Since 1926 — when Polish émigré Charles London founded his eponymous shop on School Street in Glen Cove, LI — watch mecca London Jewelers has serviced and offered the finest timepieces from the world’s top craftsmen. And while wristwatch trends have come and gone in the intervening decades, life has a way of coming full circle.
“Suddenly, the style has become more classic,” says vice president Zachary Udell, who oversees the independent retailer’s timepiece category. “Just a few years ago, everybody was looking for the biggest watch available. We were selling cases up to 50 mm, which in this industry was very big and breaking with tradition completely.”
But demand for old-school styles (like Rolex’s Submariner, Patek Philippe’s Calatrava and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak) has grown so intense that dealing in premier pre-owned models is now big business for London Jewelers.
“People are asking for conservative, traditional sizes again,” says Udell, who collects antique pocket watches and clocks. He says clients frequently request a vintage luxury watch from their birth year.
The throwback trend is appropriate for a company that got its start servicing watches and clocks of prominent families — like the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Morgans — from Gatsby-like mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast.
“Back then, there were five jewelry stores in this small stretch of Glen Cove,” says Udell. “Now, we are the only one left in business.”
In the 1960s, under the careful supervision of London’s daughter, Fran, and her husband, Mayer Udell, London Jewelers added fine jewelry to its ever-expanding repertoire. Soon their son, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Candy, also joined the family business, and in 1975 came a partnership with Rolex. (Today, London Jewelers is one of the top Rolex dealers in the country.)
The company’s astonishing growth within the superluxury watch trade also means a growing list of outposts — in Southampton, East Hampton, downtown Manhattan, Wheatley Plaza and, of course, a glittering flagship in Manhasset. “It’s a pretty amazing legacy,” says Udell, who represents the fourth generation of the family business, along with cousins Randi and Scott. “Every generation has added a piece to the puzzle.
“Business is always evolving,” he continues. “So we will evolve with it.”
LJ’s Randi Udell-Alper embraces watches as bijoux
Watches may be mechanical marvels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t double as stunning pieces of bling. London Jewelers’ vice president Randi Udell-Alper — a fourth-generation leader in her family’s business — notes that chic customers are now incorporating timepieces into their bauble collections.
“A lot of people are turning their watches into jewelry,” she says. “They’re having fun taking their oversize Rolexes and mixing them with stackable bracelets.”
Luxury brands are also in on the trend, designing high-fashion timepieces that can easily join any arm party. Think: diamond-encrusted bezels, splashy band colors, playfully patterned faces and trending materials, like rose and yellow gold.
“If a woman is wearing a lot of yellow gold, instead of buying a steel or white-gold watch, she’ll get a yellow-gold watch to incorporate into what she is already wearing,” Udell-Alper explains.
The jeweler points to classic watchmakers like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Cartier, who have readily embraced a jewelry-centric worldview, as well as brands for whom fashion is already bread and butter: Chanel, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels.
“Watch brands are getting in sync with how you live your lifestyle,” Udell-Alper says. “Women are wearing timepieces to the gym. They are wearing them to go food shopping. They are wearing them to take their kids to school. They aren’t thinking about them as timepieces. They are really thinking about it as a piece of functional jewelry.”
Her advice to all those busy fashionistas? “If you have a beautiful watch, wear it. Don’t keep it in the safe. Put it on, keep it out and wear it.”
TWO by London engages next-gen ring shoppers
By embracing the new ways millennials live and shop, London Jewelers has quickly become a top destination not just for watches but for 20-somethings’ other first-milestone jewelry purchase: an engagement ring.
“I grew up in the family business,” says London Jewelers vice president Scott Udell, a GIA-graduate gemologist. “I was watching my friends get married, but people just didn’t think to come to me for their first-time engagement ring. People came to us for their first Rolex or their first piece of Van Cleef & Arpels. It left me pondering.”
His solution? TWO by London — an open-concept, millennial-friendly engagement-jewelry boutique, which he launched in 2011 adjacent to London Jewelers’ flagship in Manhasset, LI.
Udell succeeded in building a space that is as educational as it is tactile — where no one feels pressured to buy from behind a glass case. At TBL, customers are able to handle rings freely. They can also utilize new computer hubs to create digital renderings of custom-designed rings — then, in an innovative technological twist, admire them on their own hands.
But Udell says that TBL’s most essential draws for ring shoppers remain transparency and trust.
“Buying a diamond can be an intimidating process,” he says. “If you see a guy [in the Diamond District] on 47th Street, and you don’t really know fully what you are looking at, half the time you could end up with something that isn’t high quality. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of during what should be a really joyous time.”
To assuage such fears, TBL allows customers to peek behind the curtain of the ring-creation process.
“As a consumer, you want to know how it all happens,” Udell says. “We are empowering you to make the decision.” Such transparency, along with 90 years of experience, builds trust, he says, which can convert first-time buyers into loyal jewelry patrons for life.
“Whether you have a budget of $5,000 or $20,000, we want the first-time engagement-ring-buying experience to be happy,” Udell says. “Then, for your anniversary, if you want a Rolex, we have you covered. You can’t do that with a guy in a booth on 47th Street.”
By Christopher Cameron