What Hodinkee needs to do when selling watches

The draft title of this piece was "Frankenwatch: The modern prometheus". I'm too proud of that title not to reference it in some way.

The draft title of this piece was "Frankenwatch: The modern prometheus". I'm too proud of that title not to reference it in some way.

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

I love Hodinkee. If I hadn't had stumbled across their video on Sundials Timepiece Chronicle would not exist. From bedroom project to multi-million dollar business they are trendsetters, tastemakers and command a huge audience of loyal followers.  Whilst researching this piece I came across this comment from their five year anniversary which mirrors my own feelings about the site, "You gave the watch industry something it desperately needed - a media facelift to the 21st Century. No more forums or bulletin boards; just beautiful imagery, great articles, and some tempting ways to blow a lot of money". However no-one is above reproach and recently a few things have left me with many a raised eyebrow.

By the time this article is published the dust regrading Hodinkee's Speedmaster mistake will have settled which has given me a chance to reflect. For those unaware last week Hodinkee updated their shop front with several brand new watches including a Speedmaster Ref. 145.012-67 for $6,300. Like all nearly all of their watches it sold almost instantly but not before watch aficionados noticed certain inconsistencies with the watches description; the flat beveled lugs were indicative of a different reference (Ref. 105-012-66 CB), the serial was too early for Ref. 145.012-67 and the pushers were too long. Cries of Frankenwatch appeared and soon the pitchforks were out, all pointed towards Hodinkee who I believe responded responded quickly and professionally to the criticism.

On threads across Reddit, Instagram and the Omega Forums, a representative acknowledged the error of not mentioning the case back, provided a close-up of the case back engraving and said he believed the watch was produced in a transitional time for Omega where parts from 105.012s and 145.012s were being used together and were confirming this with the Omega Archives.  The Internet was not entirely convinced but appreciated the swift response. The experts behind the book Moonwatch only said that the watch was almost certainly a Ref. 105.012-66 CB with some service replacement parts with an incorrect caseback and that they're never observed such transitional models (Between 105.012-66 CB and 145.012-67). Hodinkee have now updated the description of the watch to read "The case was previously not mentioned as being manufactured by Central Boîtes, as Omega was using for the reference 105.012, with different lugs than the Hughenin Freres cases. Its case back still indicates the reference 145.012, the pushers belong to that reference and the movement number falls into the correct range so we chose to label it as a 145.012 but will update it if it needs to be as soon as we receive the Archives certificate from Omega".

Now I'm in no position to say whether Hodinkee are correct in their assessment of this piece being a transitional watch but  I feel that their handling of the updated Hodinkee Shop has been poor. The E-Commerce platform of Hodinkee has evolved from the days of Ben Clymer fulfilling each order himself to the leviathan we see today. Whilst it's never been at the forefront of the site the concept of Hodinkee as a seller has always been there; either through Pop-Up fleas in NYC selling vintage watches in 2011, watch themed ties and jackets in 2012 to $52,000 watches in partnership with a respected Swiss watchmaker just last year. 

The so-called "Hodinkee Effect" is well documented with watches featured on the site sometimes selling for 30-40% above market value. This gives Hodinkee huge influence over the market and for them to promote a watch they directly profit from on their site could be a misuse of this influence. In the article announcing the sale a click through link saying that the original MB&F LM101 was introduced  "In May of 2014 to critical and consumer acclaim" sent readers to Hodinkee's own positive coverage of the event. It is true that MB&F are not featured on the navigation bar under brands however Hodinkee has still covered the brand since the partnership. 

Hodinkee's Collaboration between MB&F. The MB&f LM101 in steel. Photo courtesy of hodinkee.

Hodinkee's Collaboration between MB&F. The MB&f LM101 in steel. Photo courtesy of hodinkee.

When Mr. Clymer first ran the Pop-Up flea he said "the idea behind this was to alleviate any concerns about quality or originality that first-time vintage watch buyers often have". His words to the New York times last year after the merging of Watchville and Hodinkee echo a similar sentiment "This space revolves around trust, and we're a totally independent voice. We already have the trust, but until now we didn't have the tech to build a stronger community around what we're doing".  In March of this year again Mr. Clymer repeated this ethos of trust and transparency, "We're giving you everything you need to know about a watch to make a decision - and frankly, much more...Are they absolutely mint and unworn? Nope, but they're original, and honest, and to us, that's far more important"

To say Hodinkee is betraying that trust would be to succumb to hyperbole but there needs to be better communication and separation between what is published on Hodinkee and what is on sale at Shop.Hodinkee. Intentionally or not the deck is neatly stacked in Hodinkee's favor.  In an article for Wound for Life Dean Konick aptly put it like this; "If I was in their shoes, the first thing I would do is introduce the team that is working on the watches for the shop. Who takes the pictures? Who chooses and vets each watch? What are their qualifications? Is Ben personally with inspecting each watch that goes up for sale?". This hasn't happened. 

The content Hodinkee puts out is treated as Gospel by literally millions, myself included, and speaking kindly of or refraining from criticizing certain brands could benefit them directly through sales of the website. We need to know exactly who is picking the watches, is the content of the main-page scheduled to coincide with updating the shop's inventory, what happens when a watch deemed worthy of the "Hodinkee Authenticity Guarantee" turns out to have issues? The inventory for Shop.Hodinkee is full of the same watches that for years the main page has been dedicated to glorifying yet this conflict of interest has not been been addressed.

At the top of every A Moment in Time article I've included a disclaimer saying that I worked for Sidney Thomas, the jewelers where I took the photographs. Even though I worked there for less than two months, almost no-one I knew still works there and even though I don't receive any monetary compensation from showcasing the watches I still feel that I have to announce that I used to work there. There was/is a connection there that could be seen as a conflict of interest. 

Over the last twelve months I've considered getting into the vintage watch game and the more I've thought about it the less I liked it. I'm a very small fish compared to Hodinkee's whale but I still have regular readers who trust what I write is accurate and unbiased. If I were to sell a vintage Wittnauer, a brand that I've talked very positively about in the past, it is in my benefit to write/promote older positive articles that contribute to vintage Wittnauer being seen as a desirable and quality brand. However innocent and well-intentioned my words would be that is a conflict of interest. Now imagine the scale of influence Hodinkee has and the sums of money they have gained through their site in the last month alone. I am not accusing anyone there of wrongdoing but as the leading site discussing modern and vintages watches there needs to be more transparency. I think it would be in everyone's best interests, Hodinkee included, if a watchful eye is kept on the shop over the next few weeks.