Few people in the retail world of Patek Philippe watch distribution held as much influence as Kelly Yoch, who for the past 12 and a half years, was the key person responsible for the allocation of Tiffany & Co. – stamped watches. As Kelly starts a new chapter in her life, she kindly took some time to talk with Collectability.
Tania Edwards: Why did you decide to take this next step in your career?
Kelly Yoch: I’ve been very fortunate to have had a wonderful career at Tiffany & Co. I’ve worked very hard and am proud of what I have achieved. I have climbed to the top of the mountain and can now sit and look at the beautiful vantage point that I’ve created for myself. Now it is time for the next adventure!
TE: You’ve had a very public persona representing two very traditional companies, do you care to comment?
KY: I think it’s important to realize that we are selling watches, not solving the world’s larger problems so we should be having fun! Watches are my absolute passion, my hobby, and I am so very lucky to wake up each morning and get paid to do what I love. Most importantly, I get to share my passion with my clients. I’m there for them 100% and they know that. Watch collecting is about sharing fun and sharing my opinion! Yes, I have a strong personality, but it suits the business we are in.
TE: You’ve established a significant group of dedicated Patek collectors who thanks to you, refuse to look at any other brand. Which other brands are you looking forward to introducing your clients to?
KY: My passion is for watchmaking and that means I can get just as excited about a $5,000 Heuer as a $500,000 Patek. There are so many extraordinary, independent brands out there and US collectors really deserve to learn about them and branch out from the big name, traditional brands. Fortunately, my travels have opened my eyes to other watchmakers; for example, friends in the Middle East have introduced me to brands like MB&F and H. Moser & Cie. Yes, Patek is in a league of its own, but there are many other contemporary brands that make incredible movements with impressive dials, design, and beautiful finishing and engraving. I’m excited to include my clients on this journey of discovery.
TE: The past few years have witnessed a feeding frenzy for Tiffany-stamped Patek watches, yet Patek has allowed Tiffany to do this for almost 170 years, what changed?
KY: You’ll need to ask my clients for the definitive on this one. I’d like to think I contributed to my clients buying through Tiffany’s because of our relationships. I’m an expert study on the brand Patek Philippe, I translate this to my inner circle. It helps that we speak the same language about all things lifestyle whether it’s the intricacies of a watch movement, an aged whiskey or the latest supercar from Ferrari. We become a part of one another’s lives because we truly enjoy the same things culturally. It doesn’t hurt that I remember significant others and children’s birthdays and am dialed in 24/7.
TE: You’ve really succeeded in a male-dominated world. What do you recommend to other women wanting to replicate a career like yours?
KY: If someone has a genuine passion and knowledge of watches, and an understanding of their client’s lifestyle, the rest is easy. As with any sales job, it’s all about customer service and problem solving. Receiving ten calls a day from a client who just wants to shoot the breeze is just as important as sorting a major repair issue as quickly as possible.
TE: Is there a particular Patek reference or collection for which owning a piece stamped by Tiffany & Co. is a holy grail for Patek collectors (excluding the steel Nautilus!)?
KY: I’m very proud to say that the limited-edition ref. 5396G-012 Annual Calendar that my team and I designed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of opening of the Patek boutique in the Tiffany store on Fifth Avenue, is probably the most sought-after. Other than that, I’d say any chronograph such as a ref. 5170, 5070 which is simply down to rarity.
TE: You have had a front-line seat to the world of watch collecting, what has changed over the past 12 years?
KY: Age! 12 years ago, the typical watch collector was a successful man in his 60s, a banker, financier, lawyer, doctor who would sit down and say, “Show me what I should buy”. Now, a good percentage of my clients are aged between 30 and 40 years old from all walks of life. They come in and say, “I need”. What really changed the world of watch collecting was the Apple Watch because a whole new generation now understood the value of wearing something on their wrists that people would notice. Initially, new, younger clients would want to buy a Nautilus or Aquanaut, but they kept being told no, sorry, not available, so they had to look at something else. It is all about building trust and they will come back again to buy more.
