The one with Horology House

Because what else could I talk about this week

The day after I started writing this instalment of Right On Time, the Horology House story dropped on The Rolex Forums, and my phone started buzzing. At that point, I was on the fence about covering it. Then, when I woke up the following morning, it had Blown Up, and I figured I had to address it in some way.

But what I'm struggling with, and the reason for my initial fence-sitting is how to talk about it. In our funny little world of watches, it's sensational, shocking. And it's easy to lean into that, to give in to the dark side of the internet and revel in the outrage and rumour.

I don't want to walk that bottom line though. Yes, I'm as gripped by the drama as everyone else, but I've also met Chris from Horology House a few times. I know he's got a family, and he's not having a great time. For all that Chris' fall from grace has been speedy and spectacular, he's also done a lot of good work in this field. This story, like life, is complicated.

So I'm ducking the question. Don't expect me to go into a blow-by-blow of what happened, or the rights and the wrongs. Instead, I'd like to focus on what it means, and what we can learn from it.

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The rise and rapid fall of Horology House

At the start of this week, Horology House went dark. First, Facebook, then Instagram, then Youtube and the site itself. It was a sudden, dramatic erasure of an online presence that was built up over the years, mainly on a premise of quality and integrity. A textbook example of that old chestnut "reputation takes a lifetime to build, but you can lose it in a minute."

For Chris Essery and his brand Horology House, that minute was 3:17 PM on the 31st of January, when a member of The Rolex Forum (TRF) Rob, who goes by the handle 'imgook' posted on the 'Watchout!' subform details of his friend being sold a fake Daytona by Chris Essery.

Fake on the right. From TRF.

Feel free to read the thread yourself if you haven't (but given that around 400K people have thus far it's likely you have).

I won't rehash that here as I think it's tedious and unnecessary, but I'll give you the topline.

The TRF OP detailed an account of his mate buying a Daytona from Chris, waiting two and a half months, finally getting a Daytona and then discovering said Daytona was fake. Guy eventually gets his money back, then posts his account on TRF, blowing up the Australian watch internet.

Crucially the guy also posted the WhatsApp chat log, and Essery does not come off well based on these messages. In the subsequent firestorm, numerous other instances of people being scammed or poorly dealt with have come forward. Horology House has shut its doors and Chris has stepped down as admin of the Australian Watch Forum Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group -- the largest of its kind in Australia that he founded.

Which brings us to the backstory. To understand why this is such a big deal, it's worth exploring where Horology House came from before we look at what the after-action might look like. NB, this is all from my recollection -- broad brush stroke stuff.

Before Horology House became known for slow pans and sharp macros, Chris started a Facebook Group called Australian Watch Buy, Swap and Sell early in 2016. The timing was right, as 2014/2015 were both BIG years for the Australian watch industry, and the appetite was clearly there. Around this time Essery was moving a lot of watches, as is fairly common with people who get into the hobby in a big way -- he was known for having access to, and moving, stainless steel sports models from Rolex, just as they were getting *really* crazy. AWBSS was a smart move, giving Essery prime position (and authority) in a significant local marketplace. It's worth noting that this group was different from the FB group Australian Watch Forum, which started in 2015.

Time progressed, and Essery started the Horology House Youtube channel which stood out not just because of its stellar macro videography, but also because of a clearly articulated stance on no commercial reviews. These two factors set HH apart in a space often criticised for its lack of editorial independence and helped him build trust and a loyal following. Earlier this year he started selling straps, and things were looking like positive and sustainable growth. Then, this happened, and he's suddenly persona non-grata.

A statement Chris made on Instagram, before it was locked down.

The aftermath and what we can learn from it

Well, the main takeaway from me is that the old adage of 'buy the seller' isn't enough. Or at least, buying the seller itself still requires some work. Because on paper, Essery was a model seller. People saw the record and the reputation and didn't do the due diligence.

And to be fair, this isn't something that's limited to grey sellers like Essery, fairly frequently you hear of major international auction houses withdrawing lots for sale. Not because the items in question are bald-faced fakes, but they're gussied up in some other way.

What can we learn from this? Well, I think for many people, who have gotten into watches reasonably recently, in the modern social media era, it's the end of an age of innocence. There's something more personal about FB or IG accounts -- I think you're much more inclined to build rapport and thereby trust with someone with a personality and a profile picture that you can instantly chat with rather than that one-step remove of an eBay account or forum handle. Most of the time that's fine, but never forget that, unless you're buying it brand new from a dealer, there's a risk involved. Mitigate that.

I think this episode has also been a wake-up call for many about how and why we moderate online communities, and the importance of it. Nothing like a fox running the hencoop situation to make everyone tighten up their policies and separate church and state.

Finally, for me, the lesson this episode drove home was one of inevitability.

There is so much money, and demand swimming around these watches, and the quality of the fakes is so good, that fraudulent sales had to happen, have likely always been happening and probably still are. Perhaps that, in this case, the seller was so high-profile and the fall-out so sensational that it was a silver lining situation. It got everyone's attention, and maybe it will make us think twice in future.

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Not quite Time to Move

Last year The Swatch Groups top-tier brands held their answer to Basel -- Time to Move. 200-odd journos in minibuses and factories for three days. I was there, it was fun (Read about it here). This year I was invited again, but the fact that journos would have had to cover their costs to see six brands, along with the fact that the event clashed with other watch events (notably Grand Seiko) meant that I knew a lot of people who couldn't make it. Earlier this week the event was cancelled because of the Coronavirus. Here's hoping we see TTM again in 2021. Say what you will about Baselworld, at least everyone was in one place.

The reading list

OK, now that we've got that off our chest, how about some light reading. Like this little gem on the design ethos of one of my favourite brands, Nomos. Hodinkee made a LE you can't get in their store. I opine about the only three watches you need. Buying a Rolex doesn't make you happy. But noted philosopher Peter Singer can't understand why you'd want to buy an expensive watch in the first place and doesn't think anyone in the future will understand either. After all, this guy only paid $355.97 for his Daytona.

I've just picked up a copy of watch-lover William Gibson's latest, Agency, which means its time to re-read my favourite ever bit of watch-related writing, from Wired of all places. And speaking of Wired, Steven Levy, their ed-at-large is clearly an early adopter of Right on Time, as they've launched the excellently named Plaintext, a subscriber-only email.