UK-based independent watchmaking specialist The Limited Edition is a place like no other. For almost 10 years now the online platform has been offering a mix of extensive knowledge, authorized dealerships and a curated collection of pre-owned watches of up-and-coming as well as established independent brands. Co-founder Pietro Tomajer: ‘If watchmaking is here to stay, it’s because of the artisanal watchmakers. Visionary artisans will prevent the industry from becoming an anachronistic phenomenon.’
Education is key on The Limited Edition platform. But you won’t find too many limited editions, funnily enough. CEO Pietro Tomajer: ‘When we started, watch websites were only used for discounting, not for real education, apart from some blogs like MONOCHROME Watches and Hodinkee. But when you were looking to buy a watch, you would really only find online dealers that were trying to offer you a better price than their competition on the High Street. My initial investor suggested we’d only do a website on which we would promote limited editions, including the big brands. So, we came up with this name that was recognizable, inclusive and catchy. Later we moved to curate more and more in favour of the independents. We kept the name because it was so recognizable.’
Evidently, it’s not the popular brands, like Rolex, Cartier and Audemars Piguet, that make luxury watch industry veteran and GPHG Academy Member Pietro Tomajer’s heart beat faster. Sure, he acknowledges the great work these brands have done for the watch industry and the way they have succeeded in getting so many people interested to a point where the term waiting list has taken on a completely different meaning, but he rather talks about people. And with people. The idea behind The Limited Edition, the website he co-founded in 2015, and has been managing from Leicester, in the middle of rural England, is exactly that. ‘I love talking about watches. ‘In 2014, my friend, collector Jassim, and I had the idea to use the internet as an educational platform for watch collectors.
Rather than a blog or a watch shop, we created a hybrid that could be informative to collectors and give the possibility to the ‘invisible’ independents to be discovered, appreciated and sold via the net through a curated platform. At the time independent watchmaking wasn’t as well-known as it is today. Jassim also supplied the initial investment. Now we have a group of investors, all friends who believe in the concept and are happy to sit back and enjoy. I think our bet paid off. I enjoy discovering and learning about watches every day, and the fact that our project is supported by so many collectors and brands is very rewarding!’
Pietro Tomajer started working in the watch industry in 2002 as a sales manager for the Italian brand Montegrappa, which was initially held by Cartier and then by Montblanc. ‘It was a great experience, because I was in a big group, developing a small brand. I could both see the corporate side and the entrepreneurial side of the industry. I was given responsibility very quickly because we were a small team. Plus, I speak a few languages. In those days, it wasn’t so easy to find people in Milan who could speak another language than Italian. That period was very formative. After that, I joined Girard-Perregaux in Switzerland in 2007, where I had three fantastic years. The brand was in the hands of the Macaluso family at that time, the founders of the Sowind Group. I discovered all the aspects of independent watchmaking. And I loved it.’
It also brought back memories: ‘Girard-Perregaux was the reason I liked watches in the first place because my dad bought himself a GP in the 80s and it was the best day of his life. He is still with us, luckily, and he wears his watch regularly. Every time I see it, it reminds me of my time with Girard-Perregaux.’
Pietro and his English wife decided to move to the UK after their second daughter was born. ‘I knew I wanted to focus more on the independent side of the watchmaking industry and maybe one day be an entrepreneur. But first I joined Graham Watches, who asked me to develop the Middle-East market for them because that was my speciality. After a few years, I shared my ideas about The Limited Edition with them and they gave me permission to pursue the idea as long as I integrated Graham Watches as well. I’m still grateful for the opportunity they gave me, and we still list Graham on our website.’
Around 56k followers on Instagram prove that the 15-member team are not the only one with a specific interest in independent watch brands. ‘The whole idea was to introduce the unique talents and exceptional craftsmanship of the independent watchmakers to a growing community of connoisseur collectors around the world. Unique watches, in the sense that they have been made by exceptional artisans with a vision that distinguishes them from the rest. They are ‘limited editions’ in that way.’
