Passionate collectors seek a heartbeat and a soul from their finest timepieces
By By Jorie Parr
Photography by John Aigner
Assistant art director: Winston Torr
Fashion director/producer: Susan Stein
Production assistants Jenna Harris and Tiffany Rantor
Terry Weiner pulls a gray-faced watch off his wrist and puts it on his desk. It’s a Patek Philippe, strictly styled, with dark crocodile band. As he travels in the United States, its subtle beauty attracts little notice. However, in Europe and Asia, it draws excitement. Enthusiasts abroad know this special species: a Gondolo Calendario with a tonneau (barrel-shaped) platinum case valued at about $50,000.
The scion of a family clocking 60 years in the jewelry business, Weiner, it could be said, was born with a fine watch on his wrist. His late father and mother, Edward and Eleanore, joined bits of their names to create Leeds (later & Son) fine jewelers in 1947, opening their first store in Indio — “at that time the economic hub of the desert, what with agriculture and a train station,” Weiner says. Moves took Leeds to Palm Springs and then to its current location at 73-670 El Paseo in Palm Desert. (It also has three stores in Hawaii.)
Today, Weiner serves as an ambassador for the board of directors of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, which promotes the heritage, culture, and manufacture of fine timepieces. The organization’s Web site — www.hautehorlogerie.org — provides an educational resource, with one goal of attracting a new generation to the craft.
Contrary to the notion that cell phones and other tech gadgets are making wristwatches a thing of the past, the market for luxury timepieces can hardly meet the demand. In this post-quartz era, a boom has overtaken the luxury trade.Collectors want something with a heartbeat, with a soul, made by human beings,” Weiner says, noting that gentlemen have few ways to express their sophistication and artistic taste. The point has been made, not to be crass, that you can’t take your motorcar or your house or your trophy wife into an important meeting. But you can wear a prestigious watch with confidence.
Weiner also suggests that when a man passes 30, he might be thinking of purchasing a potential heirloom that can be passed to a son or a daughter, because most everyone wants big watches these days.
The average American man has 1.8 watches. The average Italian man has eight. And considering the weakness of the dollar, Weiner says, “It’s like watches are on sale here.”
However, having the means to purchase is often not enough; some manufacturers require the dealer to submit a prospective buyer’s profile. When a coveted order arrives at Leeds, Weiner says, “We have to have a meeting” to determine who gets it. “Two hundred people could be waiting.” The dealer and manufacturer will consider the patron’s history and intentions for the piece (in short, they will sell to someone who really wants the timepiece and will not take it to auction or the secondary market).
Dealers keep a step ahead of their knowledgeable clientele. And though the stock is elitist, the attitude is not. Weiner encourages visitors who only aspire to own a luxury watch (entry level about $3,000) to try on and “play.”Complications — additional features such as a calendar and moon phase — increase the prices. Incidentally, Leeds devotes 200 square feet of its space to a service shop.
The irresistible question: What is the “It” watch?
Make that plural, Weiner beams: “Two Rolexes — the stainless steel Daytona and the new Milgaus. And the Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph.” Weiner favors an “indestructible” Rolex for everyday and a Patek Philippe for dress.
As for craftsmanship, precious few products are handmade. A Patek Philippe, sans electronics, may take 1 1/2 years to complete. No wonder the watchmaker produces fewer than 100 of some models annually. There are only five true manufacturers that make all their components. Leeds carries three; besides Patek Philippe and Rolex, there is Jaeger-LeCoultre. Most watchmakers are known as assemblers; they assemble parts manufactured by other companies.
Weiner holds his own among the global collectors, encasing more than 20 marvels in a safe equipped with winding devices. But the keepsake he treasures most is under its own glass dome. Probably worth $100 today, it was his father’s; to Weiner, it’s priceless.