Connecting Collectors And Watches With Digital Reach And Analog Touch: A Discussion With Analog/Shift Founder James Lamdin
Over the past year, I’ve found myself in New York City quite a bit, which has given me the opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of a whole new set of watch enthusiasts as well as experience a wealth of watch-related gathering spots and retailers.
The more folks I met, the more often I heard the name Analog/Shift mentioned: my understanding was that it was an outlet for intriguing vintage pieces that also seemed to serve as a magnet for many of the “cool kids” in the New York watch scene.
In July, I had the chance to meet Analog/Shift’s founder, James Lamdin, and during a more recent visit to the Big Apple was pleased both to sit down with him for a talk and borrow a couple of representative watches to bring home and photograph.
GaryG (GG): What’s the basic concept behind Analog/Shift?
James Lamdin (JL): Analog/Shift was born from the idea that the vintage watch collecting space was lacking a brand name that both veteran and beginner collectors could trust. Analog/Shift values transparency and authenticity above all, and we have a real passion for storytelling.
I think a quick look at our online shop will convey our love of all things horological –we aren’t dedicated to only a couple of brands, and we present our pieces with a tremendous amount of research and background that is very uncommon in the industry.
I also had a desire to build a platform that could be adapted for the various branches of the space and never sought to make it a one-man operation. Analog/Shift was designed to be a haven for passionate collectors to learn, share knowledge, and transact securely with the confidence that we’ll be here down the road to provide support and back up the products we sell in perpetuity.
For as large as the watch industry is I think we’re doing something unique in the space, and I’m humbled that we have earned the trust and business of enthusiasts from all over.
GG: What were you doing before Analog/Shift and how did you come up with the idea?
JL: Prior to launching Analog/Shift I had careers in outdoor equipment/apparel and luxury automotive spaces. My watch-collecting hobby began in my late teens and after moving to New York in my early twenties it picked up dramatically. Ultimately, I began seeking out opportunities in the watch industry.
I had been “gentleman dealing” a few watches a month for beer money on the side and, with the encouragement of colleagues and friends, I decided to up my game and “went pro,” ultimately launching Analog/Shift in the fall of 2012.
GG: Sometimes it seems to me that watch enthusiasts have the same needs as always – we want to buy and sell, exchange ideas, and learn about watches – but the ways that we fulfill those needs continually change. What changes in the landscape are contributing to your success; for instance, has the decline in online forums as a place for collectors to buy and sell watches been a factor? And are there others?
JL: That’s an interesting question, and I think it deserves a multi-faceted answer.
I think the decline in forum use has been a long-overdue reaction to the user-unfriendliness of the web platforms most of those forums were built on. Watch collecting is an intensely tactile hobby – and if it can’t be tactile, it at least has to be visual. Most of the forums I used in the early days of collecting practically required a course in HTML just to upload an image!
With that said, social media such as Instagram and WhatsApp groups have completely changed the community, making the sharing of knowledge (or even just pretty pictures) super easy and accessible from mobile devices.
There is no question that Instagram has played a major role in Analog/Shift’s growth as it has been our digital “shop window” since our inception. We have a highly trafficked website of course, but a tremendous number of our clients initially found us there. The fact that we are a decidedly analog company selling vintage products through a digital-first platform is an irony that’s not lost on me!
Finding a way to effectively utilize the latest in social media but balancing that with a heavy dose of “real-world” presence is key, and it is the reason we have a physical boutique in New York and frequently travel to meet people throughout the U.S. and abroad.
GG: You have been expanding your reach in a variety of directions. What’s the vision behind those additions, and where do you see your future growth?
JL: It all goes back to our desire to build a platform and create a brand name. Vintage is certainly the anchor point for everything that Analog/Shift does, but there are several different elements of the horological space that we serve.
Our website 10:25 Vintage focuses on lower-priced pieces that are the starting point for many collectors, while Contrapante is all about providing a reliable secondary market structure for pre-owned independent and high-end timepieces (see Contrapante.com: Serving The Secondary Market For Watches By Independent Watchmakers).
We have also partnered with two independent dealers in other U.S. cities: WatchSteez in Milwaukee and Watches with Patina in Baltimore. Justin (WatchSteez) and David (WwP), two of the best people in the business, share our ethics and vision for making the vintage collecting space a more transparent and safe place to transact.
We’ve just re-launched an accessories shop on our website and have a lot of really cool and innovative products we’ll be unveiling in the coming months.
Again, the concept here is to allow collectors in other markets in-person access to high-quality vintage timepieces backed by our guarantees and presented by the most respected and trusted dealers in the country. We have a few more authorized dealers slated to go live in 2018, but we are very, very picky about who we work with on that front.
