February 20, 2022Jake and Victoria Rokhlin recognized early on that pre-owned watches were going to be big business. The couple, who founded SwissWatchExpo as a modest local jeweler in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood in 2009, understood that pre-owned watches offered advantages for both dealers and customers that went well beyond what primary retailers could offer.
They could see the emerging problem of inventory shortages, as brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe introduced more and more models in limited editions. At the same time, an increasing number of great watches were popping up on eBay and other sites, as aficionados broadened their collections, buying and selling more frequently.
The Rokhlins set about acquiring the best of these offerings, authenticating and, if necessary, refurbishing them. Jake, a master watchmaker who formerly ran an authorized Rolex service center in Atlanta, was more than up to the task.
“The vast majority of the watches we sell are less than twenty years old. And for those models, we work to get them as close to new condition as possible,” says company CEO Eugene Tutunikov, Victoria’s son. “That’s what we’ve found our clients want in watches of that age. For vintage pieces, we’ll service but not polish them, as vintage collectors often prefer the original look of the watch.”
Tutunikov, a former derivatives trader and hedge fund executive, was brought on in 2016 to help run the business. Soon after, he relaunched the website, ramping up the focus on e-commerce, which included joining 1stDibs. It was a winning strategy, setting up SwissWatchExpo as a major player in the pre-owned watch game.
In 2020, the company moved to a new location double the size of its original showroom. The new 7,000-square-foot space encompasses two floors designed in a contemporary, industrial style and staffed with knowledgeable salespeople.
Inventory typically runs from 2,400 to 3,000 pieces, with new arrivals every day. There are about 40 brands to choose from — including Omega, Breitling and Audemars Piguet, in addition to Rolex and Patek Philippe. Can’t get your hands on this year’s hot new limited edition? Last year’s was just as great, and there’s a good chance you’ll find it on the Rokhlins’ stock list.
The watches are all high-end, but not exclusively Swiss, despite the firm’s moniker. “My mother came up with the name SwissWatchExpo, and everyone in my family loved it instantly,” says Tutunikov. Since most luxury watches are made in Switzerland, they “knew it was SEO-friendly.”
“We always focused our efforts on the pre-owned market because it provided us with more flexibility as a business,” Tutunikov adds. “We knew we could offer our clients significantly more variety, from vintage models and discontinued styles to limited and special editions. It opens up a greater range of models, eras and price points.”
Despite its growth, SwissWatchExpo remains a private family-owned company. Victoria oversees the day-to-day operations and sales teams, while Jake is joined by a staff of six in the company’s state-of-the-art service center. Here, Tutunikov tells Introspective a bit about what makes SwissWatchExpo tick and what you really need to know when buying a pre-owned timepiece.
What draws people to your business as a source for luxury watches?
Three things. The first is our products’ availability. Unlike some dealers, we carry every watch we list online.
The second is transparency. SwissWatchExpo offers an eighteen-month warranty on every watch and ships watches in what the industry calls “like new” condition. Every item we list is photographed as it appears in the showroom.
The third is watchmaking excellence. We select only the highest-quality watches to sell, and we inspect and service all of them before we offer them for sale. Every piece is authenticated, serviced, repaired and polished. Because we do all the work in-house, we can ensure quality and intrinsic value.
Where do you source your watches?
From a wide network we’ve built over the years. It includes private individuals, jewelry stores, pawn shops, private collectors, auction houses and wholesalers in the industry. We cherry-pick the pieces of the highest quality.
What’s hot right now?
Demand for steel sports watches has reached fever pitch. Hot commodities like the steel Rolex Submariner are almost impossible to obtain at a primary retailer, but SwissWatchExpo has around seventy-five of them in stock and ready to ship. We have a number of Rolex Daytonas, which typically have waiting lists of over four years, available for next-day delivery.
White-gold sport watches have also become increasingly popular, and colored dials are very hot right now. Leading the pack is Rolex, whose candy-colored Oyster Perpetual watches are worn by the likes of Roger Federer and LeBron James. Cartier recently unveiled the new Tank Must collection — a direct homage to the successful Must de Cartier line from the nineteen eighties — in three new designs with striking colors: blue, red and green.
What advice would you give customers about buying a pre-owned watch?
Make sure to buy something that’s authentic and in great condition. That means buying from a trusted source. We have an in-house watchmaking department, and our watchmakers have an average of twenty years experience each.
I would advise my friends not to buy from anyone without that capability. The fakes are getting better, and it’s a big investment to ensure each watch is authentic. As one of the largest pre-owned retailers in the U.S., we stand behind the authenticity of each watch we sell. We’ve sold many thousands of watches over the years, and authenticity hasn’t been an issue.
What’s your holy grail watch — the one at the top of your own wish list?
My current grail watch is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak chronograph reference 26331OR.OO.1220OR.01. I love the combination of the galvanized tapisserie blue dial on rose gold — even the hands, hour markers and AP logo are all in rose gold. It’s a nice size watch, and as always, the details on the Royal Oak are amazing.