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Tim Mosso Of WatchBox Interview: Watch Collecting And The Digital Community Of Enthusiasts

Tim Mosso Of WatchBox Interview: Watch Collecting And The Digital Community Of Enthusiasts ABTW Interviews Featured Articles

Allow me to thank my friend Tim Mosso for letting me interview him for what could be the first of several articles on aBlogtoWatch. I first met Tim when he was the savant watch-knowledge guru at WatchUWatch. The company was acquired by Govberg Jewelers, which later re-positioned to WatchBox. Tim is best known for his regular watch presentations and discussion videos on YouTube, along with his disarmingly casual with fellow timepiece enthusiasts. Tim and I see eye to eye on more things than not when it comes to watches, yet he certainly has his own perspectives on collecting, buying, selling, and mere horological appreciation.

Here are some questions we discussed about pre-owned watches, retail in the digital age, and collecting, along with his thoughtful responses:

Ariel Adams (AA): Tim, you have personally handled more good-quality pre-owned watches than most people in the world. You’ve seen great watches and good values at all price levels. You’ve experienced the large number of great options available out there.

Does it surprise you at all knowing that some people not only flock around a few highlighted popular watches, but that they also may spend above retail on them?

Tim Mosso (TM): I’m not surprised by this. Though many within the hobby hate to admit it, there remains an enormous fashion and group-identity element that drives sales of “hot” models as common as  Rolex and as rare as F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu. Obviously, mainstream fashion pushes otherwise disinclined watch buyers to make one-off purchases of various Rolex models — this drives volume — but there are many serial collectors who succumb to essentially the same allure of a watch that’s popular, confers status, and strokes the ego.

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And this isn’t to discredit or slate any of those collectors; the same guy who pays $70,000 for a used Nautilus 5711/1A might be the same person who takes a chance and buys a Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision new at MSRP. He might prioritize fashion and then take a chance on a left-field purchase. But if the “core” of the watch hobby were as purist about innovation and finish or as immune to fashion trends as it claims to be, Ulysse Nardin would be as big as TAG Heuer.

Tim Mosso Of WatchBox Interview: Watch Collecting And The Digital Community Of Enthusiasts ABTW Interviews Featured Articles

Photo credit: Tim Mosso, Watchbox

AA: When it comes to internet sales of watches, what would you suspect sells more per a day, watches that are identified as brand new or watches that are identified as pre-owned or used?

TM: “Pre-owned” is more effective. Online buyers are more sophisticated today than they were at the dawn of Internet used-watch trading in the early 2000s. Back then, specious terms like “New In Box,” “As New,” and “New” were applied to watches that were closeouts, gray market, trans-shipped, or a decade old with blank warranty cards. This was opaque to collectors at the time, but it is common knowledge today. The online watch buyer of 2019 knows to roll his eyes when a Chrono24 non-authorized vendor calls a demonstrably five year-old watch “new.”

Photo quality, seller credibility, provable watch condition, and a competitive price tend to supersede the relevance of hyperbolic descriptions.

Price is critical. In my experience, people tend to weed out the sellers that are small-time, too new for comfort, use “stock” photos, or operate out of a Russian naval base in Crimea. After the shopper becomes comfortable with a set of sellers, the core appeal of pre-owned — lower prices — becomes a bigger factor. If used watches generally sold for five to ten percent off of retail, there would be no reason to buy used watches over new ones with full warranty and immaculate condition.

But price is a huge factor in a market segment that often sells recent production watches for 20-50 percent off retail. Most used watches make 1995 Jaguars and 2005 VW Phaetons look like robust investments. At that point, the expectation is no longer for a “new” watch but a favorable balance on a sliding scale of condition and price. The best price that gets the buyer closest to “factory” condition generally wins the sale.

Tim Mosso Of WatchBox Interview: Watch Collecting And The Digital Community Of Enthusiasts ABTW Interviews Featured Articles

AA: Guys like you and me may take for granted that we know what to look for when scoping out a watch online, especially a pre-owned one. Do you think more novice buyers have some of that same confidence or is the Internet still very much “a caveat emptor marketplace” for watches and intimidating to many buyers?

TM: The real change in the space has been the arrival of large enterprises that focus on pre-owned watches as the core of their business model. These are akin to major non-authorized dealers in the auto space like CarMax; it sells what it buys and holds no franchise interests with manufacturers.

That framework describes my employer, Watchbox, but it applies equally to competitors like Crown & Caliber or Watchfinder. A buyer still needs to ask smart questions about condition, terms of sale, and after-sales support, but the answer to the basic question of whether a $100 million company is going to take your money and vanish is self-evident.

