LOS ANGELES — When Alex Grinberg decided to open a second Cherry Creek Watch Company store, the location was obvious: Los Angeles.
“It was a combination of factors,” Mr. Grinberg said. “The local client base is crucial. A well-established watch idiot savant community is part of the lifeblood of a store.
“Plus, L.A. stands head and shoulders above with the amount of indie brand penetration,” he added. “Additionally, Los Angeles is a destination for the rest of the world. Look at the number of direct flights out of Asia without the four to six additional hours it takes to get to New York.”
Cherry Creek’s founder and chief executive, Mr. Grinberg established the vintage and modern timepiece store in his hometown, Denver, in 2019. The second location debuted in July in Beverly Hills, west of downtown Los Angeles.
In 2022, Cherry Creek was far from the only horological shop or brand to focus on the 13 million residents of the City of Angels and its sprawling metropolitan area. Bremont, Tudor and Jaeger-LeCoultre all opened their first brand boutiques there, while Piaget finished a major remodeling of its shop. At its Beverly Hills flagship, the retail chain Westime added a floor dedicated to its certified pre-owned business. In October, the auction house Phillips opened its first L.A. showroom, in West Hollywood, which will display watches alongside sculptures and paintings.
Things were quite a bit different in the late 1990s.
“Growing up, the only boutiques that were around were Panerai, Feldmar Watch Company, Westime and Gearys,” a local jeweler, said Joshua Hendizadeh, 29, chapter president of the collectors’ group Redbar Los Angeles. “Over the past few years, it’s a completely different ballgame.”
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The expansion shows no signs of slowing today. Both Vacheron Constantin and Hublot plan to renovate their Los Angeles stores this year, while Grand Seiko and TAG Heuer have partnered with the retailer Watches of Switzerland to expand their regional footprint.
Watches of Switzerland had U.S. sales of $120 million in 2018, the company’s first year in the country; in 2022, it reported $578 million.
“By a significant margin, the U.S. is the biggest market for luxury timepieces in the world,” said David Hurley, the North America president of Watches of Switzerland Group. “Everyone is doubling down on the U.S. market, and L.A., without a doubt, is one of those cities when brands want to look their best, whether it’s Rodeo Drive or Century City or Topanga.”
The last two and a half years have been anything but business as usual for the watch world. During the second and third quarters of 2020, the height of pandemic restrictions in the United States, any number of authorized dealers across America panicked. The market drastically changed course, Mr. Grinberg said, adding that “one of those reasons was crypto.”
“During the rest of the pandemic, the availability of cash exploded,” he continued. “Brand-new customers came to the table that didn’t exist a year or two prior. We were in this bizarre universe with people who had time and money on their hands driving a frenzy.”
Other independents, both retailers and brands, recognized and capitalized on this shift. “Collectors in Los Angeles are more forgiving that we aren’t from a big luxury group,” said Nick English, co-founder of the British-based Bremont brand. “They view it in a positive and different way.”
In April, Mr. English was surrounded by a Martin-Baker pilot ejection seat and part of an airplane fuselage when he and guests raised their glasses to the opening of Bremont’s Los Angeles boutique within the Bike Shed Moto Co, a 30,000-square-foot emporium in a converted 1945 warehouse in the city’s downtown area.
“At Bremont we’re inviting people to come and get deep and dirty with us,” he said in a recent interview. “You get what the brand is about quite quickly in the store. It’s us being ourselves.”
The arrival and expanded presence of brands large and small, mainstream and indie, continue to feed the growth of Los Angeles as a robust watch town. But store placement, brand identity and finding inventive ways to be noticed is paramount.
Although Piaget first opened its Rodeo Drive site in Beverly Hills in 2014, the company moved to a temporary space in 2020 while that shop was renovated. “Not being on Rodeo, just one block off, on Brighton, we got lost,” said Greg Weeter, Piaget’s brand president of the Americas. “But we’re back and connecting with our client base, as well as people who are discovering new products,” through an in-store art series featuring Los Angeles-based artists like Alia Penner and Anthony James.
Collectors’ groups in the area also have seen their ranks increase, according to Mr. Hendizadeh of Redbar Los Angeles and Jarrod Cooper of Neighborhood Watch Club.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mr. Hendizadeh founded Redbar LA in January 2014. The chapter began with 12 members, but now has about 85, including approximately two dozen enthusiasts who joined just last year.
“There are people who only collect Gruen watches and others who come in with G-Shocks,” Mr. Hendizadeh said. “My members own, collect and want to stay in the know and get information without having to be allegiant to one brand.”
While New York may be regarded as America’s financial capital, “it’s a competition on the wrist there, where people want to show up the next person,” he said. “Los Angeles is more about spending the big money on higher-quality watches that are not mainstream brands.
“In L.A., it’s about buying what you like versus showing everyone what you have.”
To illustrate his point, Mr. Hendizadeh described the July 2021 event that, at least so far, has been the chapter’s biggest draw: a party at Vacheron Constantin’s Beverly Hills store to celebrate the centennial of its Historiques American 1921 model and the release of a limited-edition platinum anniversary version. Seventy Redbar members attended, and a few bought the watch.
Vacheron Constantin hopes to maintain that level of appeal as it moves temporarily to an apartment in West Hollywood while the boutique is renovated.
“We want to be less of a store and more like an embassy, a place where clients can come and experience Vacheron Constantin,” said Alexander Schmiedt, president of Vacheron Constantin Americas. “We want our clients and people interested in the brand to come browse the archives, take a mini master class or join us for a football watch party, like one we hosted last month.
“L.A. is developing dynamically beyond the entertainment industry, and we’re reinvesting in a major way.”