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The 1916 Company CEO John Shmerler.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Navigating growth through the first six months of The 1916 Company

Meet The 1916 Company's new chief executive officer John Shmerler.

Six months after The 1916 Company was created with the coming together of WatchBox, Govberg, Radcliffe and Hyde Park Jewelers, the group’s newly appointed global CEO, John Shmerler, discusses how the deal came together and what it has achieved so far.

WATCHPRO: The question I hear the most is what really happened here?

JOHN SHMERLER: WatchBox, Govberg, Radcliffe, and Hyde Park Jewelers have merged as The 1916 Company, one unified brand that is both an authorized dealer and the leading destination and community for collectible pre-owned watches.

We are in the first six months of this rollout, and in the not-so-distant future, each of our locations – including our website and all digital properties – will be rebranded as The 1916 Company. WatchBox and Govberg will adopt the new branding first, followed by Radcliffe and Hyde Park. It might be a little confusing now, as the integration is on a rolling schedule, and the most important thing to know is that we are one unified company.

WATCHPRO: The watch business is pretty good at keeping secrets so the merger of Radcliffe Jewelers, Hyde Park Jewelers, Govberg Jewelers and WatchBox to create The 1916 Company was stunning news when it broke last November. What can you tell us about how the deal came together? 

JOHN SHMERLER: To understand how this deal came together, it really helps to know the depth of the relationship Danny and I have had since 1993, or really, in fact, the late 1980s, when we first met.

Without going into the full timeline, the foundation for where we are today is in this relationship. Throughout the last number of years, it became increasingly clear that to succeed in the authorized dealer space, retailers need to make a significant commitment to their partnerships with brands in terms of visibility, capital expenditure, and being able to present the overall best experience for clients.

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Danny Govberg and John Shmerler’s relationship dates back to the 1990s. The pair will be working closely day-to-day with Danny focused on strategy, vision, and growth while John runs the business operationally.

With the growth and success of the pre-owned market, in which WatchBox played a leadership role, particularly in the high-end collectible realm – of course; Chrono24, Watchfinder, and others contributed to its growth – customers who are interested in watches now have two avenues to grow their collections and enjoy this hobby: new and pre-owned. The opportunity to bring the very best of each of these worlds together and formally combine them, was the ultimate value proposition.

The deal came together because Radcliffe, Hyde Park, and Govberg had met the challenges of the authorized dealer world; and together, we can provide the most meaningful journey for the client. This includes both new and pre-owned watches, fine jewelry, education, experiences – both those we curate and those in collaboration with our brands – with the support of an incredibly talented and educated team.

So how did it really come together? We have been talking about it for 35 years. We have been led down various paths in our careers, and with Radcliffe, I decided that we would become the very best-in-class with the in-store experience. In addition to running beautiful stores in Philadelphia, Danny took another path, and focused on the collectible pre-owned segment, really investing in developing client relationships around the world. Bringing this together made sense – especially once Hyde Park entered the conversation, for at that point we became a national platform in addition to being a global one.

WATCHPRO: Radcliffe Jewelers celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Why did you feel the time was right to sell-up and become part of The 1916 Company?

JOHN SHMERLER: After nurturing Radcliffe Jewelers for the past 25 years, which has been more than just a partnership with Danny and Paul Winicki, but a family business, the timing was just right. Having started my career alongside Danny 35 years ago, and now being closer to its end rather than its beginning, I’m excited to come back together.

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Radcliffe’s story, built over 40 years, has always centered on people – our community, clients, and team. It hasn’t been about the perfect location or inventory optimization; it has been about individual experiences and relationships cultivated one customer at a time. Out of our 70 Radcliffe employees, more than 25 have been a part of this company for over 25 years. Our journey has been deliberate and conscientious.

While celebrating our 40th anniversary and the opening of a new store is significant, it’s just another step in our journey. Now as The 1916 Company, we can enhance our offerings for customers who love watches and jewelry, whether they are collectors or seeking something to mark one special moment. We’re committed to providing the best possible experience for every individual who walks through our doors.

WATCHPRO: It was reasonably well-known in watch industry circles that Hyde Park Jewelers had been looking for a buyer for some time but had not found the right fit. What was right about The 1916 Company proposal? 

JOHN SHMERLER: Hyde Park was indeed seeking a buyer for some time. We actually engaged in discussions with them a couple of years ago, but the timing wasn’t optimal for either side. We started to explore the idea of Govberg, Radcliffe, and WatchBox coming together, sharing the seeds of this strategy with some of our partners and confidants across the industry.

