EMSLIE IS AMONG a team of watchmakers, technicians, and refinishers here at the headquarters of Crown & Caliber, a watch retailer based in Atlanta that buys and sells pre-owned luxury timepieces online. Since it launched in 2013, the company says, it has had more than 40,000 transactions.
Crown & Caliber was founded by Hamilton Powell, an Atlanta native with a background in finance. He got the idea after a friend described what he went through when he tried to sell a rare Rolex Day Date. After posting the watch on eBay, the friend was besieged by scammers. With estimates of the timepiece’s value all over the map, he was unsure of an asking price, until he finally sold it for $5,500 to a mom-and-pop jewelry shop—which flipped it for more than twice that amount.
Pre-owned watches can cost as much as $50,000. Wedig & Laxton Photo
Sensing an opportunity, Powell did some research. He learned, to his surprise, that the U.S. market for high-end mechanical watches is some $5 billion a year. “Some estimate that the pre-owned industry is more than double that,” Powell says. But that pre-owned market was like the Wild West. “Pre-owned watches are traded in back alleys, and pawnshops, and on forums or on eBay and Craigslist,” Powell says. “I thought, ‘We can make it easier and more trusted, a better way to buy a watch.’”
So he set out to do just that, launching Crown & Caliber with a small team and a single watchmaker. “I remember a couple of nights at 1:00, looking for a lost watch part in the carpet of our office with a flashlight,” Powell says. Today, the company has about 60 full-time employees, including watchmakers, refinishers, and customer-service staff.