An Interview With Ryan Chong, Head of Watch Operations at Bezel

An Interview With Ryan Chong, Head of Watch Operations at Bezel

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ryan Chong, Head of Watch Operations at Bezel: a leading online marketplace for authenticated luxury watches. Ryan has a strong traditional background in watches having worked at esteemed auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s for a combined 6+ years. Today, he oversees all watch-related tasks at Bezel, and as you’ll find out, his role requires some serious expertise across multiple disciplines. After covering his background, Ryan and I talk about Bezel’s in-house authentication, collecting trends over the years, issues with watch media, and much, much more.

This interview is sponsored by Bezel. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Ryan’s Background

Skyler: I’m curious about your background and how it has informed your role at Bezel. After studying Art History and Economics at Occidental, you got an internship at Christie's in San Francisco. A few months later, you took a position at the Christie's Watch Department in New York, hoping to eventually work in the Old Masters department. Instead, you fell in love with watches, working alongside the most knowledgeable people in the industry: Rebecca Ross, John Reardon, Eric Wind. 

With your knowledge of fine art, specifically Renaissance paintings, what's something that surprised you about the watch world as it pertains to scholarship, presentation at auction, that kind of thing? 

Ryan: There was almost nothing that I knew about watches other than appreciating them from a distance, aesthetically, prior to joining the Watch Department. When I started to understand that, from a scholarship perspective, watches have the same kind of provenance, rarity, and condition that contribute to their value and perception amongst collectors. . . that was not a leap for me to understand. I guess I just never really thought about them in that way until I was up close and personal with them. 

From a craftsman perspective, I never cared to think about what went into making a watch, especially in the early 20th century before CAD and all the tools that we have today. Understanding them from that perspective and appreciating them in that way is, again, very similar to art. 

From Auction to Bezel

Skyler: Going from centuries-old auction houses to a tech startup is a big shift. Now that you've spent a good amount of time in both settings, what's something from your auction house experience that you took with you to Bezel? 

Ryan: The biggest thing that I took with me was the up-close knowledge that I was able to gain from working with the best watches in the world at both Christie's and Sotheby’s. . . the knowledge that was imparted upon me by all of those people you mentioned and many, many more. Also the network outside of the auction houses: whether it's dealers, private collectors, or whoever else. . . That [network] is essential and really, really crucial to how Bezel is built today and where we're at within the ecosystem of being a watch reseller. 

Skyler: On the flip side, what's something that you were ready to be done with/leave at the auction houses? 

Ryan: I can't denigrate the auction houses too much because really that was the jumping off point for my career and I wouldn't be where I am without them. . . The things that frustrated me when I was at the auction houses were the bureaucracy of them and the very slow-moving pace, kind of mirroring the watch industry as a whole.

At Christie's, we started online auctions in roughly 2015. . . just prior to me joining. When I was there, we were trying to scale them up. We were trying to make people more comfortable purchasing watches without seeing them in person. At Sotheby’s, that was taken a step further with the Sotheby’s Marketplace that was being built out. I was tasked with running that as well as the private sales, which was a more traditional approach to selling watches within an auction house.

The seed was planted in my mind that, yes, this is the way to scale up sales of watches, if it can be done in a proper fashion. I think we were close [at Sotheby’s], but we didn't have the proximity to a technological team of engineers, designers, and everyone that we have at Bezel.

Bezel Authentication

Skyler: You know better than anyone that watch authentication comes with a unique set of challenges. That's where I feel that Bezel shines, taking that technical work out of the hands of consumers. How big is the authentication team and how much of your time is actually spent with a loupe looking at watches as opposed to speaking with clients?

Ryan: The authentication team is close to 10 people now. It consists of watchmakers, authentication specialists who have similar backgrounds to me, and also people with less specialized knowledge that are able to speak to customers, whether it's during the sale process or communicating issues. . . in a ‘big tech’ sense they're almost like product managers. So that's how the authentication team is structured. 

My day. . . I wish it was spent more with a loupe because that's really what made me fall in love with watches and what I enjoy doing. I think back to when I was at Christie's and John Reardon would always say to me, “man I just wish I was a cataloger again instead of Head of International Watches,”. I could never understand what he was trying to get across at that time, but now I kind of understand it. I’m not likening my job to being the Head of Christie's, but it is much more of a management role that I find myself in. We have this team of people that are really great at what they do. . .  heads down authenticating watches every single day when they come in, whether it's an order from the marketplace or an auction. The process is the same for both. 

The majority of my day is spent managing which watches are coming into the auction flow, which sellers do we want to bring on board. . . which sellers are unhappy, what do we need to do to make their lives easier. On the client side, I’ve built up a book of clients over the years working at those auction houses. Those clients call me on a day-to-day basis and we speak about the market, what they’re looking to buy or sell. . .

