The Genius of Danny Govberg, Co-Founder of WatchBox


The Genius of Danny Govberg, Co-Founder of WatchBox


Danny Govberg is a genius. I know this because I vividly recall standing beside him a half decade ago as he showed me not 10, not 20, but the extensive collection of François-Paul Journe watches he had amassed for one simple reason: he loved the watches. He understood Journe’s incredible talent and the authenticity of his watchmaking. He was enamored with the visual identity of the watches that, as he put it, “could be recognized from across the room.” And he recognized the relative rarity of the watches, given Journe’s small annual production compared to the likes of industry giants like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.

Danny Govberg, Co-Founder of WatchBox

For Govberg, this was the future of the company named WatchBox that he had created with co-founders Justin Reis and Tay Liam Wee. Rather than transacting on sub-10,000 dollar Rolexes and Omegas, Govberg has a different vision. He explained, “I want us to be like a great gallery that supports an emerging or relatively undiscovered artist, which we will put our clients into at an early stage.” But he could only do that with the one quality he possesses in abundance — and that is a highly attenuated and almost prophetic taste. This was clearly demonstrated in his Journe inventory, which included the greatest number of unique pieces, micro-series like the Jade and the China edition Tourbillon Souverains, and what seemed to me a most impressive inventory of the brass movement watches in the market. He explained, “Like a gallery, we have to communicate the value of the artist. And we have to assemble a collection of watches that tells his story perfectly.”

Recently, Govberg’s incredible taste motivated him and WatchBox to recognize the genius of one of my favorite watchmakers, Denis Flageollet, a true visionary in high watchmaking, and in so doing, he purchased Flageollet’s brand, De Bethune. Immediately, the secondary prices of De Bethune watches skyrocketed with most quickly surpassing their primary retail prices, and in particular, the Kind of Blue watches reaching lofty premiums. Govberg explained, “What we did was educate people as to how amazing Denis’ watches were. Then, naturally, you have the prices rising because a bigger audience is now aware. That’s how I see WatchBox — as educators.”

The result of this was massive waiting lists for new De Bethune watches, resulting in one retailer in Singapore insisting on background checks on any new De Bethune customers. Says the brand’s highly able CEO Pierre Jacques, “We now have waiting lists for several years. Part of this is the world recognizing what we do is special. But the support of WatchBox is also a factor.”

De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius

Here is my full interview with Danny Govberg, where he talks about what makes WatchBox unique, why he acquired a majority stake in De Bethune, and what the future holds for WatchBox and independent watchmaking.

What are the guiding principles of WatchBox?

The first principle of WatchBox is that our customer has fun. This is something we want to ensure. We specialize in curating, communicating and selling watches in the category from 25 thousand dollars into the millions; we are really a specialist in the high end. Our second principle is ensuring that our customer trusts us and feels protected by us. We make sure we are guiding them in the right way, toward the right brand and the right watches. The third principle of WatchBox is saving our client time. For me, time is the most precious commodity. If you put these together, WatchBox is about making sure our client has fun, that he feels protected and that we save him time — that the client is going to have an amazing experience. At WatchBox, that is what we are concerned about — making sure the client has such a great experience with this hobby that he’s going to come back for more.

Client experience to me is everything. With my family business [Govberg Jewelers], I come from being a Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Rolex retailer. I understand how these incredible brands give their clients the best experience possible. That was the standard with these primary brands. When we started WatchBox, I said to myself, “We need to give people the same level of service and experience that they would get with primary. It has to be special.” I didn’t want people to look down on secondary watches in the way they traditionally did. Not because of the watches — because the product was beautiful — but because of the way they were sold. There was always an element of the street hustler about pre-owned. But we look at our sales team as the equivalent of Goldman Sachs or Deutsche Bank wealth managers that just so happen to be focused on watches.

From Right: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo “Extra- Thin” 15202BA. OO.1240BA.01 and Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5320G

How is WatchBox educating collectors?

I’ll break it down like this. I think that the world gets educated quickly when there is an interest in a specific sector like watches. Think about the modern, high net worth customer. They are educating themselves at night reading magazines and surfing the Internet. They are educating themselves at lunch, looking at Instagram, watching YouTube videos. At WatchBox, we create great content across all the channels that someone uses to educate themselves. We have articles in magazines like Revolution; we have a great Instagram account; we’ve got great YouTube videos; we’ve got online articles. We even have an incredible streaming app backed by hundreds of hours of shows made by our watch advisors, who are some of the most knowledgeable people in the world. A lot of times, people find WatchBox through these channels. We are often part of their educational journey in watches, because I feel content is everything. Why? Because, as I said, the second principle of WatchBox is to create trust.

