An interview in March 2013 by William Massena
TimeZone (TZ): Richard, can you tell us briefly about your life prior to joining TimeZone?
Richard Paige (RP): Being a Fourth generation watchmaker, I spent most of my life working in the watch and jewelry retail business, although I also dabbled in real estate development for a number of years alongside my retailing. Upon graduating from college in Boston, I migrated to California to attend graduate school. Having no money to pay for out-of-state tuition, I decided to work for a year or so to gain California residency and hopefully gather college funds. On a whim, I opened my own watch repair business in Mill Valley, California, and decided I liked being on my own and not in school. This small repair shop evolved into a full blown antique watch and jewelry retail store, and then into several in the San Francisco Bay Area and Hawaii. Being at “ground zero” of the Internet in the 1990s, I, of course, got swept up in the online world, and started to work with the very first online auction site: OnSale.com in 1995. After gathering online knowledge and experience, I took my retail store, Paris 1925, online in 1995. Shortly thereafter, I discovered TimeZone.com through surfing the web.
TZ: Tell us more about Paris 1925. You were an AD for a few brands, how did you choose them? What was your taste in watches?
RP: I had opened five retail stores in the North Bay of San Francisco, but always dreamed of having a high profile San Francisco location. I knew I needed a niche to set me apart from the big, established, internationally known stores in San Francisco. So in 1987, I created a store in San Francisco in the 1920s Art Deco mode and specialized in Art Deco art, furniture, antique jewelry, and of course vintage watches. I had been collecting watches since a young teenager so, of course my “Watch Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” was fueled by now being in a high profile location and had the ability and credibility to become authorized dealers for some of the great Swiss watch companies. I had a passion for large, oversized watches with exaggerated designs so I sought out the manufacturers who were going in this direction: ChronoSwiss, Ulysse Nardin, IWC, Alain Silberstein, Ventura, IkePod, Dubey & Shaldenbrand, Bell & Ross, and my perennial favorite: Jaeger-LeCoultre. My dad carried JLC in his store in the 1950s.
Richard Paige and his father inside Paris 1925 (San Francisco, 1989)
TZ: Do you remember your early posts before you bought TZ?
RP: Yes, I certainly do! I was a very obnoxious poster because I couldn’t believe that the only topic that most posters wanted to discuss was what was a better watch: Omega or Rolex. Of course, as I “matured” as a poster, I tried so hard to really answer questions if I new the correct answer and to try to introduce some other brands into the discussions. I kind of saw myself as someone who could give an insiders viewpoint on the watch industry and history of the genre.
TZ: TZ was “bombed” in the fall of 1995. Did you immediately contact the owners in Singapore to buy it? How did it go?
RP: Well, even before the infamous “bombing of TimeZone” , I had been in touch with the owners of the site in Singapore, and had kind of hinted around that I was interested in the domain name. They really weren’t part of the TZ community, but were web designers who had created TZ to show potential clients what could be done with the Internet. When the “bombing” occurred, they had just about had enough of the chaos of TZ, so they shut down the site, and were VERY glad to hand the reigns over to me (for a price). I worked out a deal with them, and immediately took over the responsibility of trying to resurrect TZ from the ashes of the bombing. To those of you who don’t understand what the bombing was: in the old days of the Internet there was no registration nor restrictions on posting. So a malicious poster could create a silly post, keep his finger on the “post” button, and “overtake” the forum with the same repetitive post, over and over, ad nauseam. Eventually shutting down the site with “cyber overkill”.
TZ: Was the motivation to buy TZ to establish a web commerce or you saw the potential?
RP: I realized early in the game, that it would have been business suicide to try to use TimeZone.com to promote my retail watch store, Paris 1925. I needed to make a distinction between Richard Paige, the owner of a watch retail store, and Richard Paige, the owner of TimeZone.com. I think I achieved this to some degree, because most people who visited TZ didn’t know that I also was in the retail watch business. But, I would be dishonest if I didn’t state that I did, indeed, do a lot of business from the ones who did know. You must remember that at this time the “dot.com” explosion was beginning to mushroom and everyone wanted a piece of this new world, so I quickly understood that I could have something of great value if I stayed true to my philosophy. But I also realized that I had a very short window in which to achieve this goal, since things on the Internet were moving at “business light speed.”
