More than almost any other luxury craft, watchmaking is special, says London Jewelers vice president Zachary Udell.
“Watchmaking is tradition,” says Udell, who oversees the independent retailer’s timepiece category. “Watchmaking hasn’t changed much in 200 years. Yes, we continue to see new innovations and new materials, but the craft and technique used today has basically remained unchanged.”
That tradition of craftsmanship is something London Jewelers knows well. After all, its founder, Charles London — who opened his eponymous shop on School Street in Glen Cove, LI in 1926 — got his start servicing watches and clocks for prominent families like the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Morgans at their palatial estates on Long Island’s Gold Coast.
More recently, tradition is something that luxury watch consumers have come to particularly value, Udell says. In response, horology’s top brands are kicking it old-school.
“Over the past two years, watches have returned to more conservative sizes,” says Udell, who represents the fourth generation of the family business, along with cousins Randi Udell Alper and Scott Udell. “Six years ago, everybody was looking for the biggest watch in the world. We were selling watches in excess of 50 mm. Now, brands like Rolex are making the majority of their collections in either 36 mm or 40 mm, a more traditional style.”
Size isn’t the only important shift toward tradition Udell is seeing at London Jewelers’ glittering flagship in Manhasset, as well as their outposts in Southampton, East Hampton, downtown Manhattan, Glen Cove and Wheatley Plaza in Greenvale, LI. Mechanical watches — always a men’s staple — have become one of the hottest categories for ladies’ watches, replacing quartz models.
“The female audience really has come to appreciate fine Swiss watchmaking,” Udell says, pointing to ladies’ timepieces by brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex that feature chronographs and calendars. “They are buying complex complications, because they understand that these watches are more than fashion statements.”
But the return to iconic sizes and movements doesn’t mean watchmakers (and consumers) have stopped having fun. More and more, according to Udell, bright pops of green, yellow and orange are showing up on women’s watches (which traditionally had white or silver dials), just as colorful precious stones are finding their way onto men’s bezels.
For instance, the Perpetual Calendar watch with chronograph, one of Patek Philippe’s best-known complications, used to be offered with only a diamond bezel. Now it comes with blue sapphires and emeralds as well.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think men would buy a stone bezel watch, but we do quite well with it,” says Udell, adding that London Jewelers can fulfill virtually any customization request. “We’re a full-service operation, and we’re authorized to service more brands than just about any other retailer in the United States.”