They encouraged us to think on a larger scale – envisioning a national presence. As we developed the strategy for The 1916 Company, we revisited discussions with Hyde Park, and this time, the timing aligned perfectly. Led by Damon Gross, the Hyde Park team is highly talented and has deep relationships with their clients.

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WATCHPRO: This deal could not have gone ahead without the major brands represented by Radcliffe and Hyde Park Jewelers giving it the green light. Why do you think those brands gave this merger the green light when other suitors could not get a deal over the line?

JOHN SHMERLER: While we cannot speak on behalf of our partners, we were transparent with what we were trying to build, clearly communicating our mission for The 1916 Company. We illustrated how we could contribute to their goals with respect to visibility, in-store presentation; and of course, client care. This approach quickly established common ground, reflecting the industry’s confidence in Damon and myself. Our longstanding trust and relationships within the industry played a significant role in extending that confidence to our new company.

WATCHPRO: Has there been much progress made to integrate the companies and showrooms into a single organization that is already greater than the sum of its parts?

JOHN SHMERLER: We’ve dedicated a lot of time, energy, and resources to understanding our customer and our community on a deeper level. More than basic demographic data, we’re exploring what they need, how they engage with this hobby, and what do we anticipate they will want in the future. This is central to us becoming a well-integrated company, and touches upon everything from brand affinities to horological knowledge, how they currently engage with our content library, and more.

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WatchBox Collectors’ Lounges are a key part of the community strategy.
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From a practical standpoint, our branding efforts began with WatchBox Collector’s Lounges around the world, where visitors can now find The 1916 Company brand marks, and co-branding of our multi-brand boutiques and showrooms is under way. A unified website, slated to launch later this spring, will provide access to our full authorized brand portfolio, alongside our pre-owned inventory and comprehensive services for selling, trading, and learning about watches. This has already been introduced to our multi-brand stores – which I’ll go into in more detail down the line.

And at the time of this interview, our traveling F.P. Journe exhibition is underway, an initiative that touches not only our clients around the world, but our client advisors, our logistics teams, the client experience department, our folks in marketing, editorial, and PR, and all layers of leadership. We are fortunate to have over 400 employees who are dedicated to not only the industry, but the next chapter of The 1916 Company, and this experience has reinforced our integration efforts, making the journey even more rewarding for all involved.

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The 1916 Company is taking a showcase dedicated to the watchmaking of F.P. Journe across the United States.
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WATCHPRO: What advantages have your customers – across all locations – already seen?

JOHN SHMERLER: Each of our companies is starting to experience the benefits of being part of The 1916 Company, which in turn, has translated to expanded opportunities for all our clients and collectors. For instance, Hyde Park was not previously in the pre-owned business, and we introduced a curated collection and trading services across its three multi-brand stores, resulting in remarkable performance. If we consider the overall The 1916 Company collection of pre-owned watches to be its own ‘brand,’ it has been the second highest performing brand for the last three months!

At Radcliffe, we have been active in the pre-owned segment for years, and our customers now enjoy a more diverse collection of pre-owned timepieces, including uniquely complicated models and a fantastic collection of high-end independents.

While Govberg has been in the jewelry business for generations, they focused heavily on growing the watch category over the last 15+ years. The introduction of new jewelry collections has been pleasantly welcomed in our two Philadelphia area stores, as well as across the broader WatchBox landscape. And this is still just the beginning.

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The 1916 Company’s media arm draws on the expertise of Tim Mosso (above) and Jack Forster (below) for its output.
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Beyond product access, the breadth of content that is available to educate and entertain our community – from Jack Forster’s editorial and technical insight to Tim Mosso’s unmatched library of hands-on watch reviews – has been an unbelievable benefit for all.

WATCHPRO: How much of a crash course have you been through when it comes to running a business with such a weighting towards collectible pre-owned watches? Are Radcliffe Jewelers customers getting the chance to see these rare timepieces up close?

JOHN SHMERLER: Given Radcliffe’s experience in the pre-owned business over many years, particularly in the sub-$20,000 category, we haven’t needed a crash course in operating the business. WatchBox has been the destination for the rare, unique, and highly complicated segment of watchmaking, which has been a fantastic complement to our offerings. Now, our clients have access to a wider range of collectible watches, and as our institutional knowledge extends to this segment, we’re seeing an increase in trade inquiries for these unique timepieces.

