24 Karat Corner: Is time winding down for fine watches

It’s graduation day at State U and Grandpa is sitting on the hard steel bleachers clutching a small green box. After the ceremony, he finds his grandson Millennial among the crowd and congratulates him. “I have something for you,” he says offering the box. “It’s to mark this very special occasion.”

“What is it?” asks Millennial as he fumbled with the box.

“It’s a fine Swiss watch,” said the grandfather. “My father gave one to your father 30 years ago to celebrate his college graduation. Now, to honor that tradition, it is my pleasure to do the same for you.”

“Cool! Show me how it counts my steps.”

“Ah, it doesn’t do that.”

“Monitor my heart rate?”

“Nope, not that either...”

“Remind me of my calendar appointments?”


“Well, I hope you didn’t pay a lot of money for it!”

A few years later, Millennial might finally land that big promotion that comes with a nice raise and bonus. His father and grandfather might have splurged on an important Swiss watch. Millennial, of course, bolts for vacation, and he documents each day’s activity on Facebook.

Unfortunately, neither Millennial nor any of his friends will stay with one company until retirement. And, not that companies are giving out gold watches anymore to their “40 Years of Service” employees, but consider the irony of that long-forgotten tradition: Now that you are retiring and have all the time in the world, here’s a fancy watch!

Clearly, younger consumers are drifting away from fine Swiss watches. And, is it any wonder? It takes quite the salesperson to convince most people that mechanical timepieces are still relevant, let alone worth the price of a car.

But don’t worry, the big Swiss watchmakers will survive even this. After all, they made it through the introduction of the quartz watch back in the 1970s. As those of you old enough to remember will recall, Japanese manufacturers such as Seiko flooded the market with inexpensive battery watches. And, while the big top end watch lines did survive, the lower and middle tiers did not.

So, if you are a multi-line retailer, you may be re-considering your commitment to the very high-end watch market. It would certainly free up a considerable amount of capital and showcase space.

“But, Howard,” you are saying, “I’ve spent my entire career learning about and selling mechanical timepieces, I understand the various complications and can explain them to a consumer. What do I do now?”

Simple. Acquire a new expertise. And, while that may take time and money, at least The 24 Karat Club can help you with the money. The 24 Karat Club offers a variety of scholarships that can help you pay for the training you desire. Make yourself more valuable. Figure out what tomorrow’s customers will want, and train for that today. Most 24 Karat Club members will have scholarship applications at their booths in Las Vegas. Be sure to look for them, or find your favorite 24 Karat Club member at www.The24KaratClub.org.

One of my favorite ad campaigns says that you never really own their brand of ultra high end watch, you merely take care of it for the next generation. Let’s hope they will look up from their phones long enough to at least put it away safely. And, say thank you.

Howard Kelrick is President of Finger Mate and a board member of The 24 Karat Club, SEUS.  Finger Mate manufactures and installs expandable ring shanks and sells to retail jewelers throughout North America. Contact Howard at 954-458-2700 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.