““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
The Timepieces They Are a-Changin'
A new club lets you try out a different luxury watch every two months.
The FedEx box arrives shortly after your consultation with the concierge assigned to your account. Inside, a handsome case cradles a $30,000 Patek Philippe watch. You were expecting a high-end timepiece, but the make and model come as a surprise.
If that sounds like your kind of fun, you could be a candidate for membership in Eleven James, a luxury-watch subscription service launched last year by Randy Brandoff, the first employee of jet-card provider Marquis Jet. After leaving NetJets (which bought Marquis Jet) as senior vice president and chief marketing officer in 2012, Brandoff was looking for something new. He had already helped cofound a business called Tequila Avión in 2010, and the idea of starting another company proved alluring.
Brandoff decided to implement a concept that had been percolating. “I love watches and had a few but couldn’t justify having the variety I craved,” he says. He realized there could be a business model that would make it affordable for other watch aficionados to be introduced to an assortment of high-end timepieces.
The idea became Eleven James, whose name was inspired by the story of James Bond actor Sean Connery being presented with the 11 watches that he’d worn during filming. At first, Brandoff thought the company might work like Netflix, where the member would choose specific watches, but “I came to realize that was a little boring,” he says. “We shouldn’t force you to keep coming back to tell us what you like.”
Of course, the idea of renting watches isn’t new, and companies such as BorrowedTimeWatches, D&C Watch, HauteVault and Watchfinder have long offered this service. Eleven James, however, adds the element of surprise because it chooses which watches customers receive.
A new club member starts by choosing a level of service. The Aficionado level offers watches worth around $10,000 each, while Connoisseur members receive timepieces valued at about $15,000 to $30,000. You can also select frequency—either six rotations, which means having a new watch every two months for the year, or three rotations, which gives you watches for three two-month periods during the year. If necessary, Eleven James cleans and repairs the timepieces between rotations.
Memberships, which start at $249 per month, begin with a consultation with a concierge who asks about your preferences regarding style, metal type and watch-band material. Then you provide wrist size and choose 10 watch types that match your tastes. You can return a watch for fast replacement if you don’t like it.
“At its heart,” Brandoff explains, “this is a try-before-you-buy program.” Members might want to join Eleven James for a year, he adds, “then have a better picture of what is resonating” before making a commitment to purchase a watch.n