Rebecca Doulton talks to Paul Altieri, America’s King of swiss Rolex, to find out the secrets behind the success of his online watch emporium, Bob’s Watches.

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The first thing to clear up is that Paul Altieri of Bob’s Watches is not Bob of Bob’s Watches or remotely related to Bob. Altieri acquired Bob Thompson’s domain in 2010 and transformed Bob’s Watches into a luxury website dedicated to buying and selling pre-owned replica Rolex watches.

Based in Huntington Beach, California, Altieri’s lucrative internet business raked in $21 million in revenue in 2016 and is looking at figures of anywhere between $25-30 million for this year. Unlike other online watch dealers, Bob’s Watches pivots entirely around a transparent fake Rolex Exchange system – modelled on a stock exchange – where the current buy and sell values for each Rolex model are posted.

With 21 employees, two million page views and 800 business transactions a month, I ask Altieri what are the secrets to his enormously successful business, why is Rolex the go-to brand for pre-owned watches and what will happen when – and if – big watch brands decide to sell online?

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Paul Altieri, CEO of Bob’s Watches, estimates that his internet watch emporium built around pre-owned Rolex watches should net him revenues of between $25-30 million in 2017.

Why Rolex and what is your relationship with Rolex on an official level?

First of all, I happen to love swiss Rolex, it is my favourite watch brand by far, so that makes it easy. But more importantly, in the pre-owned market, Rolex is the absolute ruler. When it comes to new replica watches, Rolex dominates a 25% of market share. But in the pre-owned space that I live and breathe in, it’s more like 80-90% of the market.

Rolex is still the number-one brand in the world. It resonates with consumers and they love it. An aspirational brand, people buy a Rolex replica watch to commemorate an occasion, be it an anniversary, a wedding or maybe to celebrate that they’ve accomplished something. Wearing a Rolex on the wrist means a lot more to these folk than just wearing an instrument to tell the time.

As to our relationship with fake Rolex, we have no official relationship. Rolex is a very mysterious company. Maybe its marketing plan is to be the Greta Garbo of the watch industry – the less it reveals, the more it embellishes its allure and aura.

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A Rolex Submariner Anniversary watch in white gold featured on Bob’s Watches.

How does your business model work?

We happen to be one of the largest, or probably the largest, dealer of replica watches online, mostly Rolex replica, but also other high-end luxury brands. It all comes down to the internet, which has changed the world forever. The reason why I got into this business was that I saw firsthand that no one was grasping the internet – no one was acknowledging its presence and doing it the right way.

Before I got into the business, pricing on the internet was sort of ok, I don’t want to say dishonest, but very non-transparent. I knew the internet was changing and had already changed a number of industries and so I said, why not the watch industry? Of course, it was eventually going to happen, so I figured I might as well be the one to do it.

I kept hearing consumers yearning for a better way to find out the trading value or market value of their vintage or pre-owned replica watches. So I said, why not just post all the prices, the buy-and-sell value of a watch, like on the stock exchange? It was an experiment, it had never been done before, but it’s an experiment that worked!

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Another vintage Rolex Submariner watch in yellow gold, circa 1972, featured on Bob’s Watches.

How do you source your replica Rolex watches?

People find us. They’ve either heard about Bob’s Watches or they go online and do their homework. Folks are much more sophisticated now when they search and shop online than they were five or 10 years ago, and Google does a really, really good job of finding the legitimate players in any industry for any product.

So to answer your question, people find us and we get our replica watches from consumers and sell them back to consumers, so there are no dealers involved, whether we are buying or selling. Because there are no middle men in the mix, we can deliver razor-thin value to our clients.