TZ: Did you discuss the potential of TimeZone with some watch brands? What was their reaction?
RP: Oh yes, in the very beginning, I tried so hard to get the Swiss watch companies to pay attention to what I was doing with TimeZone.com, but they really didn’t want any part of it. In fact, they saw me as “the enemy”; one who was deliberately trying to undermine their established pricing structure. They were appalled that I “allowed” people to sell their brands discounted on the Sale Corner, and advised me to seek legal counsel. Before TimeZone, I was an accepted player in the Watch Industry: I was brought up in the business, I knew how to act and who to show respect to and who to Kowtow to. They couldn’t understand why someone from “the Club” could become a sort of traitor to the industry, and most threatened to take my authorized dealerships away. At the International watch shows I was treated as a pariah by most. Eventually, some companies took a more visionary approach, and began to see TimeZone and the Internet for what it was: a fantastic place to promote their products.
TZ: The word “WIS” has become somewhat of a standard in the watch forums/blogosphere, how did you get that idea? I still have my pin and I remembered that nobody dare call himself a WIS without his pin which was a big motivation to write and contribute to TZ.
RP: Actually the WIS idea came very naturally to me. As TimeZone became more and more popular and influential, it started to attract more and more watch fanatics and zealots to the site. This core group of “closet watch lovers” finally had a neighborhood that they could hang out in and feel right at home and comfortable in. Talking about “beats per minute” of watches at a diner party probably didn’t go over so well with most of us, but now we had a like minded group of people who all played well together in the playground, and we could talk about watches to our hearts content. But, as I followed the dialogues, monologues, and soliloquies each day from the TimeZoners, I became astonished at the amount of watch trivia and nuanced minutiae that the TimeZoners collectively had. And I found it very funny.
Some of them reminded me of the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie “Rain Man”, who was an idiot savant (a person who is considered to be mentally handicapped but displays brilliance in a specific area, especially one involving memory). Thus the Watch Idiot Savant was born….. One who doesn’t remember his wife’s birthday, but can rattle off the amount of jewels in Rolex Daytona. I jokingly came on the forum and stated that I had started a new club: the “Society of Watch Idiot Savants”…or “SWIS” for short. I even created and produced a “TimeZone WIS Pin”, which I gave out to the forum posters who contributed a great post or helped another TimeZone visitor…. or as a contest prize. To my amazement and amusement, it really took off, and everybody started calling themselves WISs. And to be honest with you, to this day, I still get a kick out of it when someone talks about WIS.
TZ:How did you meet Walt Odets? How did you convince him to join TZ?
RP: Walt is a story unto himself. I stumbled across Walt on TZ back in 1996 or 97. He was a constant thorn in my rump, always hypercritical of my steerage of the site, and constantly on my case for supporting the watch companies and trying not to step on their toes. I instinctively knew that I had to have the blessing, or at least the cooperation of the Swiss watch Industry, to have any credibility on the international stage that the Internet provided.
But Walt felt differently, and let me know it at each turn. We both were becoming high profile players on TZ: me, as the owner, and Walt, as the Resident Expert. Finally, since we both lived in Bay Area, we agreed to meet and have lunch. I prepared myself for the worst. But I found Walt to be fascinating. It had been such a long time since I had met a true intellectual, and Walt was the quintessential intellectual.
Here was a guy who could quote the great philosophers, understand the inner workings of the emotional brain as a Psychologist, and talk casually about weighting a balance wheel on a watch. He was truly uncanny and also had a good sense of humor. So I asked him to come onboard and work with me on TZ for a percentage of the ownership. I figured it’s better to have him on the team, [rather] than the opposing team, and he had so much to offer and contribute. He agreed to my offer, and the rest is TimeZone history. However, at the very end of my tenure, our personalities clashed again and we parted as we had started, as adversaries.
