Loose lips sink ships

Loose lips sink ships

by Ken Kessler

Make no mistake: the internet just may be the greatest invention of the past 40 years, but it is not without its major flaws. As much as I love being a mouse-click away from a recipe for half-sour pickles or booking tickets for my next flight, I am sickened by psycho hackers, identity theft, unrestricted use by terrorists … it amazes me how mankind always finds a way to turn blessings into curses.

While, say, pro-suicide sites and hijacked bank accounts are far more serious than what I am about to criticise, that doesn’t diminish the need to discuss it. Those of us who started out in print journalism were and remain aware of the need for accurate and honest journalism. Integrity, of course, is and should be the main justification. The other, more base reason is that straying from the truth would invariably mean being sued for libel in countries where such matters are taken seriously.

What the internet has done is eliminated the fear of being sued, because it’s tough nailing some schmuck with an IP address in Uzbekistan, routed through a hundred servers via Toulouse, Tierra del Fuego and Truro. They’re not impossible to find, given that there are equally clever hackers on the right side of the law: it’s just that the government/police/legal system responsible for prosecuting such miscreants has bigger fish to fry. You are not going to inspire a police department’s Fraud Squad to find the scum who hacked your PayPal account (if such a thing is possible).

Those among you who are libertarians, and who are thinking, “Yay! Internet means no censorship!” should recognise that it also means irresponsible damage inflicted upon the innocent by society’s miscreants. Racist materials, incitement to riot – the internet empowers all of these, so please don’t assume that the removal of a fear of libel lawsuits is a good thing. It certainly shouldn’t protect the half-wit I’m about to describe, who has spewed forth venom about the watch industry.

Unfortunately, his writing is plausible enough and cocky enough for it to influence the sort of person who wants to hear that all Swiss watches are rip-offs. It betrays ignorance so deep and so unconcealed that no individual working within the watch industry could fail to find flaws in his argument, while no enthusiast could resist gritting his teeth in anger, thanks to this idiot’s tarnishing our love for timepieces. If you need an analogy, soliciting this guy’s opinions is as valid as asking a Palestinian about Jewish composers.

Clearly, this guy – let’s call him “Jack”, as in “jackoff” – has an axe to grind. But I will not name his site, as I do not want to increase his number of hits, even if only from those with morbid curiosity. Neither will I name the brands he disrespects, because they do not need to be put on the defensive. Please take my word for it that those he tries to diminish are seriously respected Swiss brands that all of you know, that make their own movements, and that are certainly in the Top 25 for recognisability.

In essence, this blogger set out to “prove” that Swiss watches are a rip-off, that depreciate so rapidly as to validate his belief that they are worthless when new, leading to his belief that all Swiss watches are a con. He bases his rant on an acquaintance being offered a seemingly insulting amount for his watch as a trade-in.

If you are familiar with the hit TV show Pawn Stars, about a pawn shop in Las Vegas, you know that in every episode, some moron is going to ask the shop to give him the full value, e.g. his 1958 Red Sox baseball glove is appraised with a market value of $300, so he expects them to give him $300. Then “Rick” or “Big Hoss” has to go through the same spiel in every episode, about profit margins, overheads, etc. It never ceases to amaze me at how ignorant people are about the concept of retail.

Pawn Star (TV Show) - The Experts

Pawn Star (TV Show) – The Experts

Anyway, this blogger used as his example a famous watch, but one that is among the most difficult to price. The actual watch he cites, however, isn’t described in detail, and even if we assume that it is in fine condition, with box and papers, he doesn’t say if it is quartz or mechanical. In the case of this watch, the former is worth half of the latter. Equally, he doesn’t say steel, gold, strap type – nothing.

What he does do is jump up and down about how a brand-new one is $4000 and the store is only offering $800 on a watch that’s just a few years old. But let’s leave aside the notion that many vintage watch dealers are only a chromosome away from highway robbers.

