Kelly Yoch joins Collectability as Personal Curator

Kelly Yoch has had one of the most impressive careers in the retail luxury watch industry. For almost 30 years, Kelly has curated some of the most important watch collections for some of the most discerning collectors. As a Patek Philippe expert, Collectability is honored and excited to welcome Kelly who will provide our existing as well as new clients with the best-in-class advice and service. In this candid conversation, Kelly shares details of her career and how it led to Collectability.

Tania Edwards: Welcome Kelly! We are thrilled that you are joining the Collectability team. From all our perspectives, it seems like the right move at the right time.

Kelly Yoch: Thank you! Yes! It is time to step away from the retail side and build collections with the brand I have represented in some way for the last 27 years.

New chapter: Kelly Yoch on her first day at Collectability. Image credit: Christopher Fenimore for Collectability

TE: You have had an immensely impressive career in retail, starting at the young age of 16. Can you share some of your early career experience, most notably from when you joined Hamilton, NJ in 1997 where I believe you were fortunate to find a mentor, Michael Hopper?

KY: We all need someone to guide us, right?! Michael Hopper hired me at Hamilton Jewelers in 1997. He made me what I am today. I owe him my career due to the fact that he took a chance on someone with no jewelry and watch experience when I arrived at Hamilton in 1997. He remains one of the greatest teachers I have ever encountered and showed me how to be the best retailer.

TE: How long did you work at Hamilton? Was this where your passion for Patek Philippe was ignited?

KY: I worked there from 1997 through March 2006. Michael Hopper had a hard time getting me to sell jewelry because I was very passionate about timepieces. His favorite brand was Patek Philippe therefore, that bled into everything I learned about taking care of our luxury clients and selling the pinnacle of what we had to offer.

TE: Because Hamilton is an Authorized Retailer for Patek Philippe, you must have taken a deep dive into the brand. What are a couple of experiences you remember well from that time? 

KY: I assisted Michael Hopper with overseeing the watch department that – at the time – had 23 brands. Mike pushed me every day to be on top of all the brands we carried and emphasized the importance of Patek Philippe due to the nature of our high end Jewelry and Watch clients. We always strived to be the best in our industry and because of that I was chosen to be one of the 19 Americans that had an opportunity to be the inaugural group to participate in Patek Philippe’s intense training program. The training culminated into a trip to Geneva with some members of the Henri Stern Watch Agency crew — that is where John Reardon and I started a friendship!

TE: In 2006 you became General Manager for Tourneau in King of Prussia, PA. This must have helped cut your leadership and management skills?

KY: Yes. It was very hands on. I hired my own staff and opened the store on my own. It was a very different experience from the family-owned Hamilton Jewelers.

TE: Next, your career took what might appear as a diversion from the world of watches, perhaps even a gamble. In 2007, you managed the jewelry department at Saks 5th Avenue in Bala Cynwyd. Is it fair to say that this was a very careful, pre-determined gamble?

KY: There was a rumor circling that Tiffany & Co. was going to open a grandiose Salon for Patek Philippe. Tiffany & Co. is the oldest American retailer for Patek Philippe so it made sense that Mr. Thierry Stern would consider this build out and prominent position for the brand in New York. I took the job at Saks Fifth Avenue knowing that they would never hire from a “competitor.” I realized that Tiffany & Co. and Henri Stern were going to be using an agency for hiring. My persistence paid off and I was able to secure an interview with the agency and then with Tiffany & Co. — only to be their first hire! I think this is the only time I gambled in life to win this big!

TE: Next comes what can best be called a career-defining time. You became Tiffany’s first hire for the new Patek Philippe Salon at the flagship store in New York. Tell us about the early days, starting in 2008, what was it like to set up such a prestigious salon for such a prestigious brand?

KY: It was important for Patek Philippe to have the right representatives to be the “front line” when clients visited the Salon on the Mezzanine. It was an honor to have been chosen and we definitely had the greatest foursome of people for many years. We were a team and made decisions together that were right for the clients, the Salon and for us. We built that business from a counter on the main floor to the amazing spot in NY to see “all things Patek.” The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva allowed us to display pieces that were changed out approximately twice a year. We were so proud of what we had!

TE: It appears that almost straight-out-of-the-gate, you and your team were a powerhouse – becoming the top salespeople for the entire company, and turning what was once a sleepy, Tiffany-stamped signature to being the most wanted – something that every collector had to have. Today, we see Tiffany-stamped Patek Philippe watches securing a significant premium on the secondary market. How did you achieve this?

KY: Education.  Every client or potential client that came off that elevator was offered a quick lesson in the history of Tiffany & Co. and Patek Philippe.  We believed that if you were going to purchase just ONE Patek Philippe wristwatch, then it should be from the oldest American retailer for Patek.  We wound up building and curating very comprehensive collections for collectors.

TE: By 2020, you became what GQ called “The Gatekeeper of the Patek Philippe Tiffany Dial” and according to one client, “the most important person in the watch world”. You made some people happy, and a lot of people who could not buy a Tiffany-stamped Patek unhappy. It must have been a bittersweet time in some ways having to say no. Can you share some experiences from this heady time?