That's all to say I get pulled further and further away from the actual watches, which is fine, I understand how it goes, but I now understand what John [Reardon] meant when he said ‘I wish I could be a cataloger again’.

Skyler: I heard the story about the watch stolen by this incredibly theatrical crime syndicate with motorcycle helmets and samurai swords. What is the closest equivalent in terms of craziness that was just about a watch? I'm sure there are plenty of super clones, interesting Franken-watches, strange stuff that comes through [Bezel authentication].

Ryan: That's a good question. I don't know if anything would match the theatrical nature of that heist. 

This is an issue we see more and more often. . . wiped cards. For Rolex watches, the Asian market especially prioritizes those watches that are freshest to market. A May 2024 watch with a card dated then will carry a premium to one that is from February of [2024]. . .

A handful of unscrupulous [dealers] will use a chemical to wipe the date of the card. For a May 2022, it’s as easy as wiping out that last digit – the two – and writing in a four. Now you have a 2024 fresh-dated Datejust, Daytona, Submariner, whatever it may be. 

So there is a way that we know how to check for that. This doesn't happen on a day-to-day basis but it happens fairly regularly: we have a watch with a card that is now post-dated to a fresh date. Typically when we have buyers that purchase those watches, they're expecting the majority of the five year warranty. They paid a premium for that fresh date. The problem with these cards is that they void the warranty because it's no longer the correct date. It's been tampered with. The buyer is paying a premium for something that should be less money. 

One of my tasks in the day-to-day operations is liaising with dealers to explain why something isn't passing our authentication. It's kind of incredible that a lot of dealers are not even aware of this happening or how to check for it. That's something that, if it was more widely known, I think people would have their jaws drop. . . that’s something we pride ourselves on: finding those minute details.

It's a shame because it ruins a perfectly good watch. If [buyers] are indexing by the length of the warranty, there are alternate methods that we can supplement that with: our own warranty, our functional inspection. . .  it just sucks that dealers are so lazy that they'll be like, ‘OK let me make this a 2024 and now I can make more money’. 

The Language of Listings

Skyler: I've heard you talk about the language used to describe watches and how it differs amongst sellers. A seller on 47th Street, for example, will likely use less formal language than a traditional auction house. At Bezel, you’re selling to first-time watch buyers and lifelong collectors alike. How have you and the team approached the language used to describe listings?

Ryan: That's a really insightful question because we want to land somewhere between 47th Street where you might hear something referred to as ‘mint’ or ‘a slider’. . .  and an auction house where every watch is titled ‘a rare and important Rolex Submariner from 2023’, and it’s like, okay cool, they produced a ton of those. Obviously they are trying to do their job and sell it for the consigner. 

We aim to be somewhere down the middle with language that everyone can understand, it's direct and to the point, it’s professional, but it's not so in the weeds or hard to understand for someone who, like you said, might be buying their first watch. That’s the goal and I think that we do a pretty good job of that. But there are areas of improvement. 

We started out with a condition scale of ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘excellent’, and ‘unworn’. About a year ago, we switched to just ‘unworn’ and ‘pre-owned’, listing specifics that describe the pre-owned watches. . . It's too subjective to describe a watch as ‘excellent’ versus ‘great’. Simplifying that scale was something that we internally looked at and said, ‘OK, this is working fine, but how can we make it better?’.

Skyler: And then the Bezel concierge team is there to answer any clarifying questions. You can just ask a human being.

Ryan: Yeah. And our job isn't easy because – and I'm not trying to make excuses – but the watches aren't in our possession. We do the best that we can to translate what a seller may describe something as in what we'll call ‘47th Street Language’ to what we see in the pictures and blending those two. Then as you mentioned, once we actually have the watch in hand, the concierge team does a really good job of describing that verbally, if needed, in further detail. 

Watch Media + Bezel Editorial

Skyler: I am curious about the editorial side of Bezel. I think we’re in a very interesting time when it comes to watch media. I've heard you talk about Bezel's approach to inform consumers through editorial content on the same platform that they can actually buy the watches. I think this one-stop-shop approach works well for Bezel because, as a marketplace, you guys offer so many brands.

What's something that you think watch media at large could do a better job of in terms of covering watches, releases, auctions? 

Ryan: I think that’s a really good question. . . These questions affect not just someone like you or me who understand watches, understand reference numbers, understand the histories of these watch brands, but also people who, like you said, may be buying their first watch. . . These articles are trying to cater to the entirety of that spectrum.

The one thing that is really easy to point out that we often get sick of within the watch space is the biased approach to discussing new releases or discussing certain models, whether it's to appease the brand or in hopes of selling that particular watch. That's one thing that I wish there was less of.

I wish there was more, ‘this is my opinion of a watch,’. I think we have some really good content creators and bloggers in the space that do that. The other thing that I love, which I wish there was more of, are very deep-dive educational articles. And again, those might not be for the first-time watch buyer, but I would say that most people within the Bezel office, if not all of them, love to learn at the deepest possible level about something and apply that to their understanding of watches. . . So those are the two things that I would like to see, and I think we are probably moving in that direction, which is great. 

