The outreach was clandestine, the e-mails to the point. When he said we could meet at his office, my first reaction was, “You work there?” That’s when he went dark. Sammy Sy (pronounced “see”) doesn’t want anyone to know too much.
Here’s what we do know: He created WatchRecon, a web curator of timepiece forums that uses coded software to display thousands of watches for sale. He’s based in New York City. He’s a twenty-something software engineer for a very large corporation. And he’d like to keep the intel no more detailed than that.
We end up meeting in one of the casual work/break areas that populate big new companies like his. Sy is shy but friendly and unassuming—and, above all, a watch fan. He does divulge that it all started with a woman…
C&C: How did WatchRecon begin?
SS: In college, I wasn’t that aware of watches. Nine years ago I got a gift from my girlfriend — a mechanical watch. I was curious: How does this work? Then I saw some YouTube videos, and I was fascinated.
Do you still have both watch and girlfriend?
[Smiles] I still see her. I still have the watch — a Montblanc dress watch. Time-only, plus power reserve. I wondered how it keeps track of everything; then I realized it was through this weird differential gear. So I went to these forums —TimeZone, WatchUSeek — and they changed my perception that these watches were expensive. I realized there’s a huge range and that I could get into this pretty easily.
And there wasn’t just one place to look.
Right. That “one place” is the problem. Often, I couldn’t tell if there was a picture, or it took forever to find the price. It was very time-consuming. So I said, maybe I could make this easier. That was 2010. I’d worked on this or that for a Web site but [had never created] the whole thing. I didn’t want it to drag out, so I told myself I needed to get something up in two weeks.
What did the site first look like?
Very basic. Very ugly. [Laughs] But it made my watch hobby easier. I could see these things in one place now. I didn’t promote or advertise it, [but] Google started indexing us, and people started finding us. I wasn’t looking for a lot of users. As long as it was working for me, it was great.
People found it. Five months in, I had a coworker who knew I was into watches. He had a face-to-face transaction with a guy and bought a Lange he wanted to show me. He was very excited. We went to WatchRecon, and my friend said, “This is what I used to do my research.” I told him I ran the site.
That was your “a-ha” moment.
Yes. It was fun to see it was useful to other people.
What kind of traffic do you get today?
It depends how you count. Probably around 120,000 hits a day, which is mind-boggling.
You mentioned WatchUSeek and TimeZone. What criteria do you use to select a forum, and how many are you currently curating?
We have a dozen or so right now. The site has to be reputable. I’m looking for forums that have decent traffic.
All over the world?
English-only sites now, but we get traffic from all over the world. But I couldn’t handle all the requests I get; I don’t have the bandwidth. More international sites want to be on WatchRecon. That’s something I’m planning, but some aren’t [in] English, which presents challenges.
I know you collect. How do you look at these watches all day and not buy them?
[Laughs] It’s hard! When I first put the site up, I had probably seven watches. It’s hard to maintain discipline. Right now I have 17 or 18, which I feel is relatively under control.
Most and least expensive in your collection?
Most expensive is a Panerai 235. The least? I have a bunch of vintage Seikos that I like. That’s my recent passion — Seiko 6139s and 6138s. If you look at the WatchRecon Instagram account, you’ll see that I post those things all the time.
Are there NOS Seikos around? Or did everyone beat the hell out of them?
They’re around. No one sells them. [People] post them and say “these are awesome,” but no one sells them.
What else do you have?
A few IWCs. I gave my girlfriend a Portuguese Chronograph — fantastic, almost too nice to wear. I have a few Omegas. Seamaster 176, moon watch and 2254 Seamaster. I’d like to get a Datograph.
Last watch you saw on WatchRecon that you wanted but didn’t buy?
I’d like to have a Heuer Autavia Viceroy.
You don’t make a dime off WatchRecon, is that right?
Nope, no monetization. People say, “There’s nothing that indicates any revenue here. What’s the catch?” I made it for me.
That’s un-American! What would Trump say?
[Laughs] He’d say I’m a loser. My girlfriend is a banker, so she always looks at me like, “What are you doing?” People offer to buy the site. The proposals I’ve thought about compromise the user experience more than I’d like. So right now I’m not in a hurry. I’m not reselling it — I’m having fun with it.
Images ©: Header; WatchRecon.