“Buy the seller” is an ancient bromide in this hobby, but there’s undeniable truth to it. A quick Google search will reveal good and bad reviews of any established seller. A seller with no reviews is a seller to avoid. A one-off seller offering a price “too good to be true” likely is a scam. Weird payment instructions to a suspect country or region should be a red flag. Unclear photos of an expensive product are disqualifying. A seller that won’t answer a phone and field questions is a non-starter. Finally, any seller that won’t allow a no-questions-asked return of a watch purchased online needs to be excluded from your consideration.

Tim Mosso Of WatchBox Interview: Watch Collecting And The Digital Community Of Enthusiasts ABTW Interviews Featured Articles

Photo credit: Tim Mosso, Watchbox

AA: Collectors get excited about watches that have a lot of stories to tell. The more compelling the story, the more people seem to want the watches. In your years telling people stories about timepieces, what are some of the common threads in the stories that collectors get the most excited about?

TM: Realistically, people seem to love when I describe technical specifications in depth or explain the actual people involved in the creation of a model. So much of the marketing pitches by the watch brands are shallow, purely emotional, and cliched, so collectors rely on me to discard that tripe and talk about the details of the watch itself. Concretely, what are you getting for your $20,000? I answer that question.

In many ways, I’ve been the “Motor Trend” road test editor to the “fashion editors” of mainstream watch advertising; I’m the guy who is expected to explain the deeper story, strengths, and weaknesses of the product. And we are talking about an exorbitantly priced product class; core details of the product need to be available. That analogy isn’t as odd as it may seem; I’ve found the crossover car-enthusiasm of the watch collector community to be uncanny.

Comments

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  • BNABOD

    “ Finally, any seller that won’t allow a no-questions-asked return of a watch purchased online needs to be excluded from your consideration.” ….say what??? how convenient for watchbox to say that but it essentially eliminates all private sellers . I have sold many watches on forums without having a worry free return policy…it is a terrible idea for private sellers. Be honest, describe the watch as is, take good pics, share all the details, possible dents and scratches and that will speak for itself .

    • JJApplegate

      Agreed!

    • Tim Mosso

      A collector needs to protect himself first. A product bought online entails risk including the risk of simply disliking the model in person. As a seller, I can see why you would want a sale to be final, but as a collector, I would want the option to return an unwanted product costing thousands. That would be my position regardless of whether I work at Watchbox. After all, what advantage does a collector gain by selecting “all sales final” over “unconditional refund on request?”
      Best,
      Tim

      • Independent_George

        Tim, I get where you are coming from, but I think that for the true private seller, it’s implied that returns are accepted, for a good reason, especially if you are selling through the forums. I haven’t had to yet, but I’ll accept a return. I just don’t want offer them as a sales incentive because I really can’t afford to.

        First, there is the opportunity loss. It’s always better to sell sooner rather than later, if not for just the time value of money.

        There are transactional costs that are lost: bank fees and PayPal fees and eBay and Chrono24 fees and shipping fees, etc.

        Then there are reputational costs if selling thorough forums. If I sell Watch X for, say $1,500, through the forum, post as sold, accept a return, and re-post, I’m not getting $1,500 again because forum sales are all about reputation, and I’ve suffered a loss as to valuation of the watch. If I don’t don’t to also suffer personal reputational loss, which is killer on the forums, I would need to post that the watch was sold and returned and being offered again. But no one is going to offer me $1,500, so I am going to have to price it even lower, so I have lost money as to value.

        And I am not going to get into eBay or Chrono24, other than they are full of scammers, crazy people and thieves, let alone agents for watch re-sellers.

        I also have no idea of the condition in which the watch will return. What if the seller dropped it and scratched it and then tried to return it to me? That’s probably going to entail some kind of dispute resolution mechanism.

        Watchbox can absorb these. BNABOD and I cannot.

    • Independent_George

      I didn’t take that as a shot against the truly private seller. He knows that a true private seller can’t afford to allow returns.
      I think was a direct shot of companies you find all over Chrono24 and eBay, for example, the grey-grey market companies, if you will, one or two or tree steps below JomaShop on the watch food chain, companies that list new or “mint” condition pre-owned watches with very restrictive return polices. The forums are full of folks complaining that they received a watch and they began to fail within a week, or that they noticed a significant materials defect after taking the plastic off, and that were told they could not return the watch and had use the third-party warranty that came with the watch. The forum thread is usually followed by complaints that the warranty service was poor or that the issue wasn’t covered.

