Watch Expert and Bob’s Watches CEO Paul Altieri Talks Value & Collecting
There are a lot of watch enthusiasts out there, but few have turned their passion into a career, let alone an industry-leading, multi-million dollar business. For Paul Altieri, the founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches, it all started when he was just a 14-year old kid, working as a golf caddy in New England.
“A lot of the guys who were members of that club were successful, some were fantastic golfers. Guys that I just kind of looked up to — they were so cool,” Paul told us over the phone, calling from their sunny headquarters in Newport Beach, California. “And a lot of them wore Rolex watches. And so that started it for me. It became an aspirational goal of mine — if someday I made it, I was going to get myself a Rolex.”
After graduating college in Boston, eventually Paul moved to California, working in the jewelry business for some time. His first Rolex was a two-tone Rolex Datejust 16233, which he says he wore pretty much daily for fifteen years. But when the internet really started to boom, the watch and jewelry expert saw a growing hole in the pre-owned market. Thanks to this new technology, suddenly you could, presumably, buy a Rolex across the country. The problem was, there wasn’t a safe or transparent place to do it.
“Buying something on Ebay and Craigslist was no way to buy a $10,000 watch,” Paul explained. “No one back in 2009 was really doing it right on the internet. And when I say ‘doing it right’ I mean that the internet is all about information, transparency, you know, everything you want to know is out there. But, no one was really taking the approach of being open and honest or publishing pricing that was transparent so people could know and see that they’re getting a fair deal.”
Paul bought Bob’s Watches as a humble local business and transformed it into a national marketplace — publishing how much they would be willing to pay for a certain watch, as well as what they’d sell it for. In 2014, it even became an ‘exchange’ by allowing buyers and sellers of Rolex’s to post selling and buying prices. Paul told us that as Bob’s and their reputation grew, they even became the ‘Kelly Blue Book’ for the industry because of all the information they put out there. “The whole company was built on trust and integrity from day one,” Paul confided.
Now, it probably goes without saying that over the years, Paul has gotten to handle some of the world’s best watches and be part of some extraordinary stories. You might remember the headlines last year about the woman who came into their store with a $250,000 Rolex that she found in couch cushions. It’s an exciting industry to be a part of, and as Paul puts it, one of the most special and unique kinds of collections one can have.
“To me, watches are cool because they’re affordable compared to cars or art. You know, you can add one, or two, or three more zero’s when you get into these other collections,” Paul explained. “But aside from that, it’s a wearable item. I can’t wear my car — I can’t wear that Picasso. I can go in my closet, put my watch on and enjoy wearing it. If it’s a vintage watch, it’s a piece of history. Or maybe it was a special watch I bought to commemorate graduating from college or getting my law degree or MBA.”
Of course, while we had Paul on the line, we had to get his expert advice about watch collecting. This is what he had to tell us.
Q: What advice do you have for someone just starting to build their collection?
A: “Always buy quality. Quality assets long term always go up in value — whether it’s real estate, art, a car or a watch. So buy quality. Buy something that’s original, that’s in great condition, and make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller.”
Q: What about an avid collector. What is your advice for them to keep building a valuable collection?
A: “Buy the best quality you can, and buy what you like. Don’t buy what someone else likes, and do your research. I also think Omega right now is a really affordable luxury watch investment, including some models even in the vintage category. With Rolex, there are some watch models that are on the fringe, where they’re very affordable and turning vintage soon. Think of GMT or Submariner models like the 16800, 168000, 16710 — these are all very affordable today and can only go up in value.”
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to make investments with their watches? Watches with value that grow over time?
A: “Well, you can’t go wrong with Omega and Rolex and even certain Audemars Piguet. They are luxury items that aren’t (made in) high production. Especially in terms of vintage watches, historically, they’ve all gone up in value. They’ve proven to be tremendous investments. But it’s also about quality — original timepieces that have been taken care of over the years, maybe something that’s even unpolished. If it has the box and papers it’s kind of cool — but more importantly it’s high quality.”
Q: You get to work with these amazing pieces every day — so I can imagine you’re always tempted to buy more. How has your collection evolved over the years?
A: “It’s grown dramatically — I can say that,” Paul laughed. “Most of my models are Rolex. But recently I started buying more and more gold watches to keep. For me, I am a little more selective; I don’t wear my gold watches as much as steel. But, lately I’ve been buying more gold vintage watches as investments.”
Q: Finally we’re dying to know — what watch are you wearing today? One of those new gold Rolex’s?
A: “Today I’ve actually got on an Omega 2998-1 — it’s one of the first, early model Speedmaster Omegas. Omega has really been growing on me lately, too.”