To accompany our recent article series on alternative investments, we spoke to Aaron Fenton, a watch trader who has turned his passion into a business.
Here at TraderLife, we're interested in any type of market, whether that be currency markets or the 'market' for rare books, so we invited Aaron to gives us a glimpse into his watch trading world.
And just like a trader who diligently tracks his trades, Aaron keeps tabs on his fast moving stock, potential deals and profits, as well as cultivating customer relationships which is his ‘trading edge’ so to speak.
Aaron’s passion for the business is evident, stating that it doesn’t feel like work because he loves it and the fact he says he dreams of watches in the middle of the night.
Read on to gain an insight into this unique world of high-end watch trading and get a snippet of insider knowledge about which brands he’s got his eye on.
Watches are a commodity and prices fluctuate rather quickly, which is why it is really important to stay up to date on current market trends.Aaron Fenton
1. Can you remember when and why you got into the vintage watch trade?
I have always had a strong interest in watches. My attraction began when I was growing up in the late 80s/90s, watching cartoons like Dick Tracy, Superman and, of course, Batman. Those characters always had an abundant amount of gadgets, but their watches were probably the only item that was actually attainable.
My passion was also ignited by my cousin, who owns a vintage watch store in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to work alongside him throughout high school, and then continued working there for six years post college. In 2013, I decided to go into the real estate business, but still traded watches on the side.
I continued to follow numerous forums, dealers and auctions, and through these I began buying and selling watches on my own. What started out as a hobby eventually turned into my own watch business. My business grew as I made connections, developed my own website, and posted my watches to Instagram and Facebook.
2. What type of watches do you tend to buy and sell? Are there particular styles, brands or rarities?
Although my company name is Vintage Watch Trader, I primarily buy and sell modern, pre-owned watches. My typical sales are from the major watch manufacturers like Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Audemars Piguet, IWC, Panerai, Breitling, and Tudor. My customers are primarily looking for these high-end watches and are often interested in these particular brands.
Personally I am not much of a “dress watch” kind of guy, so I often look for the sportier models. My customers are typically looking for these styles as well.
3. What motivates you to constantly work on improving your business and enjoy what you’re doing day to day?
I am so passionate about watches that I don’t need much to motivate me to continue in this business, but if I had to choose something that motivates me to improve, then I would say it is my family, my competitors, and personal growth.
My biggest motivator with my watch business is family. I am constantly looking to increase sales because watches have become my main source of income, and with more business comes more financial comfort for my family.
Another major drive for me is the competition within the watch business. There are so many dealers out there who are setting the bar high with the “hottest” watches. This pushes me to keep up and to continue to buy and sell as much as I can. I love the thrill that goes along with finding watches. One outlet I have found to be useful in this process is social media (follow Aaron @vintagewatchtrader on Instagram). I am continuously posting pictures of my watches and trying to increase my followers on these sites.
Personal growth within my own business is also a major motivator for me. I really enjoy turning my hobby into a full-time business, and love watching it grow. I keep track of my transactions per month, and work hard to increase my profit from year to year.
4. Are there some watches and brands that are less well known to the public but fetch a good price and plenty interest from collectors?
From my perspective, there are not watches or brands that are less well known to the public. Nowadays, watch manufacturers are able to market their products online, as well as on social media sites. This online presence publicises watch brands more than ever, and customers are more aware of all their options.
5. Do you believe providing quality customer service and building relationships has helped grow your business? Do you find customers keep coming back to use your services and expertise?
Absolutely! I always say customer service is the most important factor to consider when growing and operating a business. Customers have plenty of choices when purchasing a watch. They can find competitive prices everywhere, but it is my customer service, hands on approach and 15 years of experience that has my customers coming back and referring me to their family and friends.
6. What would you put your success down to? Luck, your intellect and smarts, passion or just consistent hard work? Or possibly a combination?
