Nestled in the bustle of Grand Central Station is a hole-in-the-wall dedicated to the one thing that New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of – time. Grand Central Watch is a third-generation family business dedicated to the repair, servicing, and restoration of watches. Steve Kivel, the owner, is a family man dedicated to his customers and the legacy built by his father and grandfather.
Finding Grand Central Watch is little like trying to find Narnia. You have to know where to look. First, one must navigate the terminal of the station without getting distracted by the ornate decorations at every glance. There are soaring arches, marble facades, and an impossibly blue ceiling featuring constellations of the night sky. From there, you have to locate Track 38 and head down the long hall. However, you can’t walk too fast because in the sea of people around you, you may miss the window. Yes, there is a cutout on your left surrounded by glass and wood display windows filled with watches. This encompasses the storefront of Grand Central Watch.
For many people watches are a hobby they get into. For Steve, it was a birthright. While we are talking, he reminisces about being a kid and playing in the shop. Like many little kids, the mechanics fascinated him, and he would grab a watch and play with the insides. This started a lifelong love of watches. Though Steve wasn’t sure that he would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps he said, “it’s hard not try your family business.” He wanted to see if “it was something he could embrace,” and that was 30 years ago.
Day in and day out over those 30 years, Steve heads down the windowless hall of Track 38, missing the sun, rain, and beauty New York has to offer. But, to him, it’s worth it. In the cases alongside the customer window there is hundreds of years of history. Mixed together in displays are vintage and modern pieces with pocket watches smattered among them. It is almost like an exhibit. Steve lights up looking at all the different collections and begins to talk more about their unique stories.
This leads him to memories of his customers. The generational element of his business parallels many of the watches they touch. Oftentimes they too get passed down in the families of his customers. Steve tells me about a woman who ran over her father’s OMEGA after he passed away and the full restoration they did. Her reaction? Tearful when the watch looked just as she remembered. He loves these stories and could fill many pages with them.
As Grand Central Watch grew and evolved so did their space needs. Now, in the upper floors of the station they have a small space that is a stark contrast to their downstairs counter. It is a bright, pristine watch shop where eight watchmakers work on the beloved timepieces of their customers. So now, the downstairs counter largely serves as a transactional area and the face of Grand Central Watch.
Spending the better part of your life among watches will likely lead you to become a collector and Steve is just that. He showed us a few of his favorites from a lifetime of loving watches.
First up is his childhood Los Angeles Rams watch. It is the perfect watch for a 10-year-old kid who is die-hard about his team. Its small, bright yellow, and features a Rams helmet on the dial. The watch is plastic, but its mechanical. His beloved Rams may have spent a stint in St. Louis, but they are back home, and Steve still bleeds yellow and blue.
Another favorite from childhood is his Superman watch. Its bright and bold, with the hero taking flight. Steve now wears it occasionally and on a nylon strap with stripes that mirror the colors on the dial. It has meaning because it came from his parents. It’s a mechanical watch to delight a kid, but as an adult, he still loves it.
As Steve continued to grow in the business he fell in love with Rolex and set out to collect a series of Submariners. His first one was a 5513. He notes the beauty of the matching hand colors and its patina. The watch has the original bezel insert too. He bought it at a show from a man whose father had passed and owned the watch. Steve couldn’t believe the watch was still available and bought it for $1400. He intends to pass it to one of his daughters someday.
He also has a couple of 1680 Submariners. They are from the 1970’s and have the date window. Both of them have a creamy and even patina. One version also has the red writing on the dial. Plus, they both have the original stickers on the back. The green and gold is faded, but the Rolex crown is distinct.
Though it certainly isn’t the last watch in his collection, his Datejust may be one of the most unique. He sold it years ago to a customer and regretted it. Recently, the customer came back in wanting to sell it back. So, Steve reunited with the one that got away. He was told this Datejust has a Buckley dial in a color called “Perch” and with the yellow strap, it’s the perfect watch for Autumn.
Over the thirty years in Grand Central, Steve has met thousands of people and seen thousands of watches. He commutes with the rest of New York in the halls of Grand Central, but unlike them, his stop comes before the terminal. Since 1952, Grand Central has been a fixture at the station. He doesn’t know whether his daughters will want to follow in his footsteps; it remains to be seen. However, it would be wonderful if they were the fourth generation of an incredible legacy.