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Philly native turns the selling of fine watches into a luxe hustle | Elizabeth Wellington

Fine watches are having a moment. Authentick East Coast Time sells one for $580,000.

Authentick Luxury Watches manager Jacob Walter (left) and owner Eric Havkin in their Center City Philadelphia store on Thursday, November 14, 2019.
Authentick Luxury Watches manager Jacob Walter (left) and owner Eric Havkin in their Center City Philadelphia store on Thursday, November 14, 2019.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

“Do you want to see a $580,000 watch?” Authentick by East Coast Time manager Jacob Walter asked me seconds after I arrived at the Center City showroom.

Not particularly, I thought. How could anything, let alone a watch, cost that much?

But it was too late. Walter was placing a Richard Mille titanium timepiece, with its two tiny faces, in my hand.

This particular ticker — the RM053 — has been on the market since 2012, the Swiss company having designed it with polo players in mind. While athletes including tennis player Rafael Nadal and runner Yohan Blakewear a Richard Mille, the watch is at its pop-culture height thanks to wrist-spottings on Kevin Hart, Jay-Z, and Meek Mill.

I held the watch for a bit and even considered trying it on. But then I remembered how much it was and before dropping it accidentally, I handed it back to Walter. He later told me, “We sold a million-dollar watch once.”

And I thought a Birkin bag was the hottest hot-ticket fashion item.

Not these days.

Fine watches, according to the NPD Group, are having a moment. The Long Island-based market research firm reports a 13% uptick in fine watch purchases this year compared to 2015. Older customers still drive the high-end watch market — which NPD defines as more than $5,000 — but millennials, especially those who are HENRYs (high earners not rich yet), are bringing new growth to the segment.

“The introduction and popularity of smart watches brought a mix of challenges to the watch market,” said Reginald Brack, NPD’s watches and luxury industry analyst. “New consumers and watch-wearing behaviors are paving a path for reinvention across the marketplace.”

That explains Authentick’s organic growth, evident in early fall, when it moved from a Richboro showroom to Chestnut Street. Owned by charismatic 36-year-old Eric Havkin, the company is at the center of an under-the-radar but in-the-know community of buying, selling, and trading exclusive watches. Havkin, Walter, and former Boyds salesman Jonathan Segal are like dealers, operating in the same kind of secret, get-you-your-fix way as sneaker freaks and designer pocketbook connoisseurs.

Because a single watch can cost more than four years of Ivy League tuition, Havkin is apprehensive about dropping names of local customers — except for John Kennedy, heir to the John Kennedy car dealerships, who gave him permission. Suffice it to say, though, his sales list includes some of the city’s top politicians and CEOs.

He’s also sold watches to celebs, including Ellen DeGeneres, who in 2016 bought a Patek Phillippe from Authentick. Ice-T reached out looking for a Richard Mille, too. And earlier this month, Authentick sold pop-country singer Brian Kelly of Florida Georgia Line a two-tone Submariner Rolex.

Havkin grew up in the Northeast with a dad who was in the Atlantic City pawn shop business. He always had an affinity for watches — he was the 14-year-old who sported a Movado at school — but after two semesters at Bucks County Community College, Havkin dropped out to sell mortgages. That’s how he realized he was a good salesman, so he decided to try his hand selling watches on eBay. Thanks to his dad, he already had some connections. Eventually, he opened a showroom in Richboro, and met Walter when he walked in looking for work. Online sales were Walter’s specialty.

“It was the early 2000s, and around that time, everyone was buying and trading watches online,” Havkin explained. “We started out small with less expensive watches, about $3,000 or $5,000, maybe a couple of Tags [Heuers]. We eventually graduated to Hublot, Audemars [Piguet] and Ulysse [Nardin]. We kept buying and selling. We grew organically, like a plant.”

When did Havkin know he was on to something?

"When we sold one for $73,000,″ Havkin said. “I was so nervous.”

That was in 2015. Today, Havkin owns every piece of inventory in the Center City showroom, including a puffy Louis Vuitton knapsack that is nearly as tall as me. He purchased it for $10,000 right off the runway of Vuitton’s men’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh. Havkin is pretty sure he can sell it for $20,000. Based on how his hunches usually pan out, he’s probably right.

Authentick by East Coast Time is located at 1737 Chestnut St., 215-355-3585.