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Watchbox Founders on the Revolution of Pre-Owned Timepieces

In just a few short years, WatchBox has upended the pre-owned luxury horological market and turned it into the coolest place for collectors to discover their next timepiece. Justin Reis and Josh Srolovitz delve into the passion and precision driving the platform.

By Vivien Wong
June 30, 2021

In conversation with Justin Reis, co-founder and chief executive officer

Can you tell us a bit about your background before WatchBox?

I started my career as a bond trader in London after graduating with a degree in economics and management at the London School of Economics in 1995. After the crisis in 1997, I moved to Singapore and co-founded a private investment group, Presidio Capital, which grew to include offices in Tokyo, London, New York, and Sydney in addition to Singapore. We managed over US$1 billion in capital, invested in a wide range of industries – from real estate to commodities, petrochemicals, and aviation – and I ran the business until 2012. At that point, I started investing in consumer businesses and real estate through my family office; and as they say, the rest is history.

Photo: Watchbox

How did you meet co-founders Liam Wee Tay and Danny Govberg and how did the idea of WatchBox come up?

Liam Wee was a close friend in Singapore and has been a great mentor to me over the years. We’ve worked together on multiple investments and partnerships prior to WatchBox, including advising on and structuring the transaction when he sold Sincere.

Liam Wee and Danny Govberg are contemporaries in the watch industry, first meeting more than 25 years ago as they were growing their respective family businesses. While Govberg Jewelers is an authorised dealer of leading brands, the pre-owned category has been an important part of Danny’s business model since the 1980s, and it strengthened greatly over the last eight to ten years. After Liam Wee sold Sincere, he recognised that pre-owned timepieces were going to lead the next revolution in the watch industry, and he wanted to be a part of it by taking it to Asia.

Liam Wee and Danny reconnected during this period, and upon seeing Govberg’s operation in Philadelphia, he realised it was unique to anything he had seen across the global watch industry. And at that point, the three of us united to conceptualise and launch WatchBox as the global solution for the pre-owned category.

Photo: Watchbox

What are some of the highlights and lowlights of the venture so far?

Seeing this vision come to life in such a significant way has been an outstanding experience. The WatchBox team is extraordinary, and the passion that the individuals across our company have for the watch industry is palpable. We took the pre-owned strategy of an innovative, 100-year-old company in Philadelphia to a true global stage with the launch of WatchBox, effectively transforming one of the largest luxury industries out of Switzerland.

When you are building an organisation, you have to get it structured and positioned the right way for growth. The hardest part of that process is change; modifying mindsets and behaviours across the company so it is able to grow and scale.

With your finance background, what will your advice be for people who want to invest in watches? Will there be a change of behaviour post-2020?

While the WatchBox model positions pre-owned watches as a tradeable asset class with the benefits of real-time, market-driven pricing, we do not look at timepieces as “financial investments” – this is a hobby of passion. Whenever there is an imbalance or shift between supply and demand, the opportunities to buy great products at great value will rise. If people are looking to acquire pieces now, we recommend top tier brands as an entry point, particularly if you are considering selling in the future. Pre-owned timepieces from Rolex and Patek Philippe are historically the most liquid, and we are also recognising significant value in pre-owned watches from A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, and F.P. Journe.

What’s next for WatchBox?

We have several exciting projects on the horizon, including developing the female category for WatchBox. Across the industry, the women’s watch market is underserved, and we look forward to helping to move this forward through our inventory, our client advisors, our clients, and community worldwide. We are also continuing to invest in media, technology, and digital marketing initiatives as we develop new and interesting ways to engage with our community.

This story was originally published in Issue 1 of Echelon's print magazine.