Interview: Watch The Bay’s OT on Building a Local Community of Watch-Heads

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Half of the fun of collecting watches is getting together with like-minded watch-heads and nerding out over, well, watches. Last time we spoke to OT (Instagram’s @ranxoren), he joined us on The Worn & Wound Podcast to discuss the idea of community building around watches. Since that conversation, OT has launched Watch the Bay, a formal meetup group for Bay Area watch-heads. We checked in with OT to learn more about the initiative, why he felt it was necessary to formalize these get-togethers, and what steps others can take if they’re in interested in doing something similar in their area.


Q: Last time we talked, you joined us on the podcast to discuss watch collecting and community building among watch collectors. Since then, you’ve launched Watch The Bay (WTB), a formal, SF-based meetup group for watch-heads. Tell us a little bit more about WTB, and why you felt the need to formalize these meetups. 

A: First off, thanks for having me again and letting me chat a bit about WTB. The catalyst for formalizing WTB was around my desire to provide people with a one-stop shop for watch community meetups that are accessible to Bay Area watch enthusiasts and collectors. This also led to creating a dedicated website and Instagram account so members and interested parties could stay updated on upcoming events.

Q: Did you find that formalizing these meetups allows for more consistency, both in the frequency of the events that you put together and the attendance from members?

A: Absolutely! Not only did it allow for a centralized medium to communicate and host information about the meetups for existing members, but it also made it easier for new members to find everything they needed. Attendance definitely grew after everything was formalized. In terms of frequency, I’ve always aimed for once a month, but we sometimes get a few exciting opportunities that come in all at once. It was a busy November! 

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Q: How is WTB different from other meetup groups you’ve attended?

A: I don’t really think about other groups when working on Watch The Bay. A lot of the things that we do are probably present in other groups—and there are a lot of tremendous other groups and get-togethers around the country—but the main focus is to foster a welcoming, fun, and energetic environment where people can come and share their passion. Having said that, our members make all the difference; they are an incredible group of fun and witty people.

Q: How would you describe your membership? Is it seasoned enthusiasts? Is it people just getting into watches? A mix?

A: Definitely a mix. We have people that have been collecting for decades and have drool-worthy collections, and we have people that are just joining us after buying their first watch. The best thing about our members, however, is that whether someone is wearing a white gold Patek or a Seiko 5, we’re all on the same level because we simply love watches. No snobbiness here, and everything gets passed around for anyone to look at and try on. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it?

OT with G-Shock’s Kikuo Ibe.

Q: You work closely with Rob Caplan over at Topper Fine Jewelers. How important was it to partner up with a space, in this case an AD, to get these meetups going?

A: A huge thank you goes out to Rob, Russ, and the entire Topper family. Topper has been incredibly supportive of this group ever since its inception—long before it became Watch The Bay. Topper was immediately on board with hosting these events as they felt that the mission of Watch The Bay aligned perfectly with that of the store. They also help provide a central location for people to meet and that is one of the main reasons, I believe, for the success of WTB.

Phillip Brashear with Oris.

Q: What kind of activities are most interesting to your members? I saw that you guys hosted a screening of Venom in partnership with Bremont.

A: One major benefit of hosting at an AD is that not only do we get to play with all the toys that they have on hand, but we also get access to the brands themselves. Rob has been an incredible supporter of WTB and has connected us with many brands to get exciting events going for our members.

You mentioned the movie screening with Bremont; that was a fun experience where a whole luxury theatre was rented out for the group. We worked with Rob and Bremont to find a central venue and coordinated on the advance purchase and distribution of tickets to attendees. It went off without a hitch.

Grand Seiko Master Craftsman Satoshi Hiraganas.

Some weeks back, we also got to meet one of Grand Seiko’s Master Craftsmen who flew in from Japan.  He spent the evening disassembling a movement and even allowed our members take a stab at it themselves, which wasn’t that easy considering the Japanese whiskey was flowing all night!

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Q: What would you tell someone who is considering starting a local enthusiast get together? What are some concrete steps that person can take to get it going?

A: The first and hardest step, in my opinion, is to start reaching out to nearby watch-heads. Places like Watchuseek, Rolex and Omega Forums, and Reddit all have people from around the world contributing, and I’d bet most of them are eager to meet like-minded people, so I’d suggest starting through the forums and going from there. I have yet to meet a watch enthusiast who didn’t want to meet others to talk about watches all night (my wife certainly doesn’t want to hear me talk about watches anymore).

A big thing to remember is that it will take time to build out the group and that one shouldn’t give up if the first event isn’t a blowout success. The first Bay Area meetup I organized had less than 10 people and we just met at a restaurant. But even though it wasn’t a huge turnout, I thought it was a success because we all got out of the house and had a blast and met new people. The key is to stay consistent, keep it positive, and get people excited. If people are having fun, then they’ll spread the word!

Some giveaways with Zenith.

From there, you can reach out to local watch venues/ADs. You’d be surprised how many of them (typically family-run ones) want to host community events because they are, themselves, huge watch enthusiasts. Plus, it gets people into their store, and what AD will say no to that.

Q: Any security concerns? How would you recommend one deal with a skittish host who may be worried about the liability of hosting so many people in a space?

I have been fortunate to not have to deal with a skittish host because Rob and the Topper family have been supportive from the start. I would just say that if the host is skittish, then maybe it’s not the right place for your event.  One of the most important things during meetups is that everyone is comfortable, and that includes the host. As for the security part of your question, without knowing any of the core details, I would recommend that any host should look at their own security system, the safety of the area, and their own insurance before hosting such an event.

Q: How do you see WTB growing, or is the goal to keep it small and intimate? 

A: I think the most important thing right now is to continue to host fun meetups for the Bay Area watch community. I don’t have a specific goal in mind other than organizing meetups that are as interesting as we can make them. The group size keeps growing after each event, so that’s a sign that people are into what we’re doing, so I see the community growing in the future. As they say—the best is yet to come!

Thanks for giving me an outlet to speak about Watch The Bay, and hopefully this inspires people to start their own local meetup groups. For me information, follow along at Watch The Bay, and @watchthebaymeetups on Instagram.

Ilya is Worn & Wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
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