In my career, I have been lucky enough to visit hundreds of top retailers in the Northern Hemisphere. Some I just passed through, picking up information as I went. Others I worked with occasionally, learning a little from each of them. A handful, however, I worked with extensively. Perhaps the retailer I’ve worked with the most is Ace Jewelers in Amsterdam.

During my time with NOMOS Glashütte, we produced two special editions together. Since then, the brand and retailer have produced two more. Our working relationship was always fun, mostly because the team at Ace never sits still. They are always moving, always striving, always looking for a way to get ahead of the curve. As such, I thought sitting down with the owner, Alon Ben Joseph, and getting his take on the current state of the industry was a wise way to spend an hour or two. Here’s the result of that conversation…

NOMOS Club Campus Amsterdam

The Interview

Rob Nudds: Hello once again, old friend. I hope you are surviving these strange times. How have you found life during the recent “Lockdown”?

Alon Ben Joseph: If I am not mistaken, I believe that the Netherlands was the most relaxed country when it came restrictions during our so-called “Intelligent Lockdown”. Luckily for us, we never closed our physical boutique nor our Ace eBoutique. Thanks to the passion of our teams, it was possible to stay open.

Obviously the visits and sales took a drastic nosedive in the first weeks of the lockdown, but actually (and surprisingly) rebounded very quickly.

Nomos Club Campus Amsterdam

RN: Was there a spike in online transactions/inquiries?

ABJ: Initially, the traffic on our own website and the following on our social media accounts grew rapidly. Immediately following that was a spike in inquiries for product pricing and availability. Obviously, our international orders were delayed due to lockdown in countries that were lagging to us, but the national clientele suddenly was very happy to order online and pick-up in-store.

Our sales picked up, even above last year’s numbers.

And, at the end of April, we noticed a turn-around in consumer behavior. Consumers were sick of sitting at home and being scared. They wanted to enjoy life and spoil themselves. We dubbed it: “Revenge Spending”. Our sales picked up, even above last year’s numbers. And, in the Netherlands, holiday pay is transferred once a year at the end of May. So, the last week has been great as a lot of people are not going on holiday and they are using these funds to buy a precious item.

NOMOS Ace Orion De Stijl Amsterdam

RN: Have you implemented any changes in the way you do or will do business in the future?

ABJ: At all Ace locations we are lucky to have the ability to sit at least 1,5m apart from one another with our partners due to big sales tables and in the back-office we have the same situation where we can sit far apart from one another. And, as we do not have an extremely busy boutique, we are never packed. We never had to worry about customers waiting outside. And, crucially, we never reached the maximum capacity indicated by government officials. So, honestly, business as usual. Just a lot more disinfectant gels around.

Ace x NOMOS Zuerich Weltzeit Amsterdam

RN: Do you foresee any long term changes to buying/selling habits?

ABJ: Honestly, I do not so much. For us especially. Our luxury eBoutique has been trading since 2007 so we are very established in a digital space. We were one of the first luxury retailers in the world to be granted authorized dealerships for online selling by the premium brands.

We are all about sharing our passion and knowledge…

That said, I imagine that those retailers that are new to eCommerce can see a shift in the way their consumers are spending. We are all about sharing our passion and knowledge, with any tool at hand. Preferably face-to-face, but if that is not possible, we will use all other digital tools at our disposal.

At the core of our business is service. Always. We add value to the customer experience by treating our clients as we would like to be treated ourselves.

NOMOS Ace Orion De Stijl Amsterdam

RN: One of the major highlights of the watch calendar was a casualty of Covid-19. Baselworld was obviously a special time of year for buyers and sellers to meet and plan business together. In fact, it is where we met! With our personal experience in mind, do you think fairs with the same level of face-to-face interaction will always be necessary?

ABJ: That BaselWorld edition was excellent! That was the year you got our dealership request granted (after years of nagging at our end), hahaha. I love technology and modernity, but I am also very old school…

I believe that any business is a people business. Therefore, I think physical events (and stores for that matter too) are crucial. And, as with the evolution of society and things becoming more digital, I think we will long even more for physical things and interactions! So, yes, I really hope that this is not the end of physical fairs in our industry!

RN: What will you miss about Baselworld specifically?

ABJ: First and foremost I loved the fact you would meet old friends and make new friends from all over the world. Often they were friends you would only see once or twice a year. So, it was a true reunion. A close runner-up is being able to see new products in the flesh. I always say that you have to look with your hands. So, to see a new wristwatch you have to hold it, feel its weight, see the change of color when you turn it, put it on your wrist, hear the movement tick at your ear, etc.

NOMOS Ace Zuerich De Stijl Amsterdam

RN: And what will you not miss?