      There was a recent string about a dude who bought a watch and when he received it had punch out on the bezel. Not a nick or a dent, but a machined punch out. Of course he saw that as evidence of the poor QC of the brand, and the usual pearl-clutching nerds followed suit, until someone asked where he bought it. Online from some place in Poland.

    • iwantswtortobegood

      I dont think Tim meant private sellers in this context. But even as a private seller you should offer to take the product back.

      • I do think there has been misunderstanding about this. Commercial sellers large and small need to hold themselves to higher standards, and people who sell a watch from their collections once or twice a year aren’t really in this discussion.
        Best,
        Tim

  • JJApplegate

    Lol, that is crazy, I sell a dozen watches a year on the forums and instagram. I am a collector and I flip watches occasionally. No questions asked returns? If an adult has made a decision to purchase something, they negotiate and pay a fair price and I send them what they paid for why should I accept returns? If I charged them 40% premiums like watchbox and crown and caliber I would have no issues with returns either. Dealers like watchbox are for uneducated consumers, and uneducated consumers who pay massive premiums are the ones who need returns. Take Tim’s good piece of advice in this article, become the expert, REFUSE to pay watchbox premiums!

    • Independent_George

      I’m sorry, but one dozen watches per year, if true, doesn’t make you an “occasional” flipper.

      I have also noticed that you just created your Disqus account, and that there is no JJApplegate account on Instagram that I can find. Sorry if Tim is harshing your side hustle.

      I haven’t bought a watch from Watchbox or C&C, but I wouldn’t not buy from them. If you actually call them up, on most models they are very likely to deal, and you’ll get a price close to what you’ll pay to a private seller. I almost pulled the trigger on a Watchbox watch after negotiating the price. Decided I wanted a different watch. But returns and warranties do have some value.

      Oh yeah, I’ll match my watch education with you any day.

      • Hi George, thank you for your understanding. I remain a major enthusiast of this industry, and I continue to love watches and watch collectors. When I buy, I protect myself by doing homework on sellers as well as the watches in question.

        When our company started in 2001 as OJ Whatley’s personal home-brew eBay storefront, he offered a generous return policy that exceeded even eBay’s requirements. Offering this accommodation raised costs, but it helped OJ build a reliable book of business and good word-of-mouth.

        We became a $12 million company on his watch before raising that an order of magnitude with Danny Govberg as Watchbox. The constant has been our return policy, and it never stymied or stunted the growth of the company. I can understand a small seller’s logic (i.e., “refusing returns is to my advantage,”), but the benefits of this approach are entirely one-sided. Returns should be considered a cost of doing business with products sold sight-unseen. Only on the wrist does a watch get the final nod of approval, and a collector should be able to decline after making that judgement firsthand.
        Best,
        Tim

    • Independent_George

      Oh yeah, and you upvoted your own post. LOL!

  • Santiago Otero

    I knew I like Tim for a reason, he is a Navy veteran. As an Army officer and a watch collector for over 30 years, I take the “your word is your bond and the honor code” approach when buying and selling watches. My recent purchase came from wachbox. I bought a two tone ceramic Rolex GMT. After researching many platforms, watchbox had the best price, return policy, and warranty. I agree, buy the seller and know what you are buying before hand.

    On selling watches, if you are an honest seller, provide accurate descriptions and photos, you should allow a reasonable return policy. In my case as a private seller, I allow a 72 hours, no questions asked. If you receive the watch and you don’t like it, I will allow you to return it. This should allow you time to inspect it and return it if the buyer is not satisfy. The problem nowadays is the false expectations of many buyers, which buy watches without doing due diligence. That’s why I have kept most of my purchases and have not sold any watches since 2014.

    Great interview Ariel!

  • iwantswtortobegood

    Tim is the heart and soul of the watch community.

    • I’m lucky just to be here! If you’d asked me what I expected to do after leaving the Navy, “anything but a dream job” would have been my answer. Your views on YouTube help to make that job possible.

      Hopefully, I’ve made the hobby more accessible and fun with my work online.
      Best,
      Tim

  • Independent_George

    I guess the advantage to a buyer is a lower cost, especially if you are selling on a private forum. No sales tax, though that’s no longer true on eBay. PayPal is also very buyer oriented, so it isn’t like buyers are completely unprotected. JJApplegate aside, I generally beat commercial reseller prices by at least 20%, and if you include sales tax, it’s even more. That’s pretty significant when you start getting to the $3,000 range and up. It’s the cost of a new SRPD027.