GG: I’ve been to your office-showroom and it’s a wonderful watch-intensive oasis in the midst of Manhattan. I understand that visits are by appointment only, but do you also see that space as becoming a bit of a “clubhouse” for enthusiasts? And can our readers arrange appointments?
Our Midtown-Manhattan HQ is a pretty awesome space, and while we only take visitors by appointment, we don’t do the hard sell thing, so it’s a very relaxed and cool place to tuck in for a few hours to play watches, which lots of our clients and friends do daily!
Going back to the changing landscape of digital commerce, I can tell you that a physical boutique was always part of our plan, and since opening in Midtown East, we’ve had thousands of clients come through. Instagram is great, but meeting people in person is better. We’ve got a pretty fantastic library, vintage advertising ephemera, and a serious selection of single malts.
And watches, lots of watches. Everything you’d need to survive!
We welcome anyone interested in visiting us to reach out to us at [email protected] or fill out the contact form on our website to schedule a visit.
GG: You’ve been kind enough to lend me two watches for a bit of photographic fun. What can you tell me about this Vulcain?
JL: That Vulcan is really something, an incredible artifact from the golden age of tool watches. Amazing cushion-shaped case design with that super-70s funky dial, the perfect example of function leading form but not dictating it! I also just love that diving alarms are a thing, and this one is super loud – I’m sure you’ve played with it!
GG: That sound is super! And how about the Gruen?
JL: This one is a sleeper. It shares a case and that incredible concave bezel design with the first-generation Breitling Superocean, but doesn’t come with the price tag. The condition on this particular example is excellent, though I’ve only ever come across two other examples to compare with; these are truly rare. I love the way the case wears on the wrist, and, man, those shovel hands!
GG: I’m a big fan of the photographic work of your art director, Atom Moore (see Photographer Atom Moore Exhibits Unique And Funky ‘Watch Portraits’ At NAWCC Watch And Clock Museum). How did he join the gang and what is his role?
JL: Atom is the best!
I met Atom and his wife Kathleen at a Red Bar gathering in New York City many years ago. He was taking macro pictures of watches in a darkly-lit underground lounge that were absolutely incredible – leaps and bounds away from what I could personally accomplish with a semi-professional rig and a light box.
At that time Analog/Shift was really beginning to grow, and I had a need for his services. Timing worked out, and Atom now holds the position of art director for Analog/Shift and our associated brands. He has been making us look good for years, and his enthusiasm for both horology and photography are infectious!
GG: Finally, what are your own collecting interests?
Ultimately I love watches, which has led to a very mixed assortment of timepieces in my personal collection. While vintage will forever be my primary interest, I have a strong affection for a few contemporary pieces as well.
Doxa Sub series divers and Heuer chronographs from the 1960s are well represented in my stash, and while I don’t consider myself a “serious” vintage Rolex collector by any means, I think the 1675 GMT-Master is quite possibly the greatest watch ever made, and I own a few variations I’m very fond of.
I also have a bunch of pre-war Art Deco-period American watches from the likes of Elgin and Waltham – currently pretty undesirable to most collectors, but undeniably beautiful!
On the contemporary side, I’ve got a whole assortment of things ranging from A. Lange & Söhne, Bremont, Seiko, Tudor, and a few really fun pieces from micro brands such as Autodromo and Brew. Oh, and I love early American railroad standard pocket watches.
For me, the love of horology is all-consuming, so whether it is vintage or modern, high-end handmade or mass-produced consumer grade, a great watch is a great watch.
GG: Anything else?
JL: The “nugget” I really like to share with anyone who will listen is how different the watch collecting community is from other enthusiast communities. I’ve met with collectors and enthusiasts all around the world from incredibly diverse social, political, and religious backgrounds. I find it to be an incredibly inclusive and inviting hobby, where the sharing of knowledge is an unspoken prerequisite.
Other hobbies can be very divisive and exclusive, where brand allegiances and the financial elements of the hobby drive a wedge between people who are basically into the same thing.
With watches, it really doesn’t matter if you collect vintage Swatch or modern Patek Philippe – we all speak a common language and share an affection for these silly little things that aren’t nearly as accurate as our smartphones for keeping time.
I have met so many great people through this mutually shared love of timepieces, something I never expected when I started, but that truly makes it the best job in the world.
GG: I’m with you all the way: it’s all about the people! Thanks for spending the time to fill our readers in and thanks very much indeed for the photographic loaners.
JL: Thank you for reaching out, Gary!
Also published on Medium.