Network Unites Watch Dealers and Jewelers

Need a watch right away for a customer? Looking to buy or sell vintage timepieces? Want to know quickly what’s available? The Watch Dealers Network—a new business-to-business Web site created to bring together independent jewelers and professional watch dealers—could be what you need.

WDN—for the trade only—is specifically designed for “immediate buying and selling of new and vintage watches … without having to pick up the phone or hunt down suppliers,” says Avi Soffer, a successful watch importer and wholesaler.

Soffer founded WDN, which went online in April, and spent $1.2 million over two years developing it. Need for a serious Web-based network where watch retailers and dealers interact was obvious, according to Soffer. Rising demand for fine watches is causing jewelers to add more and spend more time seeking specific ones for customers.

“The watch dealer has been building inventory, while the jeweler can’t find watches readily enough. There’s a huge disconnect,” says Soffer. Based on WDN calculations “a jeweler can sell five to seven watches a week. That’s a paycheck many miss out on,” he claims. “Stock is available. The jeweler just needs to know where to find it.”

WDN debuted this year at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, where it signed up many, says Soffer. He expects to have 10,000 members by early 2008. Many jewelers told him why they like the WDN concept: “They enjoy being able to sell watches taken in trade, not making customers wait while trying to locate a requested watch, and not losing sales to the Internet.”

Sofer adds, “With watches, if you don’t act right away, a sale is lost. The WDN is what they need, [with] instant access to everything necessary to buy and sell watches, to be more productive and competitive.”

Those include real-time interactive buying and selling channels (by brand); real-time chat channels; a detailed 12,000-watch reference database (called Watch Wizard); over 10,000 watch dealers, locatable by company, region, or brands; dealer profiles, with references and company history; SMS (short message service, aka text messaging) for cell phone contacts; and escrow services.

Other special features include WDN’s APB alerts (a member-sent “need now” query pops up immediately networkwide on every member’s screen); a calculator provided by U.S. Customs to figure duty rates; and a multiview screen (“for the most serious professionals”), where a member can buy, sell, research, or converse without going page to page or missing updates.

WDN is linked to the International Watch and Jewelry Guild, a leading professional watch dealers’ organization. Its 5,000-plus members in 52 countries buy, sell, and trade vintage and modern timepieces, estate jewelry, diamonds, and store and manufacturer stocks and closeouts. Together, the two claim access to $1 billion of watch inventory.

“Finally, both [jewelers and watch dealers] know exactly where to find each other with no delay,” says Burley Bullock, IWJG founder and president, and head of Bullock Estate & Diamond Brokers, in Houston. “The ability to connect with each other instantly will benefit everyone.” (For example, Soffer notes, some dealers have bought watches that retailers had for months or even years.)

A concern of some jewelers, though, is the possibility of transshipping and gray-market watches. Soffer insists that won’t happen. “We’re very adamant on this,” he says. “We don’t endorse or condone it.”

While there are no penalties, there is, says Soffer, “a very clear understanding, and an unwillingness, to buy or sell goods that aren’t 100 percent. This is how our members operate here and in the IWJG. [Many] have dealt in watches as long as 30 years and have long-standing relationships with their companies.

“We explain in great detail to those who inquire that our network is for professionals to get to know one another in an aboveboard, professional manner. We don’t expect any member to do anything to jeopardize that.”

There are four membership levels, from Silver/Basic (site access, use of Watch Wizard, ability to buy, for $14.99 a month) to Premier (full access, all features, IWJG membership and shows, and a monthly banner ad, for $79 a month).

To apply, a company must provide a business license (jewelry or watch trade only), a resale tax ID certificate, three trade references, and a Jewelers Board of Trade or IWJG number. A seven-member advisory board reviews each application. If approved, the applicant gets a user name and password to access WDN by computer, BlackBerry, or cell phone. (See www.TheWDN.com.)

Membership isn’t limited to jewelers and watch dealers. Watch manufacturers have joined to “more efficiently and cost-effectively introduce their private-label lines,” says Soffer, on WDN’s free WDN Watch Marketplace. “We welcome everyone who deals with watches,” he says.