These educational tools create the first level of trust. From there, they [the clients] come to our website. Now when they arrive, what they see is a transactional platform, sure, but it’s also a further educational tool. It’s got our videos, our articles, our testimonials — this is our brand image and represents the second level of trust. From here, a client can purchase a watch without talking to anyone. But what we really want is for them to engage with one of our client advisors, especially when we are talking about a watch costing 20,000 and above.

We transact on a 100,000-dollar watch daily, but we always want to give the client some guidance into what he or she is purchasing. What we really want is to learn about and understand that client. Firstly, why is he buying that watch? Is it for himself or a business partner; is it to celebrate something; is it for his son or daughter? Maybe he just wants it to show the world he’s someone special. All of this is important to us. Because a wristwatch means something different to every person. We want our clients to develop a relationship with a client advisor and not be passed around person to person. Our client advisors are genuine watch enthusiasts. I mean, they live, breathe, sleep and eat watches. We’ve got people all around the world, but the one common thread is that they love wristwatches. This interaction and shared passion create the third level of trust with us.

What did you learn from the pandemic?

In the pre-pandemic era, the ultimate level of trust was built through face-to-face interactions. We would meet you at an event, at our stores, on a road trip, at your house. We even had watch advisors being invited onto a client’s yacht to show him watches. One of the things that has come out of the pandemic is the idea of the Zoom interaction, where you meet each other or catch up with video conferencing. This has allowed us to meet so many more people. We have a watch advisor named George Mayer. He’s one of the best in the world. He regularly FaceTimes or Zooms with clients in Europe, and one of the recent developments is how many clients he’s interacting with in China.

The face-to-face meetings, the laughter and fun are really great. This one-on-one interaction is super important. Because now we’ve met each other, we have a relationship. There is a trust there, and if you always take care of this relationship, it can last forever.

What distinguishes WatchBox from all the other secondary players?

There are several other things that separate WatchBox from everyone else. The first is that we have the largest inventory in the world. Second to none. Especially when it comes to luxury timepieces from Patek Philippe, F.P. Journe, De Bethune and all the greatest brands in the world. The condition of all of these watches is impeccable. Whatever needed service has been taken care of. I would go so far as to say when a client receives a watch from us, 95 percent of the time, it is as good as being brand new.

De Bethune DB28 Yellow Tones

The exception would be if it’s a vintage piece, and you would hurt the value by touching it. Our watches are perfect aesthetically and mechanically. They all come backed by a two-year warranty.

The second is that we have the largest hands-on video review library in the world. We literally have close to 6,000 reviews, so if you are looking for a review of a certain watch for a better understanding, the odds are we have it. If you want to look at any of these, we have our own downloadable app. In the US, all Samsung TVs and Apple TVs have this function. You can have the WatchBox app sitting right next to your Netflix.

I would also say we are one of the most international sellers of wristwatches, meaning whether it’s Dubai or Switzerland, Hong Kong or Singapore, we have shops there, and we are rapidly expanding to have many more. We will soon be in Zurich, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Saudi Arabia. There are very few global luxury watch operations that have this kind of reach and presence.

I also believe that we are the number one in access. This means that there are very few watches that a client wants that we can’t get at the market price in a very fair and professional manner. And we will underpin (offer to buy back) the watch at a fair level because our client is important to us.

I would say the power of WatchBox is that, on a global level, we have the number one luxury watch community that people are actually engaged with. More than just selling them a watch, we offer them fun. The opportunity to discuss. The guidance to help them trim a watch collection. Trading watches. Introducing clients to each other to create friendships and even business opportunities. They will start to develop real friendships, and it is WatchBox that helps make this happen.

A curated collection of bold and complicated timepieces. Clockwise from top left: Richard Mille RM 61-01 Yohan Blake, A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater 147.025F, Singer Track 1 Hong Kong Edition, Rolex “Rainbow” Daytona, De Bethune DB28 Kind of Gold US Limited Edition, F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain with brass movement

The rest of the world seems obsessed with automation, but at WatchBox, it’s all about human interaction. Why?

