Shimon Blinker // Chutzpah Watches

I interviewed Shimon Blinker recently, but I held off on publishing the interview until now. Shimon is a watch reseller and earns several million dollars a year in profit from selling watches. However, Shimon is unique, as you will soon see.
If you could picture a watch seller who sells high-end Rolex, Piguet, Omega, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Panerai watches, you would assume that the person would wax poetic about the beauty and value in purchasing a high-end watch. Not Shimon. In fact, quite surprisingly, he is not shy of poking fun at people who spend a small fortune on a watch, including his own clients.
He will openly admit that many high-end watches are overpriced and will admonish customers to rather spend their money on tzedakah. Additionally, he is brash and not afraid to speak his mind on a variety of topics. Yet, he sells several hundred watches a year, with some of his pieces going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The secondhand market for high-end watches is valued at $7 billion annually.
I was curious to pick Shimon’s brain on how this extreme honesty translates into business.
As we approach the Yom Tov of Purim and celebrate the concept of “V’nahafoch Hu,” I felt now is the time to feature Shimon, who is more than happy to turn the watch industry on its head. Enjoy!

was born in a heimishe home in Israel, and both of my grandparents are from Europe. My father was a shoemaker and fixed watches as well. I’m not sure about the connection between fixing shoes and fixing watches, but from time to time I still see small shops in New York that do both; I guess they are both jobs for the handy.
“I learned how to fix watches from my father, but in an interesting way. My father bought me a new watch, opened the back, took out some of the gears and told me to put it back together. It took me three months, but I did it.
“My mother was a stay-at-home housewife, as I am one of 17 children. I am the ninth child, so I either tell people I’m ninth to oldest or ninth to youngest depending on my mood.
“I was a big masmid when I was a teenager and finished half of Shas by the age of 16. It was nice, but then bachurim started asking me questions on random masechtos because they assumed I knew them all, which of course I did not. I used to tell people that I didn’t know the answer to their question because I learned the other half of Shas. That’s why today, I learn Daf Yomi three times a day, but more on that later.
“My family moved to America when I was 17 years old, but I knew English well at that point. Here is what I did. I hung up a sign in the Mir that said, ‘Israeli young talmid chacham (finished half of Shas) looking for American chavrusa with the goal of learning English and will teach Hebrew as well.’
“It worked, and one of the rebbeim in Mir called me. I can’t share his name publicly; today he has a large shiur. We started learning, and at first I sounded like a real fool, but eventually I learned how to speak English. I’m not sure how much Hebrew he picked up.
“I came to America and settled in New York. I got married at age 21, and for my wedding I got what today’s chasanim would consider to be a strange and outdated gift: a gold watch. I actually wanted a stainless steel watch, but when I saw a gold watch that was the same price as the watch I wanted (a different type of Movado), I realized that although I’ll probably buy myself a stainless steel watch in the future, I would never buy myself a gold watch. Fun fact: years later I got myself the Movado for a few hundred dollars and the gold watch is worth way more.
“All my life I’ve been a practical joker. One of my favorite moves is asking people what time it is when they are holding a coffee in their hand—they will often turn their hand to see the time and spill the coffee. Epic. I pulled this trick on my rebbi in tenth grade so often that he finally started wearing his watch on his other wrist so he wouldn’t fall for it again.
“I’m not proud of the first watch I sold. It was my father’s and had belonged to my grandfather before him. One day my father was screaming at me that my room was messy and that I didn’t know where all my things were. I was chutzpahdik and responded that it seemed he also couldn’t keep track of all his sefarim and watches, and in fact, if I took one of his watches, he wouldn’t notice for many years. He said he would notice right away.

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