Last but not least, to finish our series that aims at deciphering the world of online watch marketplaces, we’ve decided to talk to the leader of the pack (let’s be honest, credit where credit is due): HODINKEE. What started as a hobby and a sheer passion for watches by Ben Clymer has now grown to a large magazine and an e-commerce website focused on watches and everything related to watches – something that has generated its fair share of debate. For some, editorial and commercial activities shouldn’t coexist. So, in order to shed light on the commercial part of the equation, we leave the stage to HODINKEE’s COO, Eneuri Acosta.
Could you give us a short history of Hodinkee?
HODINKEE was founded in 2008 by Ben Clymer as nothing more than a humble blog about vintage watches that he personally liked. Ben’s grandfather gifted him an Omega Speedmaster Mk40, so one day while bored at work he starting researching this watch and quickly discovered other notable and interesting vintage watches.
There was really no business plan for HODINKEE. In fact, “Hodinky,” (with a “y”) means wristwatch in Czech, and Ben chose it as the basis for HODINKEE for no reason other than it sounds pretty ridiculous.
Nevertheless, because Ben was an amazing storyteller and truly passionate about the subject, HODINKEE caught on and grew a significant following. Today, HODINKEE has grown to be a leading voice in the world of watches. We are based in NYC and have a staff of about 30 editors, designer, engineers and Shop associates. Because we know that, for most, watches are a reprieve from the real world, every day we come to work with only one mission: to make watches fun.
In your own words, how would you describe Hodinkee? What is it exactly nowadays?
Even if a small company, HODINKEE has a pretty complex operation. We are part publishing, part tech, part online commerce. In simplest terms, HODINKEE is the digital home for the watch community and anyone interested in learning about watches.
You started Hodinkee as a watch magazine and subsequently added a webshop with accessories to the company. Why did you do that? Was it a big leap from accessories to vintage watches?
A significant part of our business is the HODINKEE Shop. But, just like our publishing side, there really wasn’t a business plan so the growth has truly been organic from day one. In 2012, a few friends inquired about straps specifically designed for smaller vintage watches. And so, we made a few straps and listed them online (which sold out immediately). Today the HODINKEE Shop sells more than 20,000 leather straps per year, in addition to other accessories such as books, pouches and travel cases.
In 2015, we decided to start offering a curated selection of vintage watches every week. We noticed that it was becoming harder and harder, especially for young collectors, to find good vintage watches in honest conditions. There were just too many red flags in the world of vintage watches and buyers (many of whom read HODINKEE) were finding it more and more difficult to navigate their way.
We thought we could provide a solution by sourcing, authenticating, and explaining not only why we love a particular watch, but also calling out what is imperfect about it. That way a buyer can make an informed decision and feel confident that the watch he or she sees in our shop is the watch they will receive. Beyond, if they ever have any issues, they know we will be there to help.
After vintage timepieces, you took it a step further to become a retailer and sell new watches. Why was it important for you to become an official retailer?
Becoming an authorized retailer for a select group of our favorite brands felt like a natural evolution of the HODINKEE Shop. Since we’ve proven that customers are willing to purchase a watch online, we thought that we could use our years of experience buying watches for ourselves and interacting with the watch industry to really elevate what the experience of buying a watch online can look like.
So instead of carrying every model from our authorized partners, we only carry the models that resonate with us the most, so as to simplify the experience for our audience. Essentially, we do the hard part of scouring collections to pick out the best.
Let’s be honest; there are a lot of bad watches out there. So every watch we carry is a watch we’ve handpicked ourselves and would personally buy or recommend to a friend.
Beyond that, we’ve really thought about making the experience of shopping from HODINKEE really special. Every watch is photographed by our team. We provide incredibly detailed descriptions of each watch so that customers know why we love it. Each watch is delivered to the customer overnight for free in custom packaging. And on top of that, we add an additional year of warranty (on us) and store each customers warranty info digitally.
What differentiates Hodinkee? What do you bring to your clients?
What sets HODINKEE apart is that we have a little bit of everything for anyone who is interested in watches, whether you are a collector or just getting into watches for the first time and it’s all done through the lens of making watches fun.
On the editorial side, we love covering rare vintage watches but get as much joy from covering a $15 Casio watch. Recently, we launched HODINKEE Magazine and HODINKEE Radio which have a completely different vibe than our content on the web.
We take the same approach of having a little bit of everything for every type of watch enthusiast in the HODINKEE Shop, but in a much more curated and transparent way. And we look for ways to make the buying experience easy and approachable. So whether it is something small, such as listing all prices for vintage and new watches (vs. upon request) or industry firsts, such as storing yoghurt new watch’s paperwork digitally and for free, we look for unique ways to offer value and joy.
What are the key challenges for a watch magazine to additionally become a watch retailer? How did you manage this transition?
I think the biggest challenge we (and others who have a similar business approach) face is fighting the perception that editorial and commercial cannot co-exist, when in fact editorial and commercial have always co-existed. The difference with HODINKEE is that we do it with e-commerce versus just advertising.
Like I mentioned earlier, we are just as much a publishing company as we are a tech and e-commerce company. So the teams are completely different. Our editorial team does not touch anything on the commercial side of the house and have complete autonomy as to what to write about.
We see mainly vintage timepieces and new watches being sold through Hodinkee. Was it a choice to stay out of the secondary market (watches that are more recent or still available)?
At the moment we have no plans to offer pre-owned modern watches via the HODINKEE Shop. With our small team, we have to be very thoughtful as to where we invest our limited resources. There are also others in the online space that do this relatively well.
What is your main advice for collectors?
My advice for collectors, especially young collectors, is to buy as many watches as you can. Buy vintage watches, used modern watches and new watches. Buy dive watches, racing watches, dress watches, steel watches and gold watches. Buy chronographs, time-only, and high complication watches.
What I have found is that one can never really appreciate a watch until you’ve had the chance to live with it and see how you interact with it daily. At times, the watches that I’ve least expected have brought me the most joy. Once you’ve had the chance to live with them, sell whatever doesn’t speak to your tastes any longer or just lives in a safe.
Personal question – What will be your next watch acquisition?
I’m going through a bit of a phase right now where I am selling most of my watches to only live with three or four watches to wear regularly. That said, a vintage time-only Vacheron Constantin will likely be part of that mix. I am hunting for the right one.