TZ: Do you consider Walt’s Rolex Explorer review a turning point in the history of TZ?
RP: Yes, it certainly was a demarcation point for TimeZone. After the infamous “TimeZone Bombing”, and I took over the reigns of TZ, I became more heavy handed and tried to steer the forum discussions towards a sort of “Watch Political Correctness” where every watch brand had an audience and a place in the world of watches. However, with the review of the Rolex Explorer, and the trashing of the Rolex “sacred cow”, many TimeZone regulars became upset, unnerved, and disturbed about this perceived negative review of the Holy Grail of watch brands and saw TimeZone as something more sinister than what it was. The Rolex Explorer review seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the watch Internet community and then into the industry players, who didn’t appreciate negativity from someone as renowned as Walt Odets. It seemed to split the community in half; those that hailed Walt’s honesty and those who saw the review as a huge blunder. It certainly added to the mystic of TimeZone, both positive and negative. But I guess in the final analysis, that old adage holds true: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
TZ: When did you decide to sell TZ? And why?
RP: I was an early adopter of the Internet and prided myself on my foresight in buying TimeZone in 1996. However, in 1999 I really began to see the handwriting on the wall. This was at the height of the DotCom explosion, and everyone wanted a piece of the pie. The IPOs for Internet stocks were exploding and the valuations began to get very frothy. With the successful IPO of stocks like Amazon and eBay, in 1997 and 1998, all eyes were on Internet companies. At this point, I hadn’t made any money to speak of with TimeZone, and it was costing me more than I could afford. Also, my wife and I just had another baby, and I had thrown all my chips on the table with TimeZone when I closed my retail store to become a pure Internet owner.
I was starting to get approached by all sorts of players, both with money and without, about selling or merging TimeZone to, or with, other bigger players. I realized that in order for me to achieve my dreams and goals I had to take TimeZone to the next level; which would require a major infusion of capital and was something I just didn’t have. So, I sought a White Knight. Someone who could capitalize the concept and still allow me to run [TimeZone] the way I loved. This was naïve thinking. I sold the website to Ashford.com, a publicly traded company, in October of 1999. Sure, they let me still manage the site, but they stifled my creativity so much that I just couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. I left TimeZone in May of 2001.
TZ: Do you regret selling TZ? Would you have done thing differently looking back?
RP: “Regret” is an elusive term. I certainly felt very emotional when I finally gave up ownership to Ashford.com. Part of the sales agreement was that I would stay on for two years and run the site: a “sweetheart” deal that paid me well to keep my focus on the site. But, it quickly evolved into me having to fit into their corporate structure and act like an officer of a publicly traded company, and not an Internet creator nor maverick.
I’m an entrepreneur. I had run my own businesses for the last 25 years and really didn’t fit into this profile of having to explain myself and get approval from those above me in rank to do any changes to the site. So, after only a year, I was fired from the company. My first job [as an employee] and first firing.
As fate would have it, the Internet bubble began to burst and Ashford starting to fall into the sinkhole of the market crashing. They offered TimeZone back to me. I offered them all my stock back, but they also wanted as much money as they could get. Some of you reading this article may remember me calling you around this time, as I was trying to put together a group to buy TimeZone.com back and continue where I had left off. But, I just couldn’t come to an agreeable price from Ashford and I moved on. Would I have done it differently looking back? In hindsight, yes. I would have gone with my other options that were available at the time.
TZ: How has the watch business evolved because of the Internet in the past 20 years?
RP: I truly believe that the Internet has altered the course of the watch industry down a path that it never would have taken had the Internet not existed. The Internet’s influence has been profound and provocative, and has truly changed the way the watch industry does business. As the Internet gave the watch companies a broad vehicle to promote their brands, and opened up their audience base dramatically, they discovered that the “brand name” is everything.