Pietro doesn’t presume to be a technical watch expert, though. ‘What I really like is the layout of a movement. Every time I get a watch in my hands that is not a see-through, I turn it around to see if it has a transparent case back, and marvel at the mechanics. I’m not a watchmaker, but that inspires me – and many of our clients, too. And of course, the finishing comes into the equation. There are so many excellent micro-engineers in watchmaking, sometimes the difference is only in the finishing. We are not so much into the classic design language, such as that of the big brands, like Rolex, Omega and Cartier. We have full respect for them, but we just don’t specialize in that.
But I do share an image on Instagram of a watchmaker called VicenTerra from the Jura mountains, for instance. He does these incredible, cool astronomical watches at entry-level prices, starting at 4,000 pounds. I had a revelation moment, when I realized that that’s what I like: finding the hidden gems and explaining why these artisans deserve to be more known, from an engineering perspective and a finishing perspective.’ Incidentally, another astronomical watchmaker will be represented at The Limited Edition, too, for Dutch watchmaker Christiaan van der Klaauw made its entry by the end of last month. ‘But we also like to push the more affordable independents. We don’t want to create the impression that artisanal watches are always high-priced.’
Pietro states that The Limited Edition predominantly sells new watches. ‘We officially retail over 50 independent watchmakers (solo masters and brands). In this respect, we are an official retailer for all the brands we represent and there are no issues of authentication whatsoever. And even if we don’t sell many of their watches, these brands appreciate the attention we give to them as artisans. We are also a partner of the AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants, the association with the mission to perpetuate the art of independent watch and clock-making, ed.) and a member of the GPHG Academy (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, ed.), which adds to our credibility. We help to put the independents in the right perspective, regardless of what we sell or don’t sell. We try to be neutral, and we talk about all the brands we carry, not to sell them but to put the word out there. Neutrality is very important, especially during times when brands try to push collectors into feeling the need for buying; we try to do the opposite: inform them without a hidden agenda.’
The provenance of the pre-owned watches sold on the website is a different story. ‘On the pre-owned side we purchase from our network of trusted collectors. They are part of our community, so I know I can trust them. We do not work with dealers, so that our pre-owned stock is organically curated at the source. However, we are introducing a curated collection of pre-owned watches, coming from our own collectors’ collections.’ This is what makes the collection on The Limited Edition really unique. This way, there can be a Patek Philippe on our website or another brand that we don’t have a retail agency for.’ Another feature will be added to the website soon: a marketplace where collectors can list their own pieces.
The website is very successful with its proposition. Over 1,000 collectors worldwide have already found their way to the collectors’ website. ‘These collectors are mainly based in the UK and partially in the US and South East Asia. Our sales team, which consists of watch industry veterans, our Editor Johnny McElherron, and myself, are always available for advice and the exchange of information. This way, we talk to collectors on a daily basis. Having positioned ourselves on the educational side from the beginning creates a natural bond and exchange that, ultimately, becomes our main and strongest source of information. Moreover, we interact and liaise with all the platforms and retailers genuinely focused on the promotion of the art of artisanal watchmaking. We know that it is the client that ultimately decides where to purchase, based on the value he gets given by this or the other retailer.’
Pietro stresses that Johnny McElherron, a watch journalist and expert, was ‘God sent’. ‘I thought if we are going to review every single watch we put on our website, even just briefly, to give our take on every single watch, could that be interesting for collectors and brands? And the answer was ‘yes’. So I started to review every watch myself, very passionately, but that wasn’t sustainable, of course. I am not a technical expert, I’m more of a storyteller. So I needed a more objective expert. And Johnny had a connection with some independent watchmakers, like Vianney Halter and Marc Jenni, and I explained my ideas to him, and he said he wanted to support me. Since the beginning the curation of the website has been on him, he’s our chief editor and he’s also our sales executive. Together we talk to collectors all day every day. Besides this, he independently organizes the hugely successful Festival of Time in Waterford, Ireland. The next edition will be in September and will have a great line-up. ’ Interestingly, the reviews by The Limited Edition team result in alterations to watches, too. ‘We never slay brands online, we do our curation before we put the pieces on our website. We are always respectful. But our advice is valued, that makes me very proud.’
