Tokyo Watch Scene
The Tokyo watch scene is unlike any other you may have experienced. I first became enamored with the watch scene in Tokyo after stumbling onto a Smiths 6B, one that I had only ever seen in a book, in a store in Shinjuku that also sold candy. It was one of the weirdest shopping experiences I have had. The watch when I examined it in the store was gaining 15 seconds every minute but I bought it because after years of collecting I had never seen one come up for sale. It was pretty beat up but looked all original.
As you would expect Tokyo has the standard jewelry stores and brand boutiques. What makes the scene here more interesting are the stores that specialize in second hand watches and vintage watches. Specifically the vintage watch stores are the ones that capture my imagination. The stores profiled in the following series are a group of watch stores that have been on my radar for almost 15 years. I have visited Tokyo 4 or 5 times but 2017 was the first time I was able to carve out time to visit these stores. You can literally find second hand and vintage watches all over Tokyo, in some of the most unlikely places but the ones we were interested in were spread across a city that boasts 25% of the country’s population. So of all the stores I have had on a short list we were able to visit all but one. Even then there were 4 or 5 more I would like to have seen. However, I believe we were able to visit all of the most important stores specializing in vintage watches in the Tokyo area.
The vintage watch shopping experience in Tokyo is one that we can only wish for in the US or even in Europe. It’s casual, professional, and the selection is mind-blowing. There are great places to shop in the US like [analogshift’s coterie] of online stores, the watch forums, eBay, but outside of the online universe usually you have to make an appointment to see the watches in person or the in-store experience is less than confidence inspiring.
Didn’t make it to a store called Shellman - also made its own watches (quartz repeater)
If you have a limited amount of time in Tokyo or your family has a limited amount of patience for your interests Jack Road should be your first stop. In addition to Jack Road, the mall where it is located hosts at least half-a-dozen additional vintage and second hand watch stores. Without a doubt Jack Road is the biggest and the best of the bunch as far as selection is concerned. Occupying three store fronts within the mall, Jack Road had the largest and most diverse selection of any of the stores we visited on this trip.
There is Jack Road which sells men’s watches. Betty Road, located across the hall, that deals in women’s watches. Adjacent to both stores is one well appointed room where you can inspect your potential purchase. The selection at the time that I visited ran the gamut of vintage and second hand to modern new watches in almost every price point. The vintage selection was what I was there to see and the selection did not disappoint. I was able to view, in one shelf alone 3 generations’ worth of Rolex Explorers and Explorer IIs. The 4th generation (a 1016) was located in a separate case. I had seen most of those watches in one form or another but never together in one place.
The selection of Submariner’s is equally inspiring. Other notable watches included a selection of Heur’s, a Smith’s military, and series of limited edition Panerai watches. The second hand watches ran a range that included entry level Seikos to Moser and a collection of ultra-complicated Patek Philippes. I had read about Moser but never seen one until that day and that day I saw 12 on offer. They also carry a selection of new watches. I almost bought the newly released SBDC051 but they didn’t have the dial color in stock that I was looking for. The staff on that day also included a woman that speaks English and Chinese, as well as Japanese speaking staff. Jack Road sells on the Internet as well as an Instagram presence.
I don’t know how fast new Rolex’s make it to stores and customers but I was surprised to see a new red Sea Dweller here that was just announced in Baselworld 2017 several months earlier.
A medium sized store tucked into a corner of the mall offering a nice selection of
vintage and second hand watches.
I can’t say enough about this place. It’s a true connoisseur’s store focused exclusively on vintage pieces and, in my opinion, it’s one of the anchor stores in Tokyo for the vintage watch scene. I have been aching to go here for at least 10 years, so this was a real treat.
There are three shops in the Tokyo area: the one I visited in Morishita, a store focused on women’s watches in Shibuya, and a men’s and women’s store in Roppongi. These stores have been featured prominently in Japanese watch magazines and they’ve published two books detailing some of the extraordinary vintage watches that have passed through their hands and workshop. I have owned a well-thumbed copy of their earlier book for a number of years now.
In addition to a selection of rare vintage watches, Carese Co. also operates a service center located on the second floor. There are 10 watchmakers on site and an extensive inventory of vintage parts for service. The service center inspects and services each piece as needed before it is offered for sale.
This beautiful shop located in Taito that focuses primarily on early-to-mid 20th century watches. At the time of my visit, I saw a varied selection of watches and pocket watches, including some American Railroad pocket watches, IWC Ingenieurs, and Eterna pilots.
This was an interesting find on the 4F of the shopping mall Lumine 2 next to the Shinjuku train station. It is mostly fashion watches with a few vintage Rolex and Cartier watches. The one piece that I found most interesting was a quartz repeater by a company called Shellman, that primarily deals in vintage pieces and watches from the likes of Philippe Dufour. An interesting concept for a watch that was found amongst a lot of fashion labels. The company operates a number of stores in the Tokyo area offering a eclectic collection of brands and watches.
Website : http://www.archimedesspiral.com/
We stumbled onto this store during our search for Archimedes Spiral and just goes to show you how ubiquitous vintage watches are in Tokyo. This store was tucked into a corner of a department store/shopping mall and featured a selection of largely women’s vintage and second hand Rolex, Cartier, Hermes, and Omega watches. The selection also included second hand and vintage jewelry and handbags. Stores like this challenge the assumption that women don’t want to wear mechanical watches, especially vintage.
NJ Time :
This store carried a large inventory of second hand watches in the haute de gamme end of the industry. They had a selection of interesting vintage pieces but their primary business is in second hand high end watches. After visiting a place like this you really start to wonder how many watches are in Tokyo and how large the 2nd hand market is.
I have been following this store for quite some time. They had recently relocated to their current location in Takinogawa (Kita-ku), a relatively quiet part of Tokyo. The store specializes in watches made from the 1920s to the 1960s. Only in Japan can you get that kind of niche specialization. At the time of our visit they had on offer a variety of interesting vintage pieces including Hanharts, Enicars, a lovely Cyma chronograph, as well as the usual suspects like Rolex, Omega, and IWC. The store also offers their own re-creations of vintage leather straps and metal bracelets. In the back of the store there is a beautifully appointed room where you can admire and inspect your next purchase in more detail and at your comfort. In addition to the physical store they sell online and are active on Instagram.
The stores I highlighted here are just that, the highlights. There is a much larger universe of watch stores in Tokyo that I didn’t have time to see. In addition to watch shopping Tokyo is probably the center of vintage American denim, a must see destination, and a first class city in any regard. The one thing I do have to say though is that the prices for vintage pieces are high in Japan. I am not entirely certain what drives the prices but if you are serious about buying it’s your best hope for finding that super-rare piece that you have to have.
I hope this inspires you to take in some watch shopping the the next time you find yourself in Tokyo. For the stores themselves check out their web sites for directions. The addresses may be Greek to most of us but we were able to use Google Maps to find them. All of the stores listed here were easily reachable using either the JR lines, Tokyo Metro, or a combination of the two. Getting around the city is incredibly easy as most of the signs are available in English and the data network in excellent. We were able to navigate through Google Maps while we were there with pretty much no data lag in (unlike New York or Paris).