Today, the industry has evolved into a “war of attrition”. Most of the well known brand name watches were bought up by the large Swiss watch conglomerates, the biggest player being the Swatch Group. Swatch owns around 18 different watch brands, including Breguet, Omega, Tissot, Blancpain, Tiffany & Co., Longines, Rado, Hamilton and so many others. I believe this evolution would never have taken place without the Internet’s ability to reach a vast audience that gave the big conglomerates the ability to promote and sell to customers their brands that go from cheap to very expensive.
TZ: What do you think of TZ today?
RP: I think it still shines as a great destination to learn about the world of watches.
TZ: Twenty years ago the brands missed the opportunity to an early dialogue with collectors through Internet forum. Today, they go gaga with blogs and bloggers and treat them like royalty. Do you think they overcompensate and don’t want to miss the next opportunity?
RP: To be honest with you, I haven’t the foggiest idea, anymore, what goes through the minds of the big brand name companies. I’m not sure I understand their business model to buy every, and all, brand names they can get their hands on. Are they the new Proctor & Gamble of watches? Or do they just think that more is better. However, as I just launched my own new brand of watches, I do see how the dialogue with Internet blogs and bloggers is absolutely essential and important to smaller companies that need the interaction between customer and brand.
Richard Paige: Internet pioneer, entrepreneur and creator of the Rpaige Wrocket watch (Hawaii, 2013)
TZ: Let’s get back to you. You moved to Hawaii and created a new business, what was it?
RP: When I finally moved to Hawaii, after working with TimeZone for 5 years, I had pretty much burnt out with my career in the watch and Internet world. I needed a new focus and I needed to get involved with something that was new and as far away from the jewelry and watch business as possible. So, as a incurable entrepreneur, I first got involved in a start up “Healthy Fast Food” business with some watch guys here in Hawaii. Then I invested in a water bottling plant, which was about as far away from watches as I could get. Then moved into harvesting, desalinating, and bottling Deep Ocean water. From there I became very active in real estate development (which I had been doing alongside retailing since 1985).
TZ: Why come back to watches today?
RP: As fate would have it, about a year ago I got very sick and had a lot of downtime to recover. My wife decided that she wanted to buy me a watch to cheer me up for my birthday. We went to a high profile watch store and looked at everything in my wife’s price range, but I didn’t like anything – everything I did like seemed so expensive. Then, a few days later, I was going through my old stuff and found a watch that I had produced in 1987: a pocket watch that I had converted into a wristwatch. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I never finished this project that I started in 1987, and I was never more happy than when I was creating, designing, and working on art, watches and jewelry. So I decided, right there and then, that I would finish this project of one of my great passions in life – designing, manufacturing, and selling art that tells time.
TZ: What can you tell us about the Wrocket?
RP: The Rpaige Wrocket watch is a true labor of love for me. It’s the watch that I always wanted for myself. I’m a huge fan of Art Deco and especially the architecture of this period: The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza, etc. If you really think about it, all the different variations on the theme of wristwatch design were born in this era: circles, squares, and rectangles. The wristwatch really hasn’t changed in design since the 1920s when it first became a prominent style of jewelry for men.
So I set about creating my ultimate “dream watch”. A Chrysler Building for the wrist with a first class motor inside.
As I got more and more wrapped up in this watch, I began to realized that what I really wanted to do was to not only create this watch for myself, but to complete the project I had started in 1987; the Pocket watch converted to wristwatch, wrist-pocket watch… Wrocket. The next logical step was create a new brand, the Rpaige Watch, and begin the journey of designing, engineering, manufacturing, and selling this watch.
But, what was also nagging at my brain was the fact that any watch company could produce a great $25,000 watch. But could they produce a great limited edition watch for under $3,000?? This was my obsession, challenge, and goal. An affordable limited edition masterpiece.
