Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jesse Gee Talks Stewart Unger, Master Watch Collector

Words by Jesse Gee, curator
Photographs by Ken Francis

I first met Stewart Unger in 1974 or 75. When we work at things for a long time Life becomes a blurrrrrr.

I was the manager of Gindi 816 Madison Ave @ 68th street. I was the President of the Madison Ave Block Association Merchants and a Maditude (Maidison Ave -retail attitude) person. Ha-ha

Stewart was at a metting wearing a vintage watch that I admired and the next day he showed up with a box of rebuilt American vintage watches (Hamilton-Bulova_Waltham-Ect). Bob Gindi had three stores and all three featured the top accessories designers of the 1970's. Bob was a brillant merchadiser but never paid his bills so that combo made for an interesting week.

Stewart and I made an arraingment so that he could get paid as the watches sold and the rest is history. He was a great vendor and his smooth low key manner got us through a very stressful Gindi experience. I used to call it Bobbyitis.

Years later in the 1980s I ran in Stewie and I told him I had an inevitable fight with Bob Gindi (of course) and opened up
J. Antonio in the West Village at 39 Christopher Street, New York. I asked him for some watches and he told me Bobby told him not to sell any watches to me. He also mentioned he was going to open his own place on Madison Ave and if I needed a job, to call. " Your the best watch seller I have ever met."

Years later in 1990, Jose Antonio had died and I moved to Seattle Washington and opened THE WATCH DOCTOR 711 on Thrid Ave. I later Graduated from The National Association of Watch and Clock collectors in Pennsylvania and moved back to New York in 1997.

That same year while strolling down Madison Ave I found TIME WILL TELL. I walked in and Stewart recognized me immediatly. I found out Gindi had died and Stewart had hired some of my ex coworkers to work with him, "Gindi-ites," like Gary & Cecil.

He offered me a job and I set out to sell more time pieces than he could stock. I told him that one of the books I had studied and bought in Seattle, was AMERICAN WRISTWATCHES, a book he himself Stewart Unger, had authored. I got him to autograph a bunch of them for fellow watch students in Pennsylvania.

I left TIME WILL TELL when Mr. Hayak needed me to open his SWATCH flagship store in 1998 on 57th street and Fifth Ave. I told Stewart I was going to be "DR. SWATCH," the person in charge of telling customers, and tourists why the watch they were looking at was so special and that Swatch actually stood for Second Watch!

Stewie laughed upraorously and said "Good Luck." He thought I was nuts for leaving.

I Lasted as Dr. Swatch for a few months because I got the opportunity to open my own place again in 1999 :
Galleria J.Antonio at 47 Ave A, and every once in a while I would hear a thing or two about Stewart.

May 2009 many many moons after 1974 this perky Stacy Hoover , a beautiful blond with a sweet southern accent walked into Galleria J. Antonio without an appointment and tells me she is the representative for a vintage clock line I have had for years. I placed an order and then she pulled out the Bakalite TIME WILL TELL watch line . I said "don't tell me this is your own designs that you came up with in New Orleans!"


She explained Stewart Unger had died and she bought the rights to the line.

Thus----this playful , colorfull collection of watches that Stewart Unger gave birth to are now in the window of Galleria J. Antonio, 47 Avenue A.


Its funny to tell people that they are bakelite. I pull them out to show a client and say " Lets see how old you are ? Theses are bakealite. I either get a internet stare or a gleefull, "They Are!!!!!!!!!!!"


Thank you Stacy (kiss-kiss) for bringing Stewart's look to my watch counter, it was a welcome addition to the lines that we carry here at Galleria J. Antonio. I still do overhauls and general watch repair besides represent all the crafters in the store.

No wonder I still have dishes in the sink at home !!!! oh Vey !!!!!!

-Jesse Gee

1 comment:

  1. ooh! What a great story! Walking into your store, how could a newbie know that you are Mr. Watch! (I mean, the watches are there, and they are beautiful, but... lots of places sell watches -- it is a completely different thing to buy a watch from someone who knows watches.

    I loved every minute of my visit to your store. Every piece on display was fabulous. As I was leaving, I saw the bakelite watches, and I asked myself, "Are those bakelite watches?" -- oh! I'm giving away my age! Seeing your blog has solved the question. Must have! They are very very nice!