United by Design

This Savvy Atlanta-Based Watch Dealer Has Always Been ahead of Its Time

Jake 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. 

Portriat of Eugene Tutunikov, CEO of SwissWatchExpo
Under CEO Eugene Tutunikov, SwissWatchExpo has become one of the leading sellers of pre-owned timepieces worldwide, with thousands of watches in stock (photo by Yelena Mayorov). Top: The company offers favorite models by several top brands, such as the Cartier Santos (photo courtesy of SwissWatchExpo).

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.”

close up of a Rolex Daytona watch, 116520
“We have a number of Rolex Daytonas, which typically have waiting lists of over four years, available for next-day delivery,” says Tutunikov. This reference 116520, in steel, from the early 2000s, is a classic example of the iconic tool watch. Photo courtesy of SwissWatchExpo

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.

Close up of an Omega Speedmaster that marks the 50th anniversary of the brand's receipt of the NASA Silver Snoopy Award in 1970. The back features Snoopy circling the moon in his rocket ship.
This Omega Speedmaster marks the 50th anniversary of the brand’s receipt of the NASA Silver Snoopy Award in 1970. The back features Snoopy circling the moon in his rocket ship. Photo courtesy of SwissWatchExpo

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.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore in rose gold
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore in rose gold, 2015

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. 

Eugene Tutunikov’s Quick Picks

Patek Philippe Aquanaut in steel with rubber strap, 2008
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Patek Philippe Aquanaut in steel with rubber strap, 2008

“This 38mm stainless-steel Aquanaut is one of the world’s most coveted sports watches. It comes with its original box and papers. The embossed black dial is set with luminous hands and hour markers, and the piece has an automatic movement, with center-sweep seconds hand and date window. The strap is rubber and, like the rest of the watch, in excellent condition.”

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore ladies' watch in rose gold with diamonds, 2000s
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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore ladies' watch in rose gold with diamonds, 2000s

Six carats of diamonds on the case, bezel, links and buckle of this Royal Oak Offshore ref. 26092OK add a precious new dimension to one of the world’s most iconic sports watches. The 37mm case is eighteen-karat rose gold, and the dial is mother-of-pearl in the brand’s signature tapisserie pattern, with diamond hour markers. It contains an automatic chronograph movement.”

Patek Philippe Calatrava in white gold, 2000s
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Patek Philippe Calatrava in white gold, 2000s

“This contemporary Patek Philippe Calatrava stands out from the others in its classic dress-watch family thanks to its clear automotive inspiration. Like the dashboard of a vintage sports car, it presents several layers of information — five-minute markers, outer calendar markers and a seconds subdial at five o’clock — with bold Arabic numerals.”

Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Tourbillon in platinum, 2000s
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Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Tourbillon in platinum, 2000s

“This highly unusual and rare Audemars Piguet tourbillon is a one-hundred-fiftieth-anniversary Jules Audemars special edition, with an engraved medallion marking the occasion on the back of the 40mm platinum case. Arabic numerals in an unusual font are arranged on the upper dial, balanced by a tourbillon cage at six o’clock and a power reserve indicator and date subdial at nine o’clock and three o’clock, respectively. It is in excellent condition.”

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary, 2021
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Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary, 2021

“This fiftieth-anniversary watch pays homage to NASA’s very first Silver Snoopy Award, presented by the agency to Omega on October 5, 1970. The award recognized the brand’s participation in space exploration, particularly its life-saving role in the Apollo 13 mission.”

Tudor Black Bay Chrono with reverse panda dial in steel, 2021
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Tudor Black Bay Chrono with reverse panda dial in steel, 2021

“The 2021 Black Bay chrono is inspired by classic Rolex Daytonas of yore. It recalls the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona in a contemporary design, with a panda (or reverse-panda) dial layout and a red line of text.”

Rolex Cellini Moonphase in Everose gold, 2021
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Rolex Cellini Moonphase in Everose gold, 2021

“This Rolex Cellini Moonphase ref. 50535 has never been worn. The 39mm case is made of Everose gold, and it contains a COSC-certified automatic movement. The double bezel is fluted and smooth domed, and the dial is white lacquer with raised polished rose-gold baton hour markers. The blue enameled moonphase features a moon crafted from a meteorite disc.”

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