What Exactly Is Crown & Caliber? Turns Out, Way More Than You Think
Many often wonder, who is Crown & Caliber? Are they an online seller, grey dealer, clearinghouse, or trade-in program? We visited the company’s Atlanta headquarters to find out.
If you’re like me, you’ve seen the ads. Fresh off a visit to your favorite brand’s website, you decide to check ESPN or CNN, and there it is a Crown & Caliber ad. Usually, due to retargeting, the ad will report to show you the brand or exact novelty you were just viewing on the previous website. A single clickthrough will bring the reader to a modern if not minimalistic experience. Here the visitor can peruse countless timepieces offered at fairly reasonable prices. They can also obtain valuations on their watches.
But What Is Crown & Caliber?
That's a great question. Founded in 2013 by Hamilton Powell, a former finance exec with a passion for watches and analytics, Crown & Caliber has become the Zappos and AutoTrader of the watch world. Today, the company employs more than 60 people at its suburban Atlanta headquarters. Shocked by that number? I was too. I had to see this operation first hand.
Recently, Watchonista took a day trip down to Atlanta to peek behind the curtain of Crown & Caliber. Powell and CMO Jason Allen, opened their doors and employees to us and nothing, as it would turn out, was off limits.
A surprisingly robust operation
Separated between two floors spanning 10,000+ square feet were the two brains of Crown & Caliber. The first? Technology. Second? Operations. But first, tech.
The team has built a comprehensive data-driven operation which has upended the traditional buy/sell/trade dealer model. Using a massive database, Crown & Caliber's technology division tracks – almost in real time – market pricing for nearly every mid to high-end watch on the market.
The company uses this data to make informed decisions when it comes to buying and selling watches. They also offer this data to their retail partners in order to expand both operations. Sure, Crown & Caliber sells watches in their online shop, but they also partner with traditional brick and mortar retailers to facilitate trade in programs which will allow retail customers to trade up or down into that watch they've been desiring.
What about trade-ins?
A familiar crux of the watch business is the solo players who often take advantage of unassuming sellers. Often offering way below market prices for a seller or consigner’s watch in order to turn a profit and maintain adequate margins. What has always struck me about Crown & Caliber was the no-nonsense haggle-free offers they provide. Case in point, I once sold a Black Bay to Crown & Caliber, they offered me almost $1,200 more than I could've sold it with a dealer.
Trade-ins certainly fuel Crown & Caliber's business; which Hamilton notes is based on heavy volume. Actual sales figures weren't disclosed, but it's safe to say Crown & Caliber has built a multi-million-dollar enterprise that still feels surprisingly nimble for a medium-sized company.
Servicing all those watches
After visiting with the tech team, we headed upstairs to discover Crown & Caliber’s Operations department. It’s here that all watches are received, photographed, cataloged, serviced, and usually sent to their new home within just a few days.
Unlike other dealers who farm out their service work, Crown & Caliber has approx. fifteen full-time watchmakers and technicians on staff operating on everything from Hublot to Patek Philippe. Five employees operated a separate case refinishing department. This brings the grand total of service staff to 20. Mightily impressive.
Every watch that comes through the doors of Crown & Caliber is tested, cleaned, and regulated, getting service if necessary. And when needed, the cases will be refinished. It's also here that any fakes are caught, flagged, and discarded. As you'll see on the images, an impressive wall of boxes lines Crown & Caliber's customer service area. This is proof of the inventory on hand at the company.
But what about ethics?
After speaking with Powell and Allen, I quickly learned that Crown & Caliber aims to dispel the notion that they were just another online seller. The gentlemen recounted times when they were offered truckloads of unsold merchandise by gray market dealers and even brands. They turned them away. It simply isn’t what they want to be known for.
We want to leave a positive and lasting impression on the lives we intersect
Speaking of what they want to be known for, Powell talked a lot about their core purpose as a company. “We want to leave a positive and lasting impression on the lives we intersect,” Powell said. It sounds like a lot, but I saw it in action with their team and heard countless customer stories where they have built authentic, lasting relationships. They also give back to their community by regularly volunteering with local non-profits and giving back a portion of each watch they sell to a nonprofit (MAP International) that provides antibiotics and disaster relief kits to those in need.
They also take the experience of their customers seriously. Allen’s background in customer experience certainly shows in the company’s approach to client service. The team is non-commissioned, and they regularly work with repeat clients buying and selling in as little as three months. While trade-ins are a core part of their business, because ultimately they get watches to sell, their approach isn't like a typical preowned program. They actually partner with leading brick-and-mortar retailers – the likes of Jared, Birks, and Niemen Marcus to offer more for a trade-in, originating with the retailer, thus allowing customers to receive more buying power.
Crown & Caliber doesn't have much of a physical showroom. Their Atlanta offices certainly have a reception area stocked with an impressive array of artisanal booze, most of the bottles were left unopened. The company does so much business online, often to repeat buyers that they don't need to make one-off appointments for potential clients. But, somehow, they are able to create lasting relationships with their clients new and old online.
What impressed me the most
I went away from Crown & Caliber impressed by the scale of the business and the can-do attitude of every staff member I met. They have built an impressive business which is more than just a website. Does Crown & Caliber sell watches? Yes. Do they offer trade-ins for cash or credit? Yes. Are they a grey dealer selling an excess stock? No. Do they tiptoe into the waters of certified preowned? No. Does the activity of Crown & Caliber interfere with the day to day business of brands and retailers? Turns out, surprisingly not.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)