Marcus Margulies has been in the watch business since he was 21. The family business, Time Products, owns the Marcus watch shop in London, described as, “The most important collection of watches in the world”. With five decades of watch wisdom on hand, where else would you buy your collection’s crowning timepiece?
Neatly tucked in amongst the horological big guns on New Bond Street in London lies arguably one of the most important independent watch retailers on the planet. Marcus is a multi-storey marble and glass palace that holds within it a staggering array of timepieces – many of which are one of a kind. Limited edition pieces by Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Zenith, Blancpain and Hublot share hallowed Marcus shop space with distinctly progressive timepieces – the new pioneers of high horology as repre- sented by the likes of Richard Mille, MB&F, Urwerk and the owner’s favourite, Greubel Forsey.
Marcus Margulies established his eponymous store in 2001, and he has always operated as he sees fit – unencumbered by the dictats of the huge watch groups.
But this is a luxury borne out of decades in the watch world. As he is quick to point out, “I don’t run Marcus for profit, I run it for pleasure. It took me a hell of a long time to get here, I can afford to do it now, but I could never have done it before. You can’t run a business like ours other than for pleasure because the margins aren’t there.”
Polite, charismatic and unflinchingly direct, Margulies is hugely respect- ed in the highest echelons of the watch world. And with fifty tears and count- ing in the business, Margulies has seen a lot – he has saved brands from going to the wall via huge orders of stock, and championed others, enabling them to grow via his influence. His store boasts more than a 1000 pieces at any one time, with unprecedented amounts of complications, such as the much-re- vered tourbillon.
The majority of these watches are eye-wateringly expensive. The walls are lined with individual pieces that are well into the six-figure bracket. A box of three Greubel Forsey invention pieces is priced at £1.5 million. But the Margulies family company, Time Products, was not built on watches in this price point. It was the affordable, mass- produced watch that found- ed the fortune.
“My father started the business in ‘31 and he sold masses of cheap watches called Elco, which was our own brand. He saw at the end of licens- ing in the 50s that it would be a free for all and he thought it was a good idea to collect luxury brands. So we started to really collect them and over a 15-year period we represented most of the luxury brands. It was much smaller then, you didn’t have the groups. In those days they were family businesses,” he explains.
When Marcus joined the family business, Time Products launched Sekonda watches – the most popular watch in the UK and one of the largest entry- level watch producers in the world. Sekonda’s products are so reliable that out of the millions of watches they’ve sold, less than one per cent has ever been returned. “We started Sekonda in the 60s, which is when I came into the business. We put a lot of money into it and it was a big success. My father always believed that dealing with other countries was a way to bring people together and he saw the opportunity at a really early time for working with Russia. Originally Sekonda was a Russian watch, but today all our movements are Japanese. They were Russian-made and very good quality mechanical watches – don’t forget these are the days before quartz. Now they are produced in China but with Japanese movements. One of the reasons for Sekonda’s success is that we have under half a per cent returns under guar- antee because we buy good movements. We don’t buy the cheapest, we buy the best value, and we prefer to pay more because you lose all your profit plus if it comes back under guarantee.”
Time Products survived the quartz crisis of the 70s when quality me- chanical watchmakers were eviscerated by this cheap and accurate new ‘fu- ture’ of timekeeping. When the demand for high-quality craftsmanship and mechanical expertise in watches made a comeback, Margulies was waiting to supply those who were sophisticated enough to appreciate real watches. He now presides over one of the rarest collections of vintage and antique timepieces in the world. His formidable knowledge of watches and the in- dustry means he can give good counsel to any potential customer interested in something of genuine quality. And honesty is assured.
“If somebody comes in and they want an opinion… well, we wouldn’t sell them something for the hell of selling it. You know I had it this week; a fellow looked at something with two finishes of a wildly expensive piece, and he asked which I preferred. And I told him, I explained why to him – and if it’s explained – maybe he didn’t see it the first time, but then he did. He could see that, A) it looked better on him, and B) it was a better product.”
The policy of honesty, diplomatic or otherwise, extends to the watch industry on the whole, and Margulies clearly feels that certain aspects have diminished over the years.
“People are fragmenting quality for profits and it’s a shame. I mean there is a lot of hype going on and there is a huge amount of stock. Look, the lux- ury business is a very good business if it’s controlled. I mean people love trade names and they are prepared to pay a fortune.”
Here, a distinction between real quality and luxury becomes apparent in the discussion; the question of true value as opposed to perceived value is raised. “Everything is justified if you think it’s worth it. Is a Rolls Royce or a Bentley worth £250,000? The answer is absolutely not. The Bentley has a Volkswagen engine and you can get any body builder to make a magnificent carossery. A Mercedes 500 or a big BMW or an Audi is half as good and costs a quarter as much. So is the Rolls Royce worth it? I guess it is for the person who buys it, because he wants the most expensive.”
So how does Margulies define and distinguish luxury and quality?
“Luxury is expensive, mass produced merchandise and artisan [products] are the greatest things in the world; they are craftsmen who make things by hand. I spoke in a symposium about the difference between luxury and ar- tisan and anybody with any taste buys artisan, not luxury, because with luxury you’re paying for the advertising.
“That’s the world we live in today,” he says chuckling. “And you know I’m not knocking it, I’d be very ill-advised to do so. [With luxury] what you’re buying is instant gratification and showing people what you’ve got. Well I prefer to buy for my own gratification, but you need a measure of self-confidence to do that.”
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