KY: I will be happy to do that once I leave the industry — there is a book there to be written! The joys and tribulations were many.

TE: You obviously have a magic touch when it comes to servicing clients. What is your ‘secret sauce’ when it comes to looking after often demanding and highly privileged clients?

KY: Patek Philippe has many points of sale.  My goal was always to make sure that no one questioned their precious free time spent with me.  The amount of money that collectors spend to curate the finest collections should come with a sense of relief knowing that I guide them appropriately, but at the same time have a ton of fun.  This is NOT saving the world, curing cancer, or anything that is life changing……this is a pastime that is a passion and I am lucky (and privileged) enough to be able to share that with my clients.

TE: You have said that one of your proudest moments was the introduction of the ref. 5396G-012, a design you and your team created and had approved by Patek Philippe to celebrate the 5-year Anniversary of the Salon at Tiffany. This must have been an enormous privilege. Please share the design process and why you chose the ref. 5396 as a base?

KY: The ref. 5396 case was a traditional Patek.  The look was very much the same as a ref. 3448 or ref. 3450.  We wanted our piece to be as timeless (forgive the pun) and one of those beautiful references.  The base was also perfect for the modern feel we wanted to achieve – the upside down moon, the luminous dots around the perimeter, and the black dial.  Obviously, it was such a hit with our collectors that even John Mayer wrote an article about it.

TE: By 2020, it was rumored that luxury powerhouse LVMH was to acquire Tiffany & Co. This must have been a very unsettling time. The world in which all your hard work and dedication to clients could likely change under new management. Is this when you decided that a new career was on the cards?

KY: It was on my mind starting in 2017 because all of the hype around our stamped dials had become overwhelming.  I met some new younger clients that refreshed my life at Tiffany & Co. and I decided to stay.  Their energy and passion kept me going and I felt as if I could be regenerated.  When 2020 rolled around, it was definitely time to leave.  I wanted to leave before LVMH took ownership.  I wanted to remember Tiffany & Co. as the company it WAS and not the company it was about to become.

TE: What led you to Watches of Switzerland? You could have gone to any retailer, why them?

KY: People….always people.  Watches of Switzerland had built a great team when they arrived in the United States with outstanding leadership from the UK. I had the privilege of working with David Hurley and Damian Otwinowski.  These gentlemen renewed my energy and passion for the industry.  Katie Reed, the VP of Marketing for Watches of Switzerland, is someone I worked with briefly during her days at the Henri Stern Watch Agency.  She was the person that planted the seed and told me that this team was fabulous and I needed to be a part of it.  I did.  And it was fantastic.

TE: You became Director of Client Relations. It must have been great fun re-connecting with brands and learning about new, independent brands?

KY: The independent brands will always have a part of my heart.  They are creating timepieces with a level of expertise and passion that can’t be matched in some cases.

TE: You must have been working with some important clients and diversifying their collections, share with us what that was like, was it hard to convince some clients to consider new brands?

KY: Collectors will always know more than I do — I love to learn every day — and I hope they learn from me as  well.  If I put something different in front of them, then the first question was “why?”  They wanted to know from my standpoint why they should consider something else other than Patek.  It is very common for collectors to have more than one or two brands in their arsenal.  Together, we took leaps and made decisions that were right for them and their collections.

TE: Now you’re moving into a new chapter with Collectability which must feel like the culmination of your career?

KY: Yes.  I want to be more focused.  I want to do what I want to do.  Vintage has always been my favorite focus for Patek Philippe.

TE: As Personal Curator, you are in some ways “coming home”. Now you can focus on your passion, Patek Philippe and help a new generation of collectors as well as your many well-established, important clients. Can you elaborate on why you decided to join Collectability?

KY: People — like I said above!!!  John is a long time friend and expert in the things I love the most.  And I must admit, being around you, Tania, and John together is only going to put the cherry on top of my career as being an expert in Patek — I have so much to learn from you both!

TE: What are your goals at Collectability?

KY: To have fun — to curate some of the finest collections, to educate the industry and collectors about what they don’t know yet concerning Patek Philippe.

Kelly Yoch shares her infectious fun with the Collectability team. From left: David Lewis, Kelly Yoch, John Reardon, Tania Edwards. Image credit: Christopher Fenimore for Collectability

TE: You started in the watch industry close to 30 years ago. What has changed? 

KY: I have a client base that is much younger than when I started.  I am thrilled to sell to someone that has a whole lifetime of collecting ahead of them.  Brand expectations have changed and the retailers are having a tough time managing the “wants” of existing clients and new customers. In the vintage/preowned space, it is a whole different ball game.  It is a little more relaxed over here — a lot more fun!

TE: You are one of the very few women in the industry. You must be very proud of all the accomplishments you have achieved. What would you say to other women wanting to follow your footsteps?

KY: I am very proud of that.  Very.  My advice isn’t groundbreaking: ALWAYS do what YOU want to do and not what someone else expects of you.

TE: What advice would you give someone just starting their watch collecting journey?

KY: Never base a purchase on what it is worth tomorrow.  Always buy what you want.  Never buy something that will sit in a vault.  Look at the trends, buy the opposite.

TE: Thank you Kelly, we look forward to a very exciting time ahead!

April 2024


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