I first met Alex Ghotbi of the Hour Lounge, at the inaugural SalonQP, back in 2009. At the time, I was a marketing professional working in the chemical industry. However, my dreams have never been populated with thoughts of industrial biocides but rather my first love, haute horology. All of my adult life, high-end watches have appealed to me. Ironically, I now find myself writing about watches in a professional capacity and embracing my primary passion each waking hour.I vowed to own a Vacheron Constantin
I remember chatting to Alex Ghotbi and immersing myself in a world populated with peerless finishing, complicated timepieces and Métier d’Art. Ghotbi seemed different from the many sales and marketing types who often frequent show stands. His chosen prose was absent of advertising-infused hyperbole and came across with welcome honesty.
After I finished cordially chatting to Alex Ghotbi, I surveyed the other exhibiting brands and returned to my native Northern England. However, I was smitten with the Genevan brand and vowed that one day I would own a watch bearing the Maltese Cross.
In 2012, I had the privilege to visit the maison first hand and witness the exalted craftsmanship of this grande dame of haute horlogerie. My enthusiasm for Vacheron Constantin was reaffirmed by my observations.
It was therefore inevitable that I would eventually commit my own funds to the acquisition of a Vacheron Constantin and I am now the proud owner of Historique American 1921.The Hour Lounge
Prior to purchasing my very own Vacheron Constantin, I would visit the Hour Lounge and read the discourse between fellow forum members. Eventually, the temptation became too great, I registered and began to place the occasional post.
The Hour Lounge provides unique images and informative content on brand history, technical aspects of watches, reviews and exclusive information shared first with Hour Lounge members. The Hour Lounge is so much more than a discussion forum, however, and this is the key aspect which will appeal to many.
My own friends, who do not share my enthusiasm for haute horology, can sometimes show their incredulity that I exhibit unbridled emotion and passion about wristwatches. Indeed, I do find myself sometimes feeling a bit of a social pariah in mixed company. It is when I meet fellow watch enthusiasts that I can relax and openly show my affection for the high-end watchmaking where the minutiae elicits so much pleasure. The Hour Lounge provides this haven of like-minded individuals.The Hour Club
Whereas the Hour Lounge is open to everyone who is interested in haute horology, the Hour Club is an owner’s only experience. Owners of a Vacheron Constantin timepiece are not automatically enrolled in the Hour Club, it necessitates the would-be member to register online with details of their acquisition.
Those owners who choose to make the effort, can look forward to “a money can’t buy experience” with access to club events, extensive library, collection management tool and privileged access to witness first hand some of the artistry that is synonymous with the Genevan brand.
Members of the club often meet around the globe. Alex Ghotbi admits, many have become friends due to their common interest in haute horlogerie.Chatting to Alex Ghotbi
I arranged to meet Alex Ghotbi for lunch in Geneva to chat about the Hour Lounge and find out a little more about the man tasked with managing the long established forum.
Angus Davies (AD): I must ask, when I am on the Hour Lounge, adjacent your name is a picture of Don Corleone from the Godfather. Should I be worried?
Alex Ghotbi (AG): No! The Godfather series of films are my favourites of all time, especially Godfather 1 & 2.
AD: I wondered whether it was a subliminal message to not step out of line on the forum
AG: To be a moderator is to be a host and a policeman. Thankfully, I rarely need to play policeman. The only time I really have to do this is when someone is trying to orchestrate a scam. The general atmosphere of the forum seems to deter those people who seek conflict, it is a friendly and respectful environment. In addition, the old timers often temper the behaviour of new timers.
We encourage openness and honesty. There will be criticism of products, including from myself. For example I am not keen on the dial of that watch (he points to a Malte Small Seconds).
AD: Really, I love that watch!
I realise that Ghotbi has perfectly illustrated that we all have different tastes and opinions.
AG: I say what models I like and I also say what I don’t like.
AD: I must admit, I only write about what I like. I find it difficult to be motivated to write about a watch which has little appeal to me. For example I don’t like quartz. I know you make quartz models, but for me it is not what appeals to me about Vacheron Constantin, I want to see a Swiss lever escapement. I feel quartz is inert.
AG: You can do that because you write about more brands. I write merely about Vacheron Constantin.
AD: How did you get into watches?
