The Test of Time

Frederick “Ricky” Bromberg and manager Brian Hood.

Frederick “Ricky” Bromberg and manager Brian Hood.

Bromberg’s and Rolex partner to offer luxury timepieces that are more than just watches.

Written by Rosalind Fournier

Photo by Beau Gustafson

My college friend Laura Creekmore hasn’t owned a watch in more than 10 years. At first glance, that might suggest a certain redundancy of wristwatches in today’s culture. From the ancient times of pagers to the advent of the smartphone and beyond, it would seem there has been less and less need to wear a watch. There are too many other ways to tell time.

But there are watches and then there are watches, and when it comes to the most prestigious name in fine timepieces—Rolex—does that not miss the point entirely? “If the whole reason for owning a Rolex was to know what time it is, that would be one conversation,” explains Frederick “Ricky” Bromberg, president of the 179-year-old jeweler Bromberg & Company, which is one of—and possibly the—longest-standing official Rolex jewelers in the United States. “But in my opinion, that would be like saying the only reason people drive a luxury car is to get from point A to point B.”

Which brings me back to my friend Laura, who was one of many people I polled informally on Facebook. It turns out the reason she doesn’t have a watch is because she’s waiting for the right time to buy the right watch—an investment, not just any old timepiece from a mall kiosk. “A nice watch is perpetually on top of my to-buy-for-myself list,” she explains.

She is far from alone. Two friends report owning high-end watches that they cherish so much they keep them locked away, while another says she feels “naked” if she’s not wearing hers. Still another reports that he and his wife invested together in matching watches, which makes them particularly special. “There is nothing romantic about matching phones,” he observes, adding, “There is poetry in a mechanical watch.”

Few jewelers understand this better than Bromberg’s, a company so steeped in tradition itself that it’s actually recognized as the oldest family owned retailer of any kind in the United States. As a partner and Official Rolex Jeweler in the Birmingham area, Bromberg’s and Rolex have a mutually respectful relationship that has stood the test of time and seems likely to continue for generations to come.

That’s why the million-dollar question of the moment—what about the Apple Watch?—is dismissed here with a mere wave of the hand. Sure, the Apple Watch does a lot of things a Rolex does not, including making phone calls (with an accompanying smartphone), paying for purchases, and even performing a few functions on the weird side, like transmitting a facsimile of your beating heart to someone else. But to borrow my friend’s word, is it “poetry”?

Bromberg’s manager Brian Hood thinks not. “Rolex is a generational piece,” he explains. “I can’t tell you how many people come in with their grandfather’s watch that they want to get redone and continue to wear. So it becomes a family heirloom tied to emotion, whereas an Apple Watch is about a computer chip.”

In fact, according to a recent story in Fortune, while some luxury watches are beginning to introduce smart-watch features in their own—some would say misguided—efforts to remain relevant, Rolex, which Fortune calls “the first (name) to come to mind for luxury wristwatches,” stands nearly alone in refusing to play.

And why should they? After all, being a technology geek and a classic-watch enthusiast are hardly mutually exclusive.

“When it comes to a mechanical watch and people who understand what goes into making that watch keep time, even newcomers become fascinated by it,” Hood observes, likening a Rolex to a timepiece with the “inner workings of a grandfather clock shrunk down to the size of what fits on your wrist.

“Think about a hairspring that vibrates 28,800 times per hour,” he continues. “When you really start looking at a Rolex and evaluating what it takes to make it, it can be captivating.”

True Rolex aficionados—including plenty of millenials—can get positively glossy-eyed talking about these watches. Bromberg and Hood tick off facts about these watches like they’re describing a much-admired member of the family: Rolex owns its own foundry and alloys its own metals. Every diamond on a Rolex dial or bezel is colorless and flawless. Each year, Rolex tops the industry in the number of certifications awarded by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres), a Swiss governmental agency charged with certifying watch movements for accuracy and durability.

And, they stress, Rolex is meant to be treasured as part of daily life—not locked away in a display case—a point demonstrated by the fact that Rolex is able to say that their watches are waterproof, not just water resistant, based on the current Federal Communications Commission guidelines. (The famed auction house Christie’s makes note of this on its own website, relating a particularly colorful story in Rolex history: “In 1927, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf famously gave Mercedes Gleitze one of the earliest Rolex Oysters to wear on her attempt to repeat her swim across the English Channel. …After 10 hours in icy cold water, she was pulled from the water only half-conscious. Her Rolex was bone dry inside.”)

Ultimately Bromberg and Hood paint a picture of a watch company that takes the long view, innovating quietly and painstakingly without ever forgetting where they came from, much like Bromberg’s itself. Bromberg remembers his grandparents giving him a Rolex for college graduation and then bestowing one on his own son for graduation. He describes it as a gift of deep affection.

Hood puts it simply: “That’s one of the benefits of the Bromberg experience as a whole. We get to sell expressions of love and accomplishment, and there’s no better brand, in a store that carries many very fine brands, to commemorate a celebration or relationship than a Rolex watch.

“It’s timeless.”

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