This is what I learned from working with brands like Rolex and Patek. When it comes to selling a watch of a certain value, the human interaction and its role in creating a great experience make all the difference. We are not selling a 300-dollar piece of leather. The enthusiasm and passion that the client receives from us as their advisors are so important. Automation could never achieve this. I just don’t believe that this is how Rolex or Patek or Audemars Piguet would do it in primary, so why should we do it in secondary?

The only time I feel that the personal approach doesn’t work is when you make it inconvenient for the client — meaning that they have to drive an hour out of their way. So that’s why we offer the client his choice of interacting on the phone, by Zoom or ultimately person to person. At the same time, the client can learn from us, and he can also initiate a trade-in as part of the deal. It’s just a much better feeling to purchase something in this way. But, of course, the choice is entirely the client’s.

Innovation, artistry and endless discovery. Pictured clockwise from top, left: A. Lange & Söhne Double Split, De Bethune DB28 Tourbillon, H Moser & Cie. Endeavor Flying Hours, Romain Gauthier Logical One Limited Edition, MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement, Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J, F.P. Journe Linesport Chronographe Rattrapante, Vintage Rolex Daytona

I see WatchBox, especially with the position you took on Journe and De Bethune, to be curators rather than just vendors. Do you agree?

Yes. That’s a very good point. Because we came from an approach that our clients need to have fun but that they should also have to trust; that means we genuinely have to believe in the brands and watches that we are advising. The clearest way to do this is, we have to underpin the watches we advise them to buy — meaning we offer to buy them back at a certain value. Because if we don’t, then we are not very good client advisers. Several years ago, we identified Journe as having great investment value. Why?

Because firstly, it’s rare; he makes 700 watches a year. Secondly, the quality is fantastic. For example, who else is actually making movements from gold for his regular production? Thirdly, F.P. Journe is a living watchmaker and a genius with a real contribution to the story of horology. Lastly, he’s thought out the progress and development for his brand over 20 years, and he’s executed every step meticulously. We advised our clients five years ago to buy these watches, and many of them did. The prices of the watches have skyrocketed. To me, if Journe did not have real value, his prices would never have risen. If he didn’t create something totally unique and incredibly beautiful, the prices would never sustain their growth.

The reason the prices have continued to increase is the following. Say Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet makes 40,000 watches a year, and there are at least 60,000 people that want to buy those watches. You’re going to be constantly out of supply, and the watches will naturally increase in secondary value. Now say every one of those 60,000 also wants to buy a Journe, and he only makes 700 a year. Wealthy collectors all now want a Journe, and that’s why the demand and the prices have absolutely exploded.

That’s why the prices will only continue to rise. Our role in this was correctly communicating the value, authenticity, rarity and singularity of Journe.

So, yes, you could say we were curators in the same way a great gallery can communicate an amazing painter. We are just there to give clients access to Journe. We were the first to take the biggest position on Journe watches and still have the best Journe inventory in the world. The only difference is that the watches we used to buy at 50,000, we now write checks for at 250,000.

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain with brass movement

What motivated you to purchase De Bethune?

We bought De Bethune because, to me, Denis fulfills all the same criteria as François-Paul Journe. A genius with a real contribution to the story of horology, a living watchmaker and his watches are rare. De Bethune produces just 200 watches per year. If you ask the real connoisseurs, members of the GPHG jury, the best journalists in the world, the most knowledgeable collectors in the world, you will not find a single one that doesn’t acknowledge that Denis Flageollet is a genius. Not a single person that really knows watchmaking can deny this. So, if we can discover genius and present genius to our clients, but also underpin and support the value of the works made by these geniuses, then our clients have fun. But they also trust us. They really enjoy being part of this journey, which was achieved through their relationship with WatchBox.

How did you fall in love with De Bethune?

I visited the manufacture and in the course of this visit, I saw what Denis had achieved at De Bethune — how he had completely verticalized manufacturing; how innovative he was; what a technical genius he was; and also what a great person he was. It was that day, five or six years ago, that I fell in love with De Bethune.