I would have to say a combination of passion, hard work, and certainly a little bit of luck has gotten me to where I am today in the watch business. When you are passionate about something, all you want to do is surround yourself with that passion.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but watches are always on my mind, even in the middle of the night I find myself dreaming about watches. I truly feel like what I do is not “work” because I love it. Don’t get me wrong, there are frustrating deals and some hard days, but the hardest part about my work is looking for ways to grow my business.
7. Do you ever come across counterfeits? And is this a problem within the industry?
I personally do not come across counterfeits. The majority of the watches I purchase are sourced through trusted and reliable dealers that I have worked with for years, so I know where my watches are coming from.
I do know some dealers who have had issues with counterfeits. I don’t think it is a frequent issue, but some counterfeits are so well made that it can be hard to tell if it’s real or not. Nowadays, there are also fake warranty cards and fake boxes that you have to be careful about. To be on the safe side, I always advise that people know who and where their watches are coming from.
8. What do you think sets you apart from others who provide a similar service?
I believe my customer service sets me apart from others in this business. I spend a great deal of time guiding my buyers and helping them make informed decisions. One of my strong suits is building trust with my customers, so they can feel confident and comfortable with their purchases. I also pride myself on responding and communicating quickly to customers. Staying on top of deals keeps customers happy and coming back to work with me.
9. How long do you generally hold stock for? Do you try to find watches that you know have a market?
My purchases are mainly based on what customers are searching for, or watches I know are popular and in demand. I like to move them quickly and try not to sit on anything for too long. Usually my purchases are gone within a few days or weeks.
10. Was there a watch that you always wanted to have? (and have you got it?) Is there a particular brand or style you go for?
The one watch that continually weighs on my mind is a Patek Philippe 5712/1A. To me this watch has it all. I love the design, the size, the complications and the functionality. Basically, this watch embodies everything I look for in a watch. Unfortunately, I did not jump on buying this watch a couple years ago, and now the market for this model has exploded.
When I search for a watch, I look for quality and value. Right now, I really like Tudor and Omega. This should not come as a surprise, considering these two watch manufacturers have been producing quality watches for decades.
11. You mention on your website that ‘every watch comes with a different story’. What is the most interesting story you’ve come across since being in the business?
Although it’s hard to remember everyone’s story behind their watch, there is one that does stand out to me. Around 2009, I got an email from a new customer with a Rolex for sale. He sent a very brief description stating that he was the original owner, and he lost the bezel assembly while rock climbing.
The watch had been sitting on his dresser ever since, so he decided it was time to sell it. He sent me a very pixelated and out of focus picture of the watch, making it hard to determine exactly which model it was. He originally asked me for $800 since there was no bezel. It turned out that the watch was a Rolex Submariner reference 1680 with the Submariner writing in red. He was quite happy he received much more than he originally requested, and he was able to sell the watch to someone he could trust.
12. Presuming, like the financial markets, supply & demand drives the prices of watches. Do you see trends develop for certain makes and models over time?
Absolutely. Brands like Patek and Rolex are continually in demand, causing supply levels to be extremely low and prices to soar. This has led people to search for other brands. Now, brands like Tudor and Omega are becoming more popular alternatives.
In the current market, Tudor and Omega are watches you can still buy at a reasonable price without having to sacrifice quality. Watches are a commodity and prices fluctuate rather quickly, which is why it is really important to stay up to date on current market trends.
13. Do you have any advice to those looking to get into the vintage watch space, whether as a hobby or business. Is there anywhere someone can learn more about this market place?
If someone was looking to get into the vintage watch space, there are two main things I would recommend. First, buy what you can afford. Purchasing your first watch should be a fun and exciting experience, not a stressful one. My best advice is to stay within your means for your first few purchases because not every deal will be a “winner”. It takes time and experience to be able to become an educated buyer. I would also suggest buying what you like. A watch is something you look at every day, multiple times a day, and you want love it.
To learn more about this market place, I would recommend reading auction house publications (Christie’s, Antiquorum, Phillips…) because these are verified sources from industry experts. These resources have great descriptions of watches. Being able to identify subtle nuances between the different models will help you make more informed decisions. You could also start following your favourite watch dealers on social media, and frequently visit their websites.