AG: I always loved watches. However, I studied law in Paris and was a financial lawyer for 13 - 14 years before I joined Vacheron Constantin.
After completing my studies, I remember the first job I accepted wasn't because they offered the best pay or would provide the coolest things to work on, it was because the partner I was going to work for was wearing a tourbillon. I thought this is the only time in my life I am going to get close to this watch, so I accepted the job.
I was both a co-founder and moderator of thepurists.com and began handling the Hour Lounge in my spare time. Then I had to inform Vacheron Constantin that I would have to cease working on the Hour Lounge as I was potentially relocating to New York with my job and would be no longer able to moderate the Hour Lounge. They did not want me to cease doing this (the Hour Lounge) so they offered me a position managing the Hour Lounge, Social Media, liaising with internet forums / blogs and managing the collector relationship.
AD: What are your passions in life and, prior to working for Vacheron Constantin, which watches did you own?
AG: My passions in life are for hand made products such as shoes (he is wearing gorgeous Berluti shoes with a magnificent mirror-like shine) and of course watches. Before working for Vacheron Constantin, I owned Vacheron Constantin models as well as other brands.
I came to work for Vacheron Constantin because they were my favourite brand and I say that not because I work for Vacheron Constantin but because they really are my favourite brand. The watch I am wearing is my own vintage Vacheron chronograph from the 1940s, a 4178. I loved its iconic teardrop lugs. It is small by modern standards, 36 mm and ordinarily I wear larger watches, but I like it.
AD: It works for you. I have a rule for myself that I never wear anything less than 40 mm.
AG: But you are a tall guy and I am medium sized.
AD: Yes, that’s true. How did you procure it?
AG: I bought this (points to his watch) in the early 2000s. At that time, Vacheron Constantin was not that big in the auction market. Not many would come up for sale. I was in London, in the Burlington Arcade, and bought it.
I loved the watch so much that a few weeks later, I bought one in steel, and later I bought a further model in rose gold. That was at a time when watches were more affordable.
AD: Did it have box and papers?
AG: No, a watch that age would rarely have box and papers. If it did it would add nearly 50% to the asking price.
I did obtain a certificate of authenticity from the Vacheron Constantin Heritage Department.
AD: Perks of the job?
AG: No, this service is open to everyone. It is chargeable. Alternatively, you can obtain an extract from the archives which is cheaper. This will specify the model, case number, movement number etc.,
The problem is that some counterfeiters are cloning the identity of watches. Obtaining a certificate of authenticity confirms the provenance of the timepiece.
AD: There has been a huge growth of social media platforms. How do you manage that?
AG: The top of the pyramid in terms of importance is the Hour Lounge. We also have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Weibo. We have a one man social media team and that is me! If we do go to different platforms it is because they can bring something new.
We have a technical brand and it needs some explaining, hence some platforms are not suitable. It is not all about numbers.
AD: That resonates with me because, I know ESCAPEMENT will not enjoy the same volume of readership as some blogs, as I have chosen to concentrate on watches which are mechanical and cost a minimum of £2000. That is not to say that all watches below this price lack merit, but I do think it is difficult to be all things to all men.
AD: There are a lot of watches which appeal to me, hence I have no shortage of material. The problem is I often fall in love and have to learn to walk away as I couldn’t afford to buy everything.
Ghotbi smiles and proceeds to place a 1972 Prestige model with a grey dial under my nose. He clearly knows a thing or two about temptation.
Chatting to Alex Ghotbi, I recognised a fellow watch enthusiast. He clearly has a profound understanding of high-end watchmaking and regularly throws away interesting facts quicker than I can record them to paper.
To embrace the Hour Lounge is to enter a world populated with likeminded individuals. Comments are freely made without editing or undue censorship. Moreover, the knowledge of some members is very impressive. I recall once posting an article on the forum, only to be advised of an error which I had made by an eagle-eyed reader.
Vacheron Constantin, by the very nature of its premium pricing, will not be a brand of watch that adorns every wrist. Moreover, it may be overlooked by those who seek to flaunt their wealth more conspicuously. However, for those, myself included, who adore many models from the brand’s catalogue both past and present, the Hour Lounge is a welcome sanctuary where watch enthusiasts can openly share thoughts and glean facts from a reliable source.