The trend for everything, recently, has been toward accessibility. Experiences previously only available to VIPs are now sold to anyone who can put together the cash. Custom watches, typically the province of the richest, are now available via websites for as little as $150.
Now, in the USA, it’s possible to wear luxury watches without even buying them, as a member of Eleven James. Eleven James is a membership club that allows members to “test drive” watches, wearing them for a number of months, then switching them out for something else.
- Randy Brandoff
Randy Brandoff, Founder and CEO of Eleven James, came by this idea honestly, as he was the first employee of Marquis Jets, a private jet club that allowed members to share the use of the planes, making private airplanes accessible to many more people than before. He hopes he can repeat this success in watches.
“With the success of Marquis and Net jets, vacation clubs, car clubs, Bag Borrow Steal, Shared Art and yacht programmes, I came to realize that you could take any asset that was previously exclusively owned and make it available for shorter times,” Brandoff explains. “Watches are reasonably expensive, they are good but not great assets, and the more you have the more they sit idle at home, since you can only wear one at a time. I asked myself why couldn’t I apply this model, an annual programme that was a club, to watches.”
Members of Eleven James can pick from three collections of timepieces, based on value (Aficionado, Connoisseur, and Virtuoso), and they then pick one of two frequencies (six two- month rotations or three two-month rotations). The price to belong to Eleven James ranges from $2,700 to $17,250 per year. Members do not pick the watch they want to wear – Eleven James aims to know its members so well to be able to match each person’s taste with the appropriate watch.
“When you become a member, we create your personal watch profile (by asking questions, the history of your collection and the ratings done in Eleven James),” Brandoff explains. “With all that information, we can confidently match you with a watch, and if we are wrong, we will switch it out. This keeps the element of surprise, like receiving a gift from a loved one. We catalogue the data of individual preferences, demographics and psychographics, and longer term we envision sharing that info on a macro level with the brands, to help inform their product development and distribution departments. We think that will help the industry and see that we are friends not foe.”
That is one big issue, as no one in the watch industry, neither brands nor retailers, knows what to make of Eleven James. The concept could really take off and help sales, as customers fall in love with the watches they are wearing temporarily and buy them for their collections. Or, it could decrease sales, if the collectors are content with their rotation and don’t feel the need to buy.
“We are seeing two things – Eleven James is a try before you buy programme, and it is a way to get new people into watches. It is their ‘training wheels’ to try a luxury watch,” Brandoff says. “And, every member we add is a watch we have to acquire, and a lot of our members are going to buy the watches because they don’t want to give it back. They can buy it pre-owned from us or we will put them in touch with a retailer to buy it new.
“We have had quite a few members sign up who have said that they are Panerai guys or Rolex guys, but because trying something else is so much cheaper, it’s their safety net to try other watches,” he continues. “Our members are finding out that there is a lot more out there than they are aware of.”
Anything that helps raise awareness of fine watches and gets more people wearing watches in general can’t be all bad. It remains to be seen how Eleven James is received, both by customers and the industry, and what effect it has on the watch purchasing habits of its members.
“I am also a part of a community of people that are passionate about watches,” he adds. “I am definitely more likely to buy a new timepiece in the future. My experience wearing Hublot and Glashütte Original watches as a member of Eleven James has made me a big admirer of both of those brands and I can definitely see buying one or both for my collection.”
Paul Wigdor of New Jersey, Eleven James’ Member
Brent F. Sibley, a lawyer from Miami, joined because Eleven James seemed like the perfect way to become more informed about watches.
Source: Watch-Aficionado October - November 2014 Magazine Issue