I wanted the watch to be unique. Let’s face it, from the across the room it’s very difficult to differentiate one watch from another. They seem to all mimic each other in design and style: military, chronograph, divers: in round, square and rectangle. I wanted the watch to be able to be recognized from across the room – dial, hands, case. “Hey, that’s a Rpaige Watch!”
Equally important as the design is the mechanical movement or “engine” of the watch. It’s the heart and soul of a watch, and determines the brand’s relevance, worth, prestige, and historical place in the watch world. Since I’m not a watch movement manufacturer, I needed to have a movement that fit my idea of importance for my new watch. I couldn’t use an ETA, that would make me another “Me Too” watch, and I couldn’t use a “great House” movement, that would make the watch way too expensive for my parameter of a watch under $3,000. Where could I turn? I turned to my roots. I had learned to fix watches on old American pocket watch movements. These are great teaching devices because the plates, wheels and parts are “oversized” compared to wristwatch movements, and it’s easier to understand watch mechanical theory by being able to visually see the parts in action. These watches were a pleasure to work on: great materials, great design, and visually beautiful. I fell in love with these miniature “motors” of a time and era of long ago. But it wasn’t till many years later, after I had become adept at repairing modern watches, did I come to realize that I had learned my trade on the “Michangelos” of movements. The Golden Era of Watchmaking: American pocket watch movements made between 1890 and 1930. So now I had identified my movements, and the project took a giant step forward. The Wrocket watch: a fusion of the pocket watch and the wristwatch.
Wrocket with Black Dial in Steel
TZ: Will you sell exclusively on the net or will you eventually expand to retailers?
RP: For now, I’m going to sell exclusively on the net through my website (www.rpaigewatch.com). This way I can assure that I can keep my price under $3,000. If I sold to stores they would have to retail close to $4,000. However, I would really like to have a few good retail stores represent my watches and think I’ve come up with a way to do this and still keep the prices reasonable. And then I could have an avenue for my next design, which I’m currently working on. So, at this point I’m currently searching for retailers who understand what I’m doing.
TZ: Your Price point is very aggressive, what makes you keep cost low and still sell these watches at a profit?
RP: Well, that’s a hard question to answer. I needed the first design to be a home run so that it would give me the opportunity to create additional designs in the future. And since I had to reengineer the design to accommodate the antique/vintage movements which don’t use a modern detent plate stem, using instead the original sleeve design, the manufacturing costs were challenging. Also, there are the labor costs to restore the original movements. So I don’t plan on getting rich with the first watch, but hoping to make out better on the next design since the engineering costs have already been paid for.
TZ: Is there a next generation of Paige watchmakers coming?
RP: I don’t think so, my two daughters don’t think too much about watches, and they think I’m crazy to wear a watch when I can get the time from my Iphone. Of course, at some time in the future, they may see things differently.
TZ: And the traditional TZ question: What watch are you wearing today?
RP Is this a gotcha question? [Laughs]. I love that your asking me this question because I used to ask this question once a week on TimeZone, and it was my favorite question to ask. To me it was the quintessential post on TZ. And it was always such a popular Post. Everybody seemed to like this question, whether they were knowledgeable about watches or not, it gave them a chance to participate in the forum discussions and to become part of the show. For some TZers, it let them show everyone else how sophisticated or knowledgeable they were, and I often wondered if the watches they were saying was on their wrist, really was on their wrist, or just wishful thinking, or the best watch they had in their collection, even if they weren’t wearing it.
To wit, one time while I was still the owner of TZ, I was traveling with a good friend of mine. While we were having lunch together, we both logged on to TZ on our laptops at the same time. I had posted the “What are you wearing” question earlier and I was reading the posts about what everyone was wearing. Then I noticed that my friend had just posted that he was wearing a Lange 1, which was in his collection; however, when I looked over at his wrist he had a Seiko diver on!! I still kid him about that to this day.
So in the interest of honesty, I’m wearing nothing on my wrist. I never wear a watch when I’m just hanging out at home.
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