ABJ: As I never ate the sausages, I will not miss the overpriced sausages, hahaha. But the complaints are 100% accurate — the pricing was absurd. For hotels, transportation, and food and beverages. It was a total rip-off. For the rest, I will miss everything about it and really hope there will be a new edition next year (even if the name will change).

RN: From a retailer’s perspective, what do you hope the new Geneva-based watch fair will offer that Baselworld was unwilling/unable to offer visitors?

ABJ: What SIHH (now called Watches & Wonders) offered in comparison to BaselWorld for retailers was serenity. The fair was closed to the general public. The layout was elegant and tranquil. Last year they started with their lectures and innovation lab — both of which I loved. I hope they will expand on that and create a true forum/platform for the watch community to create cross-contamination and add value and synergy.

Ace x NOMOS Zuerich Weltzeit Amsterdam

RN: Do you think the mode of communication for brands will/needs to change in the wake of Baselworld’s demise?

ABJ: I guess it will have to. Some brands already pulled out earlier and started their own roadshows. Some went heavy on digital. I think Watches & Wonders pivoted quickly and well by hosting a digital version of their Geneva edition. Some brands have the luxury to postpone novelties for a complete year.

…the market/consumers are yearning for news and novelties…

But, we have noticed that the market/consumers are yearning for news and novelties, even in these difficult times. We have noticed it firsthand, as we have launched our fourth collab limited edition watch together with NOMOS. We were a bit reluctant to do this in these times of crisis, but sales are on a level the previous Ace × NOMOS collabs.

NOMOS Ace Tangente Amsterdam

RN: And what about the relationship between brands and retailers?

ABJ: As I am a retailer, I am totally not objective and suffer from tunnel vision. Personally, as a watch collector and enthusiast, I try to look at all brands and the complete industry as an outsider. Back in the day, industries and relationships between each level in the value chain were clear. Brands produced, distributors imported, and retailers sold to consumers (often with their names on the dials of the watches).

These lines started to blur when verticalization started to kick in after the Quartz Crisis hit and (financial) groups started to buy up watch brands and quarterly returns-on-investment and spreadsheet became the norm. Brands first took over distributors and then started operating their own boutiques. Now, many of them are starting their own eCommerce operation.

As far as I know, of the (bigger) watch brands, the only three brands that do not operate their own boutiques and eCommerce are Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Tudor. Audemars Piguet, for example, does not like eCommerce either, but terminated all its independent retail partners and is switching to a model of pure mono-brand boutique retail (sometimes with local players).

And, that is what retailers are best at — sharing knowledge and passion.

Obviously, with me suffering from tunnel vision, I believe all brands need independent retailers. Independents like Ace often possess knowledge that has been passed on from generation-to-generation. This is something smaller brands should never underestimate. They might start their own eCommerce out of necessity, but always urgently try to find local partners to represent them. And, that is what retailers are best at — sharing knowledge and passion. Consumers love going to multi-brand independent retailers as they know they get objective advice, the opportunity to compare brands, and that they will be treated with sincerity if there is after-sales service is needed.

NOMOS Ace Tangente Amsterdam

RN: In the past, you have been interested in stocking smaller, lesser-known brands if you find them interesting/meritorious in some way. Will your willingness to experiment suffer as a result of this situation? Or do you think there is still scope for brick-and-mortar retailers to be creative and take chances of interesting new projects?

ABJ: Excellent question. I salute you. Ace has always given new and/or micro brands a podium/platform in our stores. Firstly, we love them. Secondly, we do it for our customers. We give them something new and fresh to discover. Third of all, we want to give these brands/watchmakers that put everything on the line a chance. Finally, we do it also to add value to our own retail brand “Ace”.

…smaller brands next to the mainstream bigger brands adds flavor…

We want to avoid becoming another copy/paste store like any other in the world on every high street! Adding these smaller brands next to the mainstream bigger brands adds flavor to your brand portfolio. If I had to use a metaphor, I call these smaller brands the salt and pepper to the dish. Without them, the meal is bland and boring.

NOMOS Ace Tangente Amsterdam

RN: What watch (or watches, knowing you) are you wearing right now?

ABJ: The Ulysse Nardin FreakX in all black. I love this caliber. The carousel movement creates a fun buzz every time I look at it. The balance wheel is mesmerizing. Every time I look at my wrist to see what time it is, everything around me freezes for five seconds and only then I unfreeze to read the hands to see what the time is.

RN: And what’s next on your shopping list?

ABJ: Obviously our fourth Ace collab with NOMOS. I always buy number two in the limited edition series. And, if I have to be objective, the next watch on my “WristList” is: Omega Speedmaster 321 “Ed White”. A must-have for every Speedy Fan!

This interview was conducted on June 1st between Rob Nudds of Fratello and Alon Ben Joseph of Ace Jewelers.

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