Avid watch collector and founder of Grenon’s of Newport Raymond Grenon has devoted 20 years to dealing high-end vintage timepieces at his store located on Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island. WatchTime recently had the opportunity to chat with Ray to discuss how he is holding up during the pandemic, what emotional connection watches play in his life, and his thoughts on brands introducing technology-produced wristwatches.
CV: I heard you collect Tissot RockWatches: what emotional value do those have in your life currently?
RG: I was a thirteen-year-old kid [who] knew nothing about watches but the fact that Tissot made one out of a rock grabbed my attention. When I discovered that the yellow hour hand and red minute hand were the colors of the trail markers on the Swiss Alps, that is when I [realized] there was a story [behind that watch] and wanted to learn more about the history. I was obsessed and had to have every color, variation and size. Those watches are still the most important ones to me; I own roughly one hundred. Two weeks ago, Newport was hit with a terrible storm — six inches of water were streaming through my office and the first thing I saved were my old Tissot watches from the 1980s.
CV: Did Tissot produce any watches out of clear quartz or other gems similar?
RG: There were different types of granite and jasper used. The entire case is a one-piece case carved out of an entire block of rock. There is no real bezel, which is the challenge trying to work on one. You have to try and take the crystal off because it is all one piece; there is a steel caseback that screws in, but everything else is an entire piece of rock. There is a rumor that Tissot might make another someday because, in the 1980s, they were a big hit.
CV: What differences do you see now compared to when you first started out in retail?
RG: There are a lot of things. In the past 20 years there were still advertisements in magazines in which many watch brands advertised that “We do not authorize online sales.” it is a different story now. That has been the biggest thing. So when a new business opens now in this industry, it is a different experience; the main street now is on the Internet and Instagram.
CV: Have you been busy during the pandemic or are collectors purchasing online?
RG: Things are opening up a bit with the pandemic. People who typically go away for the summer are taking trips by car. We have been extremely busy with people from New York, Boston and Hartford. With E-com, people find us because we are the only store that has something unique. For someone that is looking for something different, they search around and end up finding us.
CV: How many Swatch watches do you own? And what are some of the latest timepieces added to your collection?
RG: I own [roughly] one thousand Swatch watches now. I started young because that was all I could afford. However, I do love the spirit of Swatch because it does not take itself too seriously. I have been on a bit of a kick for vintage minute repeaters, vintage pocketwatches, and character watches. I recently purchased a Mickey Mouse watch from the 1930s and ’40s. Personally, it is about the look and the art.
CV: It must be complicated at times, parting ways with vintage watches you once owned in a sale. Which watch did you have the most trouble letting go?
RG: The first watch that comes to mind is the Roger Dubuis Sympathie Perpetual Calendar Chronograph that I sold to finance the store. The Internet caught on to the beauty of those classic Roger Dubuis watches because the value is creeping up. Of the one I had, only 28 of each style were made. It had a very special mother-of-pearl dial.
CV: You work with a lot of small, independent watch brands. How do you see the differences between the watches produced by smaller brands vs those from larger, more established manufacturers?
RG: When buying a Zannetti watch, for example, you know Riccardo Zannetti worked on it himself. There is a real connection [between the customer and the person] who built the watch. When you buy an Alexander Shorokhoff watch, there is a page in the warranty book that is hand written by the watchmaker and he signs it. The big-name brands are a different animal entirely. They do many things well and make wonderful watches. But for people who want something hand-made by an artist, that is where we come in.
CV: Salmon-colored dials have been trending this year. What are your thoughts on the color and what do you think the next trend will be?
RG: Salmon dials are beautiful. Although there are [many] different shades of salmon, it is a great look for a vintage style, tonneau-shaped watch, especially something with a rose-gold dial. [As for future trends,] I think case sizes are going to get a little bit smaller. We probably peaked ten years ago with large watches. Now the sizes are coming back down again. The colors green and brown are starting to get hot again. I think the vintage, retro-style theme will continue to be popular as well.
CV: What has been the most innovative watch you have seen lately?
RG: Fifteen years ago, it would have been the George Daniels Co-Axial Escapement. Today, the new and current frontier is using silicon to make the movement’s escape wheel and hairsprings [to] reduce the friction and make them more durable, more accurate, and more anti-magnetic.
CV: What are your thoughts on watches manufactured through 3D printing?
RG: I [think] that it is going to create more jobs for people. I see it as an opportunity for small brands. That is the big thing with 3D printers and technology: one of the barriers for small brands is minimum orders; if you wanted to make a watch case, you had to order five thousand, with a 3D printer, you can make one at a time. I think it is another opportunity for artists to make individual pieces on their own.