by Natasha Wolff | November 23, 2016 3:00 pm
Over the past three decades, the family-owned watch retailer Westime—known for its singular inventory of one-of-a-kind timepieces by Richard Mille, Hublot and Ernst Benz—has built a small empire of retail stores in its native California. In doing so, it has also built larger than life reputations for its father and son executives: founder, John Simonian (who was named one of five “watch world decision-makers” by industry bible JCK and christened the “watch don” by another leading authority), and current president, Greg Simonian. The duo’s perch at the top of their industry will only grow firmer over the next month, as they open three boutiques—including a fifth Westime location—in one of the country’s hottest commercial projects: Miami’s Brickell City Centre, across the bay from South Beach. For the Simonians—who’ve already achieved larger than life status in the watch world—this expansion is more than just another notch in the company’s belt: It’s a huge step toward physically dominating a market they and their brand already has a firm grip on.
Depending on who you ask, Westime’s evolution from a single brick-and-mortar location (which John opened in 1987) into a multi-store operation with deep global roots—and a client list to match—could be attributed to many things, but no one will deny one key component: its founding family’s innate passion for watchmaking. Both John and Greg have said they each started in the business at age 12 (John, working for his father, and Greg, for his). The patriarch has offered his own simple scientific explanation: “I guess this is genetic,” he has said.
As humble as John may be, genes alone do not equal Westime’s success (for every thriving corporate dynasty there is one that undoubtedly fails at torch-passing). A big part of their recipe is the company’s unique business model, which allows its executives to function as both distributors and retailers. Of this strategy, John has said, “[Several] years ago I started promoting unknown or start-up brands that nobody would touch. I decided to promote them in the stores. Having done a good job promoting them, I became in charge of the whole distribution channel.” Owning the front and back ends of his business allowed John to get in early with makers like Richard Mille, where he is now the CEO and President of Richard Mille U.S.A. Other covetable, niche labels Simonian distributes include Greubel Forsey, URWERK, and MCT. And, despite the six figure price tags affixed to some of these makers’ timepieces, the brands remain in high demand for both new editions and secondhand pieces alike.
As collecting gains momentum among the most serious horologists, the Simonians’ commitment to bringing rare, one-of-a-kind after models to market only stands to grow more lucrative. When it comes to their own timepieces, though, the executives admittedly take different approaches to the growing practice. While John often jokes his first watch was “a sundial in his backyard,” Greg, who assumed his position of president in 2010, keeps his first piece—a Longines Legend Diver—quite close (in a Buben & Zorweg watch-winder to be precise), and still sports it often. “It remains my go-to for outdoor activities, especially watersports,” he says. “Something cool and unique that you notice right away is that it has two crowns. One is used to set the time, like a traditional crown. And the other is used to rotate the inner bezel, a feature that allows divers to track how much dive time they have remaining.” John adds that acquiring this piece began a deep dive of a different sort and, nowadays, choosing a favorite among his pieces is no easy task. And if Westime’s latest expansion is any indication, it will only grow more challenging as his company, and its world-class inventory, continues to grow.
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