Albert Ganjei was a corporate engineer before rearranging his professional life nearly 30 years ago to put pre-owned Swiss watches at the center of it.
The witty and warm owner of European Watch Company, a retail shop and office specializing in pre-owned luxury watches located on iconic Boston shopping row Newbury St., says he “always appreciated fine things like alligator belts, fancy glasses, nice ties and Kiton jackets.”
And over time he became enamored with the world-class designs, builds, and machinations of luxury watches. He began the business slowly, with a small retail space, a modest selection of stainless-steel high-end watches, and a few employees.
Now it’s a major retail player in the world of pre-owned watches, a market that hardly existed when Ganjei launched his business in 1993. Last year, the company expanded its square footage to 5,200 square feet, and currently employs 22 employees, including his son and company co-owner, Joshua Ganjei, who recently sold an F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Platinum Number 2 for an astounding $3.4 million to a private buyer.
Not all sales at European Watch Company are in the millions, of course, but the shop sells a steady stream of $1 million-plus watches, making it an anomaly among brick-and-mortar retailers. The store’s average sale is $60,000, also high for a storefront-based business. The shop sold 331 watches in February 2022.
As a pioneering retailer in pre-owned watches, we asked Albert to chat with us about how the market has changed, and what he sees around the bend for the industry, which by all accounts is still steadily growing. —Emili Vesilind
The Zing Report: Pre-owned luxury watches are big business these days. How would you characterize your company’s place in the market?
Albert Ganjei: We have been like a little quiet little store—we’re everyone’s best-kept secret. We do things a little differently. I talk to my clients until they are friends, and then I sell watches to friends. We’re not selling watches, we’re selling relationships.
My son Joshua joined us almost 10 years ago and he has a very strong personality like his mom. When his mom walks into any room, she comes out the leader. He’s like that. I’m this nice quiet guy and I make sure the checks my son writes cash [laughs]. He does everything now and he’s very well-respected. I was never strong in sales—I’m a techy guy. He’s very good at it.
How would you describe your inventory of watches?
We primarily sell watches up to $5 million. But the average ticket is $60,000. It was not easy at first to have lots of watches over $1 million. I couldn’t believe that the customers were there. But they were. And you can’t have a Chevy dealership with one Ferrari; you need to [run the gamut] in prices. Million-dollar watches for us came from friend dealers we’ve known for many years – people found us.
How much and how fast are your sales growing these days?
We’ve been growing 20% every year for the last 25 years. Then in the last three years we’ve been growing 30% to 50%. One reason is the price of watches have gone up. A Rolex that was $13,000 now is $60,000, and we have 124 of them. Also, what we do more than anything else is trades. We trade in watches all day. Some customers trade in a watch every week.
Some clients are addicted to this relationship. They’re very good at hiding their watches from their wives [laughs]. I have a staff of seven or eight sales associates, and I give them complete authority to buy and sell as they wish. They buy, they sell, they trade. They keep stealing my clients from me! Once in a while, I go into the showroom, and someone wants to see the white-haired guy and have a whiskey and coffee with me.
In what ways have watch customers changed the most in the past decade?
When I started in the business, I was a very modest person. The watch had to go under my cuff – it was a thing that was for me. The market is not the same now. Now they want to be showing it off, they want a diamond Rolex. They wear sports watches with a suit and tie.
If a watch came in gold or stainless steel, I always bought the stainless. Watches were never an investment. The old market was also about inheritance, to have something to pass down. The market was not, ‘if you don’t buy it now, tomorrow it’s gone’ and ‘it’s a good investment.’ It is now. That client who wants to make money from the watches he buys was not here before.
The clientele is also much, much younger—in their 30s and 40s. And we get a lot of clients from Europe and the Far East because the U.S. is one of the more price-correct markets for pre-owned watches. They are much more expensive overseas. And we are in Boston so it’s a very international city with tourists, foreign students. But still about 80% of our clients are U.S.-based.
You’re selling million-dollar-plus watches out of storefront, which feels unique. Would you say it is?
Yes. Mostly auction houses are doing this. There aren’t as many dealers trading million-dollar watches. A year ago, I got more aggressive in buying expensive and important watches. You can’t sell what you don’t have.
Top photo: Albert Ganjei and son and partner Joshua Ganjei of European Watch Company in Boston (all photos courtesy of European Watch Company)