    Why don’t I make a return policy official? If I felt that there was a commercial benefit, I would. I have been on the forums long enough to ask very experienced members this very question, and the answer is that a seller won’t see any benefit. A long time member of the Rolex Forum told me that in his experience, outside of providing a warranty and/or a certificate of authenticity, you aren’t going to sell your watch any faster or for more money if you offer returns. So all the potential headaches of the policy isn’t worth it. I am not operating a for-profit commercial entity, so I don’t need to create goodwill among thousands of potential customers. I just need to establish trust with one person. I am selling at a loss anyway, so why add to the risk?

    I am attorney by profession. A wise law school professor once said that there will always a need for lawyers because their will always be scumbags, deadbeats and thugs. And he was right. Sure, many sellers are scumbags. But so are many buyers. Just sell a watch on eBay and don’t offer limit offer amount and watch the responses from bots and laughably transparent scam attempts roll in. So I tend to operate from the idea that all buyers are potentially scummy until proven otherwise.

    So I compensate by buying the buyer. I always try to engage. I think I provide a level a communication that even Watchbox doesn’t. If asked, I will take pictures of every single scratch and ding on my watch, and then some. I’ll put it on a Timegrapher and sent the results. I have Zoomed and Skyped with buyers. Because I am not selling for a profit, my room to negotiate is larger.

    And while it takes a bit longer to sell, all of this has worked. I just sold a Bremont, the buyer and I got along so well he invited me to BBQ in Arkansas if I am ever there.

    • Small sellers have their place in the community. When possible, I like to buy from those sellers in person in order to minimize misunderstanding. But I’ve also bought from them remotely with both positive and extremely negative product quality outcomes.

      My advice isn’t to avoid all small sellers, but I don’t think this level of transaction is the best place for most collectors to operate. The quality spread is huge, and the basis for researching a seller is minimal. It’s more often a blind leap of faith than when buying from an established trader.

      The best small-time sellers are people with large numbers of real references on places like Timezone and the PuristSPro collector forums. Real people willing to vouch for you over the phone would make me feel better about a seller, and any established history of successful transactions should generate references. I still think that even small-time sellers should accept returns. If you’re in the business on a going basis, returns are the cost of doing business.
      Best,
      Tim

  • Rick Remiker

    Tim is truly one of a kind. I have no idea how person can be so knowledgeable about hundreds or thousands of watches. I watch as much of Tim as I can. Thanks Ariel!

    • Thanks, Rick! All of those watches have remained with me in memory, so I feel as though they’re all sort of my “collection” by other means. The old Walt Odets watchmaking archive at the TimeZone “Horologium” inspired me to begin explaining and presenting watches when I started with Watchuwant; I wanted to make the hobby more accessible and engaging the way Walt did.

      He left an incredible legacy of knowledge and insight when he left the hobby. I hope to follow Walt’s path one day into the world of proper watchmaking, but I’m also happy to build an online database of watches as my own “mini-Walt” contribution to the hobby.
      Best,
      Tim

  • Independent_George

    There is value, perhaps even significant value, in enthusiasts selling and trading with other enthusiasts, enthusiasts supporting other enthusiasts, apart from the more transactional world of commercial, for-profit resellers. Do you not agree? And if you do not, then how can you explain how the sellers’ forums at WUS, for example, stay so active and robust. There is a sense of community created there that you don’t get when buying and selling from commercial re-sellers. Does that not provide value to an enthusiast and buyer?

  • TheChuphta

    Tim seems like a gent of the old school and a legitimate enthusiast who finds the good in almost any offering. If you’re finding something to grouse about in this interview you need to find a newspaper and get upset about an actual problem (or go to the ‘dink and view the buttplugs they interview / fellate there).

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my thoughts on the hobby. I entered this hobby as a collector, and I still see the world from that perspective. I love offbeat and weird watches, I avoid over-hyped models, and I cheer for underdogs.
      Best,
      Tim

  • A restocking fee stated upfront, prior to sale, is not the same as declaring sales “final” and denying the return when the watch doesn’t fit or you don’t like it. As long as the product can be returned for any reason — buyer’s remorse included — all of what I wrote is 100% accurate. Buyers have the option to buy or not, and afterwards, the watch can be returned with a restocking fee stated clearly in advance. You wrote below, “Why should I accept returns?” as a small-time seller; OJ did.