These independents are absolutely geniuses. And for so long, they couldn’t get their message out because the big brands dominated all the communication in the enthusiast and trade press — actually, in all forms of press, especially before the era of social media. There was no Instagram or Facebook or any of this. Now it’s all changed. Now the consumer is armed with knowledge because there are so many ways for him to educate himself with all the different platforms. But, of course, what they need is real knowledge presented in the best and most quality way possible. I think that WatchBox and Revolution fulfill this.

De Bethune DB28 Black Zirconium

Why has the world fallen in love with independent watchmaking?

It’s all about education. In the art world, collectors learn from books and galleries and auction houses. The watch collector now has the opportunity to have a real education, thanks to all the different platforms. And the consensus has been reached that the independents are amongst the most appealing.

Why? They are rare. They tell a story. They are made by living artisans and visionaries. There’s innovation. There’s passion. There’s quality. The watches are made by real people. You can meet them. You can shake their hand. You can talk to them. One major way that things have changed is the way the customer works directly with them. Less and less, there is the brand, then the distributor, then the retailer, then the consumer. The thing to understand is this breakdown of the barriers, this direct access to the people behind these independent brands, is allowing the client to have much more fun.

This is huge. With the independents, the client develops a real relationship and friendship. He might even have dinner with the watchmaker and his family. He can feel the passion.

Will prices for independents continue to rise for the foreseeable future?

Because the watches made from the best independents are so rare, supply will never catch up with demand. Say you are a new customer, and you want to get into Journe or De Bethune, but you are just starting your relationship with them. If you want a watch now, the only place you can find one is secondary. If you will come to us, we will make sure we advise you on the right watch for you. You will get educated. You will make a relationship with our client advisor and, most of all, you will have fun.

When we approach our inventory, we do it as if we were collectors ourselves. We might take big positions on Journe, De Bethune, Patek, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Max Büsser and Greubel Forsey because these are the watches we are genuinely passionate about and that we see real long-term value in.

Danny Govberg, Co-Founder of WatchBox

Will you buy more brands?

People ask me if WatchBox will acquire more brands. I always answer the same way. If we decide to buy more brands, it will be for the same reason we bought De Bethune. It will be because of the authenticity, quality, story, passion, aesthetics, and originality of the vision. It has to be a brand that we can put our clients into and they are going to fall in love with. I’ve never had anyone put a Journe Tourbillon or a DB28 on their wrist and not feel something. It might not be their thing, but it will definitely stir emotions. So, if we can find more brands like that, then sure, we are interested. If we can’t, then so be it. Regardless, I see WatchBox as perfectly positioned to help the independents, and at the same time, to help our clients discover these amazing brands and have fun doing it.

What are your five bucket list watches?

If I was going to have five watches, I would buy a 5990 Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph. It’s the best combination of functions, which is the chronograph with the dual time. It’s a great watch that does everything, and you have all the presence of a Patek Nautilus on your wrist.

Next, I would get a Journe Tourbillon, probably a Tourbillon Souverain. It’s a great watch and even at today’s prices, I would say there is very little downside and probably still room to go. It sends a message. It’s not necessarily an adaptable watch; it’s much more tux than beach, but it’s a “wow” watch. I would definitely buy a De Bethune because I think Denis’ watches will be historically significant. I would steer you toward buying one of his avant-garde pieces, like the DB28, because the look is amazing. It sends a message from across the room. If you know, you know that guy is wearing something really special. And it’s even rarer than a Journe.

And because I know we are talking money is no object, I would buy a Rolex Rainbow Daytona. I honestly feel that this will one day be a one-million-dollar watch. It’s half a million now but there will be a day soon that it hits a million dollars. It sends a message that basically you’re wearing the single hardest watch to get. Your wife can wear it; you can wear it. It’s basically the biggest flex. I hate to use the word “flex” because I’m 61. My 13-year-old son was telling me about CryptoPunks. He said, “It’s a flex, dad.” And when he explained it to me, I was like, “The Rainbow Daytona, that’s a flex.”

Among the watches on Danny Govberg’s bucket list — the De Bethune DB28 Kind of Gold US Limited Edition, the Rolex “Rainbow” Daytona

The last watch for me is something that is very meaningful on a personal level. When my dad passed away, I commissioned a dial to be painted by an incredible artist named Martinez with my favorite picture of the two of us. I wear that watch when I travel; it always reminds me of him. I like the idea that I can take my dad with me everywhere I go. That’s my five.

A commissioned dial painting of Danny (right) and his father, Irv Govberg