Philadelphia-based, family-owned Govberg Jewelers has formed a partnership with a Chinese jeweler and Singapore investors to expand WatchBox, the online high-end watch-resale service Govberg founded, into what the group calls "the first-ever global trading platform for pre-owned luxury watches."
Danny Govberg, third-generation owner of the 101-year-old firm — which has stores on Rittenhouse Square, in Ardmore, and in the Cleveland area, plus the 20,000-square-foot facility on Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd where WatchBox was born — has taken Hong Kong-based watch dealer Liam Wee Tay and Presidio Capital cofounder Justin Reis as partners in taking WatchBox global.
"Hey, if we're going to be the biggest in the world, I can't do it all by myself," Govberg told me.
The partners said Friday that they have a commitment from Singapore investor Anson Wang's CMIA Capital Partners to invest $100 million in Watchbox's "multi-platform strategy" over the next 18 months.
"In WatchBox, we are backing a proven leadership team of industry veterans who offer a fresh perspective on the global luxury-watch industry," CMIA managing partner Lee Chong Min said, according to the owners' statement. He projected a "near term" annualized revenue run rate "to exceed U.S. $200 million," but did not include a profit projection.
"We believe WatchBox will transform the multibillion-dollar luxury-watch industry," Lee added. CMIA, established in 2003, "stands ready to back WatchBox in subsequent rounds" to buy other firms.
WatchBox now has 130 brokers and other employees split between Bala Cynwyd and a co-headquarters, showroom, and e-commerce center in the Hong Kong central business district, the company said.
Tay, former owner of Sincere Watch, which he grew from a family-owned company to a luxury brand, serves as chairman of the Asian operation, which he took public on Hong Kong and Singapore stock markets and sold in 2012. Reis is a veteran East Asia investor who will serve as co-CEO.
"I've known Tay my whole career, for 25 years. He teamed up with Justin, who had just sold some companies. They said they loved what we were doing with pre-owned watches, and they wanted to take it to Asia. So we formed a partnership," Govberg said. "And we'll be in Europe next year."
Govberg compared WatchBox to Kelley Blue Book, the used-car price listing. "Watches such as Rolexes, you can think of them as commodities, like a car. They sell for between $10,000 and $100,000 — they can sell up to $1 million — same watch, no matter where you go in the world. So we're in the business of buying, selling, and trading luxury timepieces, using our app, today, and making it transparent. You can use us to trade up your watch, like you could use Kelley to trade a Lexus for a Mercedes. You want to sell us a Rolex or buy one from us, we can do that."
The WatchBox Reviews channel has logged hundreds of thousands of monthly views on YouTube. Govberg said he's been talking to Philadelphia sports broadcaster Howard Eskin about hosting a segment, "Eskin on Watches." He compared WatchBox to RevZilla, the South Philly-based online and video motorcycle-gear sales center, and Turn5, the Malvern-based online car-parts market, which have national followings.
"People think of us as a little jeweler in Philadelphia. But this has become like the PayPal of watches — we're the top independent dealer in high-end pre-owned watches in the U.S." and one of the largest of all watch dealers new or used, Govberg said.
"We are committed to elevating the pre-owned watch perception and experience worldwide, offering collectors an efficient digital marketplace, real-time pricing data on their collections, and high-touch client initiatives," Tay said in a statement. WatchBox sales could top $500 million amid jeweler consolidation "in the coming years," he said, adding that its dual U.S. and China experience, and its "robust" online trading platform, would make WatchBox a "trusted partner" and give it an edge.
Govberg will oversee WatchBox's U.S. tech hub. He promised a "balance of technology, data systems, and 24/7 connectedness, along with personalized service, guaranteed authenticity, and value."