    When we were a smaller company, we dealt with returns essentially by asking clients to pick up the costs of shipping, insurance, and restocking when sending the watch back. If you want, you can request the same of your clients when offering them the option of returning a purchase. I’m sure they’d appreciate the flexibility.
    Best,
    Tim

  • Thanks, Daniel! I’ve been told by management that most of my casual look is going to be retired by corporate decree, so you may not need to worry about the glasses for much longer…
    Best,
    Tim

  • Thank you, Stewart! I think the glasses may be retired to a permanent spot on the set background in the near future. The original notion wasn’t a notion at all; I just turned on the camera and started talking. Later, folks started debating the glasses, and it took me by surprise because they were as unplanned as the rest of the features.

    Since I’ve mostly avoided salacious click bait (i.e., “Five HUGE Mistakes I’VE Made with ROLEX!!!”), I rode the accidental glasses controversy for a time. But we’re now large enough as a firm that my look probably should grow up, and I’m planning something a bit more refined without looking like a total tool/suit.
    Best,
    Tim

  • Thank you, Mench! OJ remains a good dude and a standup businessman. I miss him deeply and wish he were still involved in the company at some level.

    Regarding Reversos, that “plank-like” fit has been the biggest problem with sizing the watch sight unseen — likely since the 1930s. In 2016, JLC started to add the tapered lugs you mentioned, and the fit is better across the range. Still, almost all non-round watches have fit quirks, and as a product class, they’re among the best reasons to “try-before-you-buy.” A right of return for online purchases seems a no-brainer from a customer service standpoint.
    Best,
    Tim

  • I appreciate what Watchfinder has done, but my mandate is to create a searchable database. I can and have done Watchfinder-levels of production, but like Watchfinder, the production rate was 1-2 per week. I usually film four full-length broadcasts (40 minutes) and 32 product videos (~6 minutes) per week to flesh out the database. But here is an example of the higher-end production I delivered along the lines you describe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G2g4tgCiy8&list=PLZIR3m4hrJQTctdVMNCRGlBhMKsLdaKPJ&index=5&t=0s
    Best,
    Tim

  • Of course, now I see where you’re coming from. That’s a private collector operating below the radar of commercial enterprises, and I hold no grudges against those guys. I’ve BEEN that guy, and I’ve advised clients to sell watches privately when I knew they could do far better than our wholesale purchase price on a hot model.

    My focus is the true volume operator who may or may not even hold a personal collection. When those guys decide to bounce returns or refuse to answer a phone, it hurts us at the industry level. But all of this is miles removed from private collectors rotating their collections.
    Best,
    Tim

    • Independent_George

      I see your point as well. I never really thought about it, but I agree with you now, that not only commercial re-sellers but the Forum Whales and the obsessive/compulsive flippers should offer unconditional returns as well because not doing so only hurts by making everyone a little more distrustful of each other.

  • Thank you for trusting our company, JLG! That’s a monster watch and a true prize, and I’ve been fortunate to experience a few versions of it. In particular, the blue dial Chronometer is among the select models that I recall fondly from the firehose-like experience of Baselworld 2016. Even among the full novelties of the last full-fat Baselworld, that GO Senator Chronometer stood out. Wear yours in great health.
    Best,
    Tim

  • AJR

    Well, your comment about your last year in the navy made me feel old, my last year was 1985.

    Anyways, I never thought of collecting watches but here I am with 2 Rolexes (GMT master II and polar explorer II) IWC Portuguese chrono and a Cartier roadster GMT and now I’m finding myself researching my next watch. Either another Rolex or an Omega. But open to other brands.

    Thinking of keeping with the GMTs and collect this as a tool/ complication., as I like the military 24 time .

    What brands would you recommend for a fledgling GMT collection.

    Thanks

  • Dean T

    Hey Tim, Panerai and Railmasters are cool and all but when is your personal Sinn EZM 1.1 coming up for give-away on TWB? I’d liken it to Einstein’s pipe, or Gretzky’s turtleneck. A true keepsake for all of time once owned and used by greatness.

    • Wow, I’m honored to be mentioned in that company! The EZM 1.1 is a beloved personal companion at this point, and I’m not letting the Watchbox corporate types anywhere near my Sinn! That said, I promise that we WILL give away a Sinn soon. I’ve been lobbying for this for quite a while, and I’ll try to ensure the eventual giveaway Sinn is a signature model from the brand.
      Best,
      Tim

  • ProJ

    Oh.. Tim! If anyone deserves the Watch Professor title, it’s him.

  • Richard Baptist

    Tim is the greatest, I don’t care if he wears his sunglasses on his head or he wears a kilt, once he drops the knowledge, I feel smarter and more knowledgeable about the watches we love. Keep up the good work Tim!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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