The Limited Edition has no ‘bricks’ store liaised to it, but every now and then the team meet up physically with the collectors they work with. ‘In London everybody who tried to open a store for independent brands failed, so we have a private showroom in a club in Mayfair in London, where we organize periodical events for our collectors. Here we invite people from the brands to come and talk about their watches. Next up is an evening with Trilobe. Usually, 30 to 50 people show up to enjoy being among like-minded enthusiasts and learn new information in the process. You can find clips of these events on our YouTube channel.’
The education of young people and their introduction to the world of watchmaking is a focal point at The Limited Edition as well. ‘Recently, we have introduced some really young staff to our team, helping us with the marketing side of things, the storytelling. We also work closely with the brands we represent, and if we can link the dots between watchmakers and brands that are looking for new watchmakers, for example, Garrick here in the UK, we try to do so. Young people get trained to repair watches, but restoring watches is much more amazing. If they can have the chance to work with these master watchmakers, we try to encourage them as much as possible. I am even thinking of hiring a young watchmaker for our team. We are by far the deepest source of independent watchmakers in the UK, if not in Europe, and I would love to inspire a young person to strive for that segment of the industry.’
According to Pietro, there is a very strong push to revive the English watchmaking industry. ‘Watchmaker Rebecca Struthers from Birmingham is doing great work. She also released a beautiful book, called The Hands of Time. Women watchmakers are a rare breed, anyway. Not because they’re not there, but because they never get their name out on a brand level. So we desperately try to integrate women watchmakers in our stories. Rebecca, however, is fully occupied making only one watch a year, I believe. Then there is Garrick, they have internalized all the processes needed for watchmaking here in the UK. They only make 60 to 70 watches a year. Frodsham is another English watch and clockmaker, who specializes in chronometers. And Fears in Bristol is another one. Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, the great-great-great-grandson of the brand’s founder Edwin Fear, has re-launched his family’s company. He doesn’t make the watches entirely in the UK yet, but he’s working on it, in collaboration with others, like Garrick.’
The watch industry will face some challenges in the coming years, Pietro thinks. ‘With the level of education and the level of understanding of our collectors, to be truthful and honest and transparent is key. Price points can be daunting, but if they come with an explanation about the work behind it, in an educational way, it’s not a risk. This is where the value of having a close relationship with the base of collectors comes in. ‘Collectors have tips for us! They are the people truly getting what real value is, as they put their money on the table and, ultimately, allow for this incredible art to exist. But when the industry starts riding the ‘hype’ game, which we have seen multiple times recently, with the success of limited editions, subscriptions, waiting lists, night listing of secret projects and all of that, with the intention of creating illogical behaviour by the consumers that can backfire. If we become less reliable as an industry then everybody will suffer. That’s why I think the artisanal makers are the future of watchmaking when their genuine stories are communicated.’
Digital means of communication can be used to educate people about the old-school way of creating artistic pieces. Pietro: ‘We see the younger generation marvel at things, just for the sake of beauty and artistic purposes. I’ve been around this industry for more than 20 years, but I’ve never seen anything like this moment, where independent watchmaking is so appreciated, understood and so successful. So that must be the direction in which the world is moving.’
Although Pietro sees hundreds of watches come by during the year, he still has his own wish list. ‘I would love to own a Ludovic Ballouard one day. He probably was the watchmaker that mostly inspired me in this adventure along with Vianney Halter. Their positive approach to art, and their non-business mindset is a refreshing portrait of what the art of independent watchmaking truly is.
For more information, and to browse the selection of brands and watches on offer, please visit TheLimitedEdition.co.uk.