The approach that we take at Bezel is kind of somewhere down the middle because we're a secondary market seller, so we have a unique position already. We're not reporting on brands’ new releases directly or anything like that. So for us, we try to be much more factual. Last year, we released the Bezel Report which was a summation of data that we were able to gather as a marketplace: which brands sell the best, what is the average price point that we're selling these watches at across different models. . . unique insights that [any given] watch magazine doesn’t have because they don't have firsthand transactions that they can gather data from. 

We also have our Come Collect series which focuses on the lesser-known people within the watch world who you might not know even appreciate watches or collect watches. What's really cool is that it opens up the watch world for those in it and outside of it to say, ‘okay, it's very easy for me to collect watches; I don't have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars’. . . The more broad of a spectrum that can be shown for collectors is very healthy for the entire ecosystem.

Watch Collecting Trends, Past and Future

Skyler: From my perspective as someone who's been in the watch world for just a couple years, your nine years of experience feels like a very long time, but obviously in the grand scheme of things, you're a young guy and I imagine you're often the youngest in the room, especially when you were at the auction houses. What's a collecting trend in the watch world that you've seen develop since you've been in it?

Ryan: There are a ton of answers I could give because when I entered the watch world at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, it was pre-hype, before looking at watches as investment vehicles. . . it was much more of a collector-based thing. Every auction brought the same 25 guys: dealers and individual collectors. And to that point, it's not just guys anymore, but women as well, which is great. 

Those trends happened and I think they can be drawn back to the Instagram effect, whether for an investment vehicle or hype pieces that popped up. Those are the biggest changes that I've seen. We’ve seen that hype subside from early 2022 to now. . . It's fun because there's always a new set of problems to solve. And I say that very loosely because we're talking about watches here not ending war or famine or anything like that. There's always a new set of challenges that pop up and those are fun to deal with, whether it's clients, whether it's dealers, whatever it is.

Skyler: What's a trend or collecting interest that we might see down the line? 

Ryan: I think one trend we'll probably see in the future – and being at Bezel, we're trying to drive this change – is increased transparency, increased purchasing of watches online. How can we make that experience replicate an in-person experience as much as possible? Those are the trends that we're working towards and hopefully we can be a big part of that. 

Skyler: I'm very much interested in more obscure vintage watches. I feel like they’re popular amongst younger collectors. Do you recognize that trend as well, and if so, do you see it continuing or increasing?

Ryan: I think there is almost like a clear level system to collecting that I've seen. . . People enter the watch space through, let’s call them the modern hype watches. They say, ‘Oh, I’d love to own a Rolex Submariner. . . a modern one with a ceramic bezel’. . . Everyone is afflicted with the same issue where they get their first watch and they want their second one immediately. So then you're looking for your next watch. 

Those who are maybe a bit more advanced or diligent in the process are already looking towards vintage watches. So they start to explore those. They become more comfortable with purchasing one. Then that chain of [purchases] takes effect where they’ve bought the modern watch, they buy a vintage watch, they buy more vintage watches, they buy a more expensive vintage watch. Maybe they come back to a modern watch at that point because they feel like they’ve filled out the vintage part of their collection. 

Where that chain gets broken is if they get screwed over by a vintage watch not being 100% authentic or not being sold to them in full transparency. Or if they buy a modern watch and the price drops by 50%. They fall away from the hobby completely. There are a few things that can happen along that chain that may affect where someone ends up. . . That's what I see happen at least. 

Vintage Watches on Bezel

Skyler: I've heard you talk about vintage watches coming to Bezel at some point. Do you have any word on that? 

Ryan: We'd absolutely love to do that at scale. The issue with doing it at scale is the authentication efficiency is so much less. . . For us to maintain the level of authentication that we do with modern watches, it'd be very hard to authenticate vintage watches at scale. We do [sell vintage watches] on a case by case basis where someone says, ‘I'm looking for a 6265 Big Red Daytona,’ we’ll go out and find one, give them a full authentication report, give them a full condition description. . . But yeah, we would love to do that at scale. I think there's a long way to go before we're able to.

Skyler: Well that’s all my questions. Who do you think is going to win the NBA Finals?

Ryan: If I had to place money on it, I’d say the Celtics. . .

He was right.


I’d like to thank Ryan for sitting down and chatting with me. I certainly learned a lot and I hope you did as well. It’s been a treat to watch Bezel evolve since its inception in 2021 and I’m excited to see where the platform goes from here. 

If you’re interested in the Bezel Report, mentioned earlier by Ryan, you can find it here. The Come Collect series can also be found on the Bezel Journal. For more info on Bezel, go ahead and install the app, or simply visit them at

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