t the head of his own website offering a curated selection of pre-owned watches, Frenchman Laurent Martinez is an avid watch collector who has lived in the United States for more than twenty years.
After a career in hospitality, finance and energy, five years ago he decided to turn his passion for watches into a full-time occupation. And passion is the key to his book, Timepieces: A Lifelong Love and Passion. Self-published in English, it combines a personal memoir with information and tips for would-be collectors.
We sat down with Laurent to find out more.
Europa Star: How did the book come about?
Laurent Martinez: It’s really the combination of two passions: watches, which are now my profession, and a longstanding dream to write a book. During Covid, we all found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands, including time to think. For me it was the chance to finally write that book. It’s in two parts. Part one is my story, about where my interest in watches comes from and the 30-plus years that led to my becoming a dealer, and a second, more technical part in which I explain the different components of a watch and offer advice on how to start a collection.
Would you say it’s a technical book?
No. There are already a lot of books, which I’ve read and digested, that go into the subject in detail. My idea was to cover the basics in an easily understandable way; a kind of introduction to watches. It was time for me to give back to an industry that has given me so much. It’s not a money-making project. All the proceeds go to theVeterans Watchmaker Initiative which was founded in 1945 to teach Second World War veterans watchmaking and help with their rehabilitation.
- Laurent Martinez
And what does this programme do now?
The same thing but for veterans returning from Afghanistan or Iraq. It was relaunched a few years ago. It’s a wonderful initiative. All the veterans I’ve met have found employment. Basic training to be a watchmaker costs $13,000. You restore hope to an individual, a family, a community.
What’s the print run?
There were two runs of 500 copies in 2022, with some changes between the two. For the illustrations in the second edition, for example, Sotheby’s authorised me to use images from its library whereas for the first edition I used all my own photos. The book is self-published and can be bought for $40 on my website, as well as from Amazon and Sotheby’s.
What’s your background in watches?
I actually spent a large part of my career in other areas. After studying hospitality in France, I worked in the United States in the 1980s then as an entrepreneur in France and Portugal. I did try to get into the watch business but in those days it was hard to obtain a Swiss work permit. So I moved into finance, which is how I was able to start my collection. Then in 1998 I relocated to the US and set up a consulting company. Even so, watches were always at the back of my mind. When I turned 50 in 2017, I knew I didn’t want to look back and say “I wish I had…”, so I decided to see if I could turn my passion for watches into a full-time job by becoming a pre-owned watch dealer.
How did you begin? I bought and resold a dozen watches, and not particularly high-end ones, either. Little by little I built up a network, took courses in appraisal, wrote for watch magazines, consulted for auction houses… The core of my business is watches by leading names, valued between $6,000 and $15,000. I try to offer something different, and pay particular attention to a watch’s aesthetic and design.
Who are your customers?
I’m in Greenwich, Connecticut, 45 minutes from New York. It’s an area with many exceptional and very select watches and collectors. As a watch dealer, my business is based entirely on trust and reputation. I source watches for my clients, working with a small number of suppliers and just one watchmaker in whom I have absolute trust. Most of my watches come from private customers. I’m very cautious and methodical in my approach. You have to be, given that it can be increasingly difficult to distinguish certain fakes from the real thing. Books have a role to play, and I think that writing this book will strengthen my reputation.