It may strike readers as somewhat sly for an employee of a luxury watch store to write an article talking about the “competition.” I hope that by the end of this blog entry it will be obvious that I have no tricks hidden up my sleeve. I merely want to emphasize to watch enthusiasts that there are many excellent destinations in Canada to find that perfect timepiece or to improve a collection without having to look beyond the border. As the largest city, it is not hard to see why Toronto has the most stores, but all Canadian cities have their share of boutiques. Most of my watch store visits happened in Montreal, as that is my hometown, so the stores of La Métropole will be described in more detail. This does not imply that I don’t value the remaining Canadian retailers just as much and I hope that Canadian readers will share info regarding their local authorized watch dealer in the comments.
Every major city in Canada has at least one power house store, equipped with all the biggest brands like Rolex and Cartier. In Montreal this store is Chateau D’Ivoire. It is perhaps the oldest store in the city to specialize primarily in luxury watches and was the only one for many years. This probably explains how they were able to amass their collection of brands that not only includes Rolex and Cartier, but almost all of the aggressively marketed horological brands of the Richemont Group (the newly acquired Roger Dubuis is the only one missing). The boutique offers a dizzying display of mainstream brands and is definitely worth a visit. Just up the street is the local Patek Philippe dealer. Kawfman de Suisse Jewellers, which also carries Bucherer. The boutique offers that old-time, white-glove luxury experience. Don’t be fooled by the traditional decor and expensive products, however. On all my visits I have received a warm welcome and was attended to generously.
For enthusiasts of up-and-coming and lesser known luxury brands, the Matt Baily boutique provides. It is located in Downtown Montreal, at the heart of many of the summer festivities. The small space of the store is simply, yet luxuriously designed and filled with some of the hottest brands. Matt Baily always searches for watches that are ready to burst in popularity and this explains why he was the first to bring in brands such as Bell & Ross and U-Boat to Canada. The staff of the watch department really know their stuff (toot toot!), and a talk with any of them will prove this. The Baily Blog, an online journal for the employees of Matt Baily to showcase new models and current events about the industry is further indication that these are knowledgeable watch enthusiasts. Matt Baily also offers the ability to trade-in your watch towards the purchase of another. This amounts to a pretty nice collection of pre-owned watches, which are offered with a one-year in-store warranty. Speaking of certified pre-owned watches, a visit to Timeless Watches is always a good stop for those who appreciate the advantages of pre-loved timepieces. The store is also an authorized dealer of Welder and TW Steel, but it is their used pieces and enthusiasm for collectible watches that make this small boutique a great place to visit.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Montreal, several luxury stores serve the suburbs. Bijouterie Italienne and Créations Paul H. offer big names like Rolex and Bretling to the citizens of the East End of Montreal. A large community of Italians, a populous renowned for their love for luxury watches, probably explains the presence of these two stores within a few blocks of each-other. To the North of the Island of Montreal, the Carefour Laval shopping mall houses a couple of other luxury watch stores including the Pan-Canadian chain, LaSwiss.
In my view, LaSwiss is in a very fortunate predicament. This is because they are the exclusive authorized dealers of one of my all-time favourite watch brands, Audemars Piguet. Other than the infamous AP, the LaSwiss boutiques carry many brands. These include companies like the fantastic Parmigiani and the pervasive Breitling. The lineup varies from location to location. I’ve visited their newly built store on Ste.Catherine street several times to take a look at their stock of APs. Occasionally I found myself conversing with the manager or their in-house watchmaker. The strongest concentration of LaSwiss stores is, unsurprisingly, Southern Ontario.
I have never been to Toronto long enough to visit watch stores, but the largest market for luxury watches in Canada surely demands some pretty special retailers and so I have heard many accounts of the GTA’s watch boutiques. The Toronto boutique that most fascinates me and first on my list of stores to visit is Louis Black. Its intrigue is due to the extremely high-end nature of its brands. When I imagine what Frank Muller, Jaquet Droz, Richard Mille, DeGrisgono, F.P Journe, Antoine Preziuso, Urwerk, and Roger Dubuis must look lik under the same roof of a store not much bigger than my bedroom I get visions of Las Vegas and my mouth waters. Several stores serve the mainstream brands. Royal de Versailles strikes me as the big boy, resembling a branch of Tourneau. Some of the underdogs that come to mind are Cupido and L’Oro, which deal with cool brands such as Alpina, Ernst Benz, and Ball.
After Toronto there is no need to skip all the way to Calgary to find the next excellent luxury watch store. Abraham Jewellers, located in Windsor, carries a few cool brands including the big and bold U-Boat watches. The store seems to be more deeply rooted in diamond jewellery than in luxury watches, but after some talks with George, the owner, his passion for watches is obvious. Winnipeg has its share of luxury watch stores. Independent is the local Rolex dealer, so as can be expected, some of the other big names like Tag and Mont Blanc can be found there as well. Dimitra’s Jewellers is another of the few authorized dealers of U-Boat watches in Canada and is a must-see shop when visiting the Peg.
With the economic upswing of Alberta in the past decade or so, it is not hard to see why some of the country’s most important stores are located here. Calgary Jewelers has a stacked lineup including Bell & Ross, Hublot, and Jeager LeCoultre. A spacious and elegant boutique displays the watches. Brinkhaus is the Winnipeg dealer of big brands including Rolex and Patek. A second Brinkhaus store is located in Vancouver, but before we move to Vancity, lets jump to Edmonton, where you can find Swedish Jewellers. Its imposing facade leads to an impressive showroom and collection of luxury watches. I had the pleasure of meeting Al, the second generation owner of this family business, at Baselworld 2010 and it is clear that he knows his watches and is passionate about his products. I can only imagine that his staff share the same attitude.
Palladio is a name commonly linked to Vancouver. It is one of only three retailers in Canada to be authorized to sell Panerai watches and offers several other important brands as well. A boutique offering less mainstream brands in Vancouver is Rodeo Jewellers at the Oakridge Centre. As every other major city in Canada, Vancouver luxury watches can also be found at upscale boutiques who are not primarily specialized in horology. Birks is one. The storied jewellery store is an important dealer of Omega and Cartier watches and even has its own brand of timepieces. Chances are high that all Canadians who love high-end fashion have shopped at a Holts Renfrew at one point or another. Since a couple of years ago, this Quebec-born department store has offered Bell & Ross watches at some of their locations across Canada. The problem with these big stores tends to be the lack of knowledge on the part of staff. I have heard occasional reports of sales personnel being caught not knowing the difference between quartz and mechanical movements.
It is estimated that the Canadian market for luxury watches is equivalent to about five percent of the US market. Having dealt with hundreds of Canadian luxury watch aficionados over five years, I can tell that this market is growing. Luckily Canada has some beautiful boutiques that specialize in high-end watches, and who’s managers and owners are just as excited to bring in new watches into Canada as the Canadian public is to see them.
Many authorized Canadian watch retailers have been left out of this article, but not on purpose. Please share what you know about your local AD in the comments below.
Marco is a watch specialist at Matt Baily in Montreal.