Social media websites give enthusiasts of all wants and desires a place to share common interests. But all the sharing and thumbs-up liking can’t replace good old human interaction. That was the impetus behind the founding of RedBar Group, a watch enthusiast group with chapters in major cities across America, with sister organizations in South America, Europe and Asia.
In one short decade, RedBar Group has gone from two men talking about watches in a bar to a full-fledged organization with full-time executive leadership, national and international chapters and hosting events compliments of some of the watch world’s most prestigious brands and even high-end retail jewelers.
In 2006, Adam Craniotes attended a Kobold watch event where he met Dr. Jeffrey Jacques during a small lunch gathering in New York City’s Meatpacking District. On that fateful day, a conversation about the watch brand and other fine timepieces ensued, and a watch enthusiast friendship was born. The two later decided to meet at Red Bar Café (the group’s namesake) for frequent meetings.
In the early days, it was easy for Adam and Jeffrey to meet frequently for lunch, dinner or drinks as Red Bar Café was close to both their workplaces. As the group of watch guys expanded, regular meetings were scheduled. RedBar Group’s roots began with that chance meeting in a New York bar, but the Crew’s “official” start date was in 2007 when Adam, Jeffrey and Michael Kobold, founder of Michael Kobold (a Pennsylvania-based watch brand founded in 1997), met over lunch and decided to make it a watch group.
Then as now RedBar Group chapters schedule monthly meetings so watch enthusiasts can have engaging conversations about timepieces that go well beyond, “nice watch, how much did you pay for it?” For the most part the watch group chapters remain loose and casual. The goal of each meeting is to get a group of watch enthusiasts to share their passion with like-minded individuals over drinks – perhaps some food – in a judgement-free zone.
It doesn’t matter if a person has a G-Shock, a Swatch, an IWC or a Patek Philippe, they’re welcome to be a part of the RedBar Group. The egalitarian approach stems from the Group’s core philosophy of not being a pretentious, snobby watch group. It’s also testimony to the watch that started it all for Adam at age seven. “I’ve loved watches since my grandfather gave me a Casio water-resistant F-7, which I still wear to this day,” says Adam.
The only watches that aren’t allowed are Invictas and knock-off watches – one of the few rules of the group. For security reasons RedBar Group meeting places cannot be publicly announced or shared on social media websites, especially geographical-based ones.
As one might expect, it didn’t take long for RedBar Group meetings to go from talking about watches to trading watches. At a typical meeting members will bring watch rolls filled with favorite watches and collected timepieces for trade, or to just strike up conversations about treasured collectibles.
As an organization, RedBar Group has matured since its infancy. What was once a part-time interest for Adam is now a full-time job as the figurehead of the organization (his official title is founder and president). Kathleen McGivney is the group’s COO. “Kathleen is more than just a watch collector and writer like me, she’s the one organizing events, schedules and the financials of RedBar,” says Adam. “She brings all the structure to the group.”
Meetings also matured from guys – and women – talking and trading watches to hosted events sponsored by esteemed watch brands and fine retailers. A memorable trip for Adam and his crew happened last September when Emmanuel Breguet (of Breguet luxury watch fame) gave Adam and RedBar Group members a personally guided tour of “Breguet: Art and Innovation in Watchmaking,” a special exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco that ran from September 2015 to January 2016.
Emmanuel was the curator of the special exhibition who shared his in-depth knowledge of the family’s watchmaking company (that extends back to 1775), and the timepieces and clocks featured in the special exhibition. Another noteworthy event was in 2014 when Tiffany & Co. hosted a RedBar Group gathering, showcasing the store’s selection of watches and fine jewelry.
Faisal Nayani, a private jeweler and head of the RedBar Atlanta recalls Adam’s negotiations with the high-end retailer. “Tiffany’s asked Adam why they should host the event and would watch sales be made that night,” says Faisal. “Adam’s response was priceless: ‘no, there most likely won’t be a single watch sold that night because it’s a social event not a buying event.’ Tiffany’s agreed to it anyway.”
Retailers that have hosted RedBar Group events know up front that the benefits of opening their store’s doors to the watch group may not result in immediate watch sales. “Watch aficionados of all walks of life, from mechanical engineers to lawyers, are usually the watch experts in their families and circle of friends,” says Faisal. “When a retailer has 30 RedBar Group members that touch 30 lives of family and friends, it gives the retail jeweler that organic, one-on-one exchange they’re really looking for.”
Andrew Furman, the marketing manager and watch buyer at Continental Diamond, hosted a RedBar Group Chapter event at the Minneapolis, Minnesota store last June. Andrew found out about RedBar Group through the local chapter Group’s organizers frequently stopping by the store. Eventually they pitched the idea of Continental Diamond hosting a RedBar Group event.
“We didn’t sell anything the night of the event, but made some nice connections,” says Andrew. “We have since sold watches to members of the group, purchased watches from them and made some trades. The members have also referred and personally brought friends and acquaintances into the store with them.”
Adam, Faisal and other chapter heads are looking to partner with vendors and retail jewelers known for their watch departments. Host stores typically absorb the cost of a RedBar Group event, which can range from $1,000 to $2,000 on the conservative end to more lavishly hosted events averaging $2,500 on up. Catering to such a small group takes target marketing down to a micro-marketing level, which, coincidently, is what many watchmakers have figured out.
“Watchmakers still have their well-known brand ambassadors like George Clooney for Omega, but the days of big budgets aimed at larger audiences has been over for about two to three years,” says Adam. “With advancements in internet and social media technology, these companies can target advertising dollars at very specific groups and individuals, which makes watch groups like RedBar Group very vendor friendly.”
This year will be an interesting expansion time for RedBar Group. Adam is working with many overseas connections to bolster existing groups in Europe and South America while aiming to start RedBar Group chapters in Asia. “In Europe we’re doing pretty well and getting some groups started in South America,” says Adam. “Asia is our next membership frontier, starting with Hong Kong.”
Domestically, RedBar Group has a burgeoning membership. Adam wants to temper growth to keep meetings limited to genuine watch lovers. “It’ll be a delicate balancing act as RedBar Group needs to grow its membership to continue to get the notice it needs from watch brands, related support industries and even retailers willing to host RedBar Group events,” says Adam.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, watch collecting – even in a soft, prolonged post-recession recovery – is gaining in popularity. And, watch consumers, especially younger ones, enjoy the heirloom quality of a fine timepiece that can be enjoyed by many generations. “What surprised me most about the group is how young most of the members are,” says Andrew.
Adam, Faisal and other RedBar Group members foresee a promising future for watch purchases in both the primary and secondary markets. With regards to watch trends for 2016, Adam says: “After visiting the SIHH [Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie] in January, it’s safe to say that watchmakers are retrenching to produce watches with a sound value proposition with more in-house movements and more complications at better values.
“For example, IWC makes a perpetual calendar watch for $30,000, which is about the going rate for such a timepiece. At SIHH this year, Frederique Constant released its version of a new perpetual calendar for $10,000. This is what we’ll be seeing from watchmakers in 2016.”