(I just got some prices for a friend who is selling a top quality collection, and a highly-regarded vintage watch store offered one quarter of retail. Without wishing to agree with “Jack”, that’s not depreciation nor merely allowing for a decent margin: that’s pure, unvarnished greed.)

But the $800 off is not a reflection on the Swiss watch industry. More specifically, the watch used as an example is so in-demand that even the least desirable of the second-hand models have a retail value of US $1500-$2000 minimum. Which means that if the shop offered him half that, then this is absolutely correct.

Even if seemingly new, the watch in question has to be serviced, sold with a shop’s warrantee and ultimately provide a margin. “Jack” ignores all this, arguing that the value of the watch is $800 offered to the vendor, not the $1500-$2000 it will sell for in a shop … with the aforesaid warranty, to boot. Let’s see you get that on eBay.

But that’s not all: for the guy selling the watch to realise anything like what it is ultimately worth, he has to sell it privately to keep what would be the dealer’s mark-up, or an auction house’s enormous cut. The benefits of selling privately apply to everything – cars, hi-fi, whatever. The downside is having to deal with the buyer.

That’s another pain in the butt that selling to a retailer removes from the equation. “Jack” mentions eBay: the reason watches like the one his friend was selling don’t shift on eBay is because eBay is risky, despite the protection offered by PayPal. And too many transactions of eBay are simply a pain in the butt: ask any professional record dealer what vinyl collectors are like.


His blog goes on for screen after screen, attacking a currently-fashionable, macho watch (let’s call it “Brand X”) by saying its movements are “close to worthless.” If I told you the brand, you’d want to string him up. As an analogy, it’s like saying Bentleys have lousy engines, or Leicas use crap lenses. Yes, he’s that idiotic.

His blog is exactly why I hate certain watch geeks the same way I detest many audiophiles: ill- or partially-informed, but with quick access to the world to spread their ignorance thanks to the internet. “Jack” knows, er, “Jack” about the brands he’s denouncing. Indeed, if Brand X saw his column, they could actually sue him for his remarks about the movements for “worthless” they are not.

I’m no fan of Brand X, and, yes, they are aimed at fashionistas, but in this case, “Jack” is full of s***. Dangerously, irresponsibly full of s***. He shows a disgustingly cavalier attitude toward facts, ignoring the most important fact of all: watches (and jewellery) have huge mark-ups because jewellery stores are more likely to be targeted by thieves than musical instrument or hi-fi stores.

Why are power tools so inexpensive? Easy: who breaks into Home Depot? But a fistful of loot from a jewellery store’s showcase? You have to steal a ton of lawnmowers to equal the same haul. Those margins pay for obscene but necessary amounts of insurance, in-store safes, added security equipment AND personnel, etc.

“Jack” has inflicted as much damage to the confidence of watch buyers as his site reaches. Shame on him. If I seem angry, it’s because this guy is spewing forth venomous opinions, with nothing to back them up. We can only hope 1) his site receives few hits or 2) that his visitors smell the stench of sour grapes.

And this site? Everything has to get through the site editor.
Which is what “Jack” needs. As well as a lawyer, common sense … and integrity.

    Author Bio

    Articles by Ken Kessler


    Ken Kessler has been involved with watches for over 35 years, initially as a collector, then as a dealer in vintage pieces. He has been writing about watches since the mid-1990s, his articles having appeared in Wall Street Journal, GQ, Men’s Health, Top Gear, Esquire, Financial Times, FT How To Spend It, The Telegraph, The Times, QP, International Wristwatch (USA), Status (USA), Hour Glass (Australia), Playboy, Brummell, City AM, Your London, Spear’s, Motorsport, Mail On Sunday and many other titles. Also a renowned expert in high-end audio, Ken is the author and co-author of four hi-fi histories. His weaknesses include chronographs, military watches and diving watches, while other pursuits include music, literature and wine.