrist. The watch can sit on the shelf for 18 years and still retain its charge and operate. It is probably the most sophisticated women’s quartz watch around.
I would also say think about looking into men’s watches and getting smaller sizes. Something like a Patek Philippe 5059R Perpetual Calendar Retrograde in 36mm will give you an extraordinary complication. It is a watch that’s highly undervalued. Look at what goes into that watch: the hand-finishing, a retrograde function, a perpetual calendar, and a moon phase, You’re looking at a watch that takes so much more energy and effort to create than a Nautilus but for a fraction of the price.
A great wonderful size for women would be a vintage watch like the Girard-Perregaux Deep Diver 8867. That’s a watch that will give you all the aesthetics of a vintage Rolex Submariner or a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. It will give you a nice wearable size that looks good on a small wrist. It’s from a great brand and is incredibly rare with under 2,000 pieces made. We’re talking about a watch that’s going to be more exclusive than any vintage Rolex Submariner from the ’60s and is still available for a reasonable amount of money.”