TE: Have you seen more women enter the seemingly ‘boys club’ of watch collecting?
KY: Yes, I’m happy to say that more and more women are buying watches for themselves which is a huge shift. Around 20% of my clients are women.
TE: You have made many good friends, but you’ve also had to disappoint a lot of passionate collectors. How did you handle the highs and lows of your job?
KY: I’ve been very fortunate to have made many good friends, but I also have had to say ‘no’ many times and have learned how to do so as gracefully and as with as much kindness as possible. I try to offer a conversion be it an alternate watch, or something completely different that can bring some joy. One of the advantages of working at Tiffany was that I could simply take a client to another floor and help them find items for their bar, or gifts for their family.
TE: You have travelled extensively over the past decade and met people from all walks of life from rock stars to kings, can you share some of your most fun memories?
KY: Yes, I’ve certainly traveled during my time at Tiffany and met some of the finest people in the world. One of the advantages of being in New York, is that the world passes through the city and I have met people from all corners of the globe. For example, someone may come in from the Middle East and the next thing I know, I’m in Dubai meeting with a sheik! I’ve met beautiful souls in the Middle East who have treated me with the utmost respect and kindness. I have to admit that nothing gives me more joy than seeing a well-known person on the TV wearing a watch I sold them. This can, however, have its frustrations such as the time I found myself watching a rock star at the Grammy’s beating his ref. 5004 against his guitar as he strummed vigorously! I immediately called his manager, knowing he’d be watching the performer at the side of the stage, and told him to tell him to Stop Doing That!
TE: Talking about the Middle East, you and Patekaholic have a great relationship. What is it about this IG account that resonates so well with you and Patek collectors?
KY: Jasem Zeraei flat out loves the brand! He speaks completely from the heart and conveys his passion in everything he does. He is my ‘brother from another mother’ and although our backgrounds are different, we have so much in common and I love to spend time with him.
TE: What’s your opinion on Instagram and the role of social influencer in the watch world?
KY: Social media is a great thing and a horrible thing. It has brought me together with people I would normally not meet, and for that I am truly grateful. But we are living in a society where we are competing too much and IG and social media feeds this. Everyone believes what they see and want something if it is a “must have”, even if they don’t particularly like it, or they buy it because the value has quadrupled. The question I despise the most is, “What do you think?”. This is not for me to answer, but for the person who will look at their wrist every day. You must love what you see yourself and not because hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ told you to.
TE: What are some of your other favorite IG accounts to follow?
KY: My two favorites are @pbandwatches and @bzabodyn214. Both focus on passion and really beautiful photography. They photograph watches like a work of art.
TE: The pandemic has wreaked havoc throughout the world, but Patek sales seem to remain strong, if not stronger. Would you agree, and how has your job changed in the past eight months?
KY: Yes, Patek sales have stayed strong. A lot of this is to do with the fact that retail therapy really is a thing. Because people are no longer traveling and socializing, they are looking for other ways to find joy. Now they have time to sit on their couch, read and learn about watches in an even deeper way than before. Personally, the pandemic has brought me much closer to my clients. Now that we communicate by Zoom, often in pjs or sweats, we see into each other’s home and talk more personally, opening up about our fears, or sharing silly jokes and laughing. We have become more comfortable with each other. Many clients have experienced the unexpected bonus of getting to know their families better. For example, I have one client who asked me to find a special gift for his wife because he now understands what she does to keep the family going. He said she is the hardest working person he knows. Such revelations would never have happened without the pandemic. We need to appreciate one another and continue to find joy. As my husband says after the famous SNL line following 9/11, “Can we laugh now?”
TE: Do you have a personal Patek that holds the best memories of your time with Tiffany & Co.
KY: Yes, the first Patek I ever brought: an Ellipse ref. 5028G. It is black and white which is why I love it.
TE: Tell us about your next chapter?
KY: I’m now Director of Client Relations at Watches of Switzerland. I am so excited to be back where my career began in the multi-branded watch world.