JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates sit down with Jeffery Fowler, CEO of the influential watch website Hodinkee, to learn how the company got its unusual name and hear about the path that led Fowler to it. Jeff also speculates on the reason mechanical watches inspire such lasting passion (they’re science projects wrapped in history projects wrapped in art projects), offers predictions for the booming pre-owned watch market, and explains why good retailers are the best brand ambassadors.
Sponsored by De Beers: institute.debeers.com
00:50 Victoria Visits Botswana
02:28 How Hodinkee Got Its Name
05:29 From Harvard to Hodinkee
18:54 Consumers’ Love Affair With Watches
27:31 In Praise of Retailers
Victoria visits Botswana
Just back from a week in Botswana with De Beers, Victoria shares the highlights of an incredible journey that included a visit to the De Beers sorting facility, the jaw-dropping Jwaneng diamond mine, and Chobe National Park, where elephant herds still roam the savannah. She promises to recount more about her adventures in a future podcast.
How Hodinkee got its name
Victoria introduces Hodinkee CEO Jeffery Fowler, and Rob asks him to explain how one of the most influential voices in the watch world got its unusual name. Hodinky is the Czech word for wristwatch, Jeff explains. When company founder Ben Clymer launched his watch blog in 2008, he chose the word because it seemed unusual enough to be memorable and quirky enough to spark curiosity. Double vowels were trending in the corporate world (Google, Goop, Yahoo), so he adjusted the spelling.
Since then, Hodinkee has grown into a powerhouse with its own e-commerce platform and an award-winning magazine.
From Harvard to Hodinkee
Jeff earned an undergraduate degree at Harvard and an MBA at INSEAD in France before joining LVMH, where he began his career as an assistant retail store manager for Louis Vuitton in London. From there, he moved to TAG Heuer, then Cartier, Tesla, and Farfetch, where he spent six years overseeing businesses across North and South America before joining Hodinkee in 2022. He sums his career up as “an exciting, fun, adventure-filled journey.”
In late 2021, Jeff was taking a break from his career to spend time with his wife and three young sons when he got a call from a recruiter about Hodinkee. He admired Ben Clymer as a pioneer in bringing the watch world online—and doing it in an approachable way that emphasized storytelling, curiosity, and wit. But he remembered it simply as a blog. He was surprised to learn that the company had moved far beyond its original mission, becoming the world’s first online-only authorized retailer of watches in 2017 and more recently expanding to pre-owned watches.
Since joining as CEO, Jeff has helped Hodinkee advance its mission of celebrating the watch industry and making it as inclusive and accessible as possible, not just for those looking to purchase but also for those who simply enjoy finding out what’s going on in the world of watches over their morning coffee, he says. “We cover the product out of love and passion and enthusiasm. We write about the things we love, the things we think matter. The same holds true with what we sell.”
Consumers’ love affair with watches
Rob wonders why watches inspire such passion from enthusiasts and collectors. Jeff cites a quote from watchmaker Nicholas Manousos, executive director of the Horological Society of New York: “A mechanical wristwatch is a science project wrapped inside a history project wrapped inside an art project.” The fact that it uses intricate machinery, precious materials, and precision craftsmanship to do something commonplace (tell time) makes it “incredibly irrational—a true luxury purchase,” Jeff observes.
“And then there’s the emotional and personal side of it,” he adds. “Of all the things I could wear, few could tell you a story other than my watch. It is a little totem of my life. Maybe that’s because I got it from my father or as a graduation present or with my first paycheck. Or I bought it to celebrate a life success, a milestone in my career. In my case, all those things are true of my collection. Those things have meaning for me, and that meaning can be transmitted through time to other people—my sons, my wife, to other people in my life—and they’ll have some piece of my history with them. There’s something very universally human about this category that connects with people.”
The mechanical watch industry might well have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but neither the quartz battery nor the smartwatch dented devotees’ enthusiasm. In fact, the Swiss watch industry has enjoyed record years recently, and with the consumer base getting younger, profits are likely to increase. The booming secondhand market has buoyed the industry too. Sites like Hodinkee offer a transparent, trustworthy way to buy pre-owned watches, and Rolex’s entry into the space gives consumers yet more choices, Jeff says.
Rob asks whether Jeff foresees a shakeout among pre-owned watch sites, but Jeff predicts that innovative, enterprising people continue to introduce new ideas and fresh ways to bring value to the consumer.
In praise of retailers
Rob brings up the direct-to-consumer trend, questioning how Jeff views it playing out. While this market is accelerating, Jeff says, “one thing brands acknowledge is the power of a really incredible retailer who understands her or his local client base and is able to speak to that base in a way that a brand headquartered in Switzerland could never be…. [They’re] the best at expressing the way that a brand should show up in their community—even better than the brand itself.”
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