WATCHPRO: How does The 1916 Company break down the primary and secondary market business?

JOHN SHMERLER: At the end of the day, The 1916 Company is about people – yes, we have a distinct business model built around both new and pre-owned watches, but our strategy was ultimately developed around our client; solving for what they are looking for, which in this case, is the opportunity to collect, sell, and trade both new and pre-owned watches. In some ways, this is what Danny has been ‘lobbying’ for throughout his entire career, and we worked diligently for our brand partners to embrace our platform for the long term, to ultimately bring these markets together, and to bring all options to the collector.

WATCHPRO: The 1916 Company, above many others, is a one-stop-shop for collectors who want to buy new and pre-owned, and rotate their collections by trading. How do you nurture these relationships over time?

JOHN SHMERLER: One of the cool things about the watch category is that people don’t throw them away. Watches are either worn, or they sit in a drawer, and there are always more coming into the overall ecosystem. There are more watches today than there were yesterday, and there will be more available tomorrow because people simply do not throw them away.

Being able to trade pieces as you grow and modify your collection ultimately extends the enjoyment of this hobby, and The 1916 Company brings both liquidity and a trustworthy service. We love sharing this process with clients – we enjoy the stories behind the watches; when and where did they make the purchase, what memories are attached to it; and what do they have an eye on next.

How do we nurture these relationships? The old-fashioned way: we talk to people. We focus on matching clients with the right advisor for them and where they are in their watch journey, and set the stage for relationships to develop.

Of course, there will always be people who are interested in a quick transaction, and that is always available, but the relationships forged between clients and our team – as well as across our community – are what differentiate The 1916 Company.

WATCHPRO: It is always a struggle for family-owned independents to compete for the first page of Google when people are searching for luxury watches and brands. Does The 1916 Company as a group compete more effectively?

JOHN SHMERLER: Our digital presence plays an important role in our growth strategy, especially as we prepare to launch our unified site in the coming months. In addition to investing in SEO and advertising, which will be supported by a robust budget, our extensive product range and rich content library, including unique videos and extensive written material, will enhance our organic rankings. Leveraging our global scale, we’re poised to compete more effectively in the digital landscape.

WATCHPRO: How important is scale when it comes to navigating the politics of maintaining relationships with major brands?

JOHN SHMERLER: Scale is not the primary factor in maintaining relationships with major brands; it’s about respect, honesty, trust, and effective communication. Just as in a good marriage or friendship, these ingredients are crucial. While our scale does provide access to higher levels of global brand leadership, the fundamentals of relationship-building remain timeless.

WATCHPRO: Govberg Jewelers parted company with Richemont’s brands a few years ago. Is the creation of The 1916 Company likely to change this relationship and others?

JOHN SHMERLER: Our brand partners have been very supportive of The 1916 Company, and we expect that to continue. Specific to Richemont, The 1916 Company enjoys a healthy relationship with Richemont, carrying their brands in several of our multi-brand stores and in mono-brand boutiques. We are in discussions with Richemont to expand our business with them in the most mutually beneficial way, and I am looking forward to visiting with their leadership during Watches and Wonders.

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Govberg Jewelers in Philadelphia.

WATCHPRO: The 1916 Company is a world-wide operation. How does this affect your outlook on how to grow the business?

JOHN SHMERLER: Our outlook on growing The 1916 Company is clear regardless of our worldwide operations. We believe in the universal principle that people are people and relationships are relationships. Our approach is anchored in communication and trust, and we remain committed to nurturing exceptional relationships with our clients and partners. These principles will guide us wherever we operate, and we are confident in the long-term prospects of a luxury business founded on strong relationships.

WATCHPRO: Assuming the integration is progressing smoothly, does The 1916 Company already have its sights set on future acquisitions or moves into new markets?

JOHN SHMERLER: While we are fully focused on the current integration, we’re also poised for future growth. Projects such as opening a new Ardmore (Philadelphia) location in late 2024 and a multi-brand boutique in Manhattan Beach, CA in 2025 are already underway. We have the internal talent and resources to lead us into the next chapter, and we’ll continue to explore growth opportunities thoughtfully. As a privately owned company, we have the flexibility to take a long-term outlook, prioritizing opportunities that benefit our community in the long run over short-term gains.

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1 Comment

  1. Congratulations John on a great achievement! I remember your initial move to Govberg as CFO over thirty years ago. What an outstanding leap you have made with this collaboration. I wish you the best John.

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