The owner of Govberg Jewelers, in Philadelphia, has developed a horological empire that stretches far beyond his store’s walls.
By Jonathan Bues
I first met Danny Govberg 12 years ago. I’d recently entered the industry as a copy editor for another watch magazine, which he owned at the time. What the native Philadelphian, familiar to most in the watch business as one of its major personalities, was better known for was his successful, family-owned retail business. Govberg figures among the largest authorized Patek Philippe dealers in the United States, and over the years he has sold most of the other prestigious marques of horology as well. By early July, when I traveled to Philadelphia for our visit, Govberg had turned at least some of his focus to the vintage-watch market, which, he predicts, will become an even bigger segment for collectors in the years to come.
“We are talking about watches that have, in many cases, sat in drawers, gathering dust. At some point they emerge, and their owners wonder what to do with them. They’re too valuable just to discard, of course,” Govberg says.
He aimed to create a transparent marketplace where watch collectors can learn the value of a watch in their possession. A signature app, called WatchBox, pulls information about watch sales from around the web and assigns “buy,” “sell,” or “trade” values based on the findings. On the content side, WatchBox consists of an RSS feed of several of the finest sources of horological journalism from the web. According to Govberg, a number of collectors have been using the app as a platform on which to day-trade their watch collections, and those who live in the Philadelphia area will even pop in to browse through Govberg’s inventory.
In his quest to establish a transparent market with access to global information about preowned watch sales, Govberg’s WatchBox concept has opened a satellite office in Hong Kong to supplement the daily trading that takes place at the company’s suburban Philadelphia headquarters. The latter location is a fully renovated, state-of-the-art temple to horology, complete with a vault holding thousands of watches. On my visit, Govberg just happened to have six preowned Patek Philippe minute repeaters in inventory—an assortment of complicated horology the likes of which you’re unlikely to see outside of a Baselworld booth.
During our visit, Govberg paused to reflect that this nondescript suburban headquarters just might see more watches coming in and out of it than the Tourneau Time Machine on Madison Avenue. With so many watches moving through, establishing a service center was a must. To that end Govberg has hired a master watchmaker to oversee a knowledgeable and dedicated team, capable of everything from restoring and servicing complicated horological masterpieces to polishing cases and bracelets. Much of the most exciting action happens on the trading floor, where Govberg’s mostly young, tech-savvy employees field questions from collectors while buying, selling, and trading watches in a manner more commonly associated with commodities.
Govberg’s horological empire, with its tech focus and proprietary software, may have the distinctive air of a start-up about it, but it is a third-generation family business that has operated continually in the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. The idea to digitally power his preowned-watch
business will come full circle later this year, when the first of Govberg’s WatchBox concept stores will deploy. They will be small shops located around the world, he says, where customers can buy, sell, and trade their watches. The stores may be local and tangible, but they will have access to a global inventory database.