At WatchPaper, we believe that when it comes to buying a timepiece, you have to look beyond the immediate price tag, and what can be safer and more stimulating than acquiring a high-end watch from a knowledgeable authorized dealer (AD). TimeCaptain already blogged about it, he calls it the girlfriend experience, where your watch shopping experience reaches a completely new level thanks to a well-rounded AD who is there to guide you if need it, or help you get your hands on a rare grail.
Through a new series of articles, called “Meet your AD”, we will present you the background stories of watch retailers who we think can upgrade your watch shopping game. Let’s start with Bijouterie Dominic, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, in Montreal’s Little Italy. TimeCaptain, who bought there a MeisterSinger No.1, already wrote abut his shopping experience, but what makes Bijouterie Dominic an exceptional place for buying a watch is grounded in their history. It’s a fascinating story that I discovered over several meeting with Marco Cantiani, the owner of the store.
I met Marco and his wife, Francine last year, at the International Bromont where Longines was the main sponsor. We were at the same table and of course, we were talking about watches in general and about his business, in particular. This is when I learned that Marco is also a watchmaker, and he learned the craft from his father, who was also the son of a watchmaker.
WP: Where should we start?
The story of how we got into the business is very simple, my grandfather was a watchmaker in Rome. His sons got into the trade too, my father and his four brothers all got into watchmaking, they all had their own shops, jewelry stores, and repair shops. They all learned that.
My father had his store in a section of Rome called Porta Maggiore and he left the store to my grandfather and he came to Canada in search of adventure. He didn’t come because of economic reasons, he really loves to travel, he went to Australia, he lived there for a while, he worked for a famous watchmaker, and then he thought that he would come to Canada, stay for a few years and then move back. He met my Mom here, they married and the rest is history.
He started off by working for other jewelers and later he sets up his first location, called Bijouterie Leda. It was a small basement shop on Jean-Talon near Iberville. Later, he got the opportunity to move to the area here (Little Italy), and he opened the store on Saint-Dominic, corner with Dante, where is now the Pizzeria Gema. That was our first location from 1961 to 1972. In 1973, he moved here, he bought the building and we are here since 42 years in this exact location. Of course, the store went through several renovations, first, when we moved in, the second one was in 1991, the third incarnation was in 2006 and what you see now was installed in December of 2014.
Is his name Dominic?
His name is Vittorio, everybody calls him Dominic and funny enough, these days, people call me Dominic, because of the name Bijouterie Dominic, but the name is because the store was on Saint-Dominic Street, we just kept the name after we moved.
We have been in jewelry and watches, and really watches are our forte because not many jewelry stores have the watchmaking expertise like we have.
Does that mean that if customers would bring in watches, do you do any work on them yourselves?
Yes, either myself or my father. We work on site, some of the things, though, we send them out. If it’s under warranty, if it’s a minor repair, we don’t bother sending it out, if you can get your watch back in 20 minutes, why wait for weeks.
I suppose, you grew up here… When did you start hanging out here?
I grew up here, for sure. I first started coming here, probably when I was three-years-old. When I was a kid, I didn’t go to daycare, this was my daycare. I was here with my Mother, with my Father and I would be in the back-office doing my own things. During the school years, I would come here on Saturdays, and during summers, I would often come here. I always had a passion for it, I would always stand by my father when he was at his workbench and I would observe him do his watchmaking: taking apart watches, cleaning, lubricating, calibrating, etc.
The biggest kick I would have, when the salesman would come and bring the samples, the way it was done before, now everything is done through catalogs, and when they would spread out all the samples on the counter, I would be like a kid in the candy store.
My passion started at a very young age. I was probably five or six-years-old when I took apart the first watch, an old beater that my Father would give me to play with. Obviously, I wasn’t doing anything, I was just playing. Other kids were playing with a ball, I was playing with watches.
When did you sell your first watch?
I’m not exactly sure, but I have to assume that I was around 12 years-old. I was always here and from seventh-grade onwards, I would finish school on Friday, I would take a bus to come here to close the store with my parents and then, I would be here serving customers just about every Saturday. My knowledge was obviously less and of course, I was not selling the more complicated watches.
Then you went on to study watchmaking…
Yes, at the Institute de horologerie de Montréal, a school that existed since the 1950’s. Now, the school is closed, I was among their last students. I also did my post-secondary studies at Concordia, but for me, the best teacher in the world was my Father. He is now 87 years old, he’s not here today, but he still works the workbench. He repaired his first watch at the age of 14 and he learned it from my grandfather. He would do watchmaking, back in Italy, during WWII when parts were not available. There was nothing coming in or out of the country and they had to make their own parts. I feel really fortunate to have access to his wealth of knowledge.
How do you see the future? Will it be here?
I see it here, exactly! What I would like to see, for which I think we are on the track, is to reinvent the store for the future. The renovation, the partnership with the brands we carry, that we executed a year ago and it was two years in the making, prior to that. It is about creating an ambiance, offering an experience to the customer that makes them comfortable, that is luxurious but without being pretentious.
For us, it’s also important to have a strong relationship with the brands because we are not the type of dealer that would introduce a brand, but then, they would not service it. For example, somebody comes in and they want an Omega watch, and they have a good choice on place, it’s not like, “oh, I have to order this from catalog”. It might happen, but we do have a wide selection and if you look at the Longines, the Rado, with all our brands, we try to have a deep representation in order to give the best possible experience to the customer.
In the future, we are planning to add other brands that we find that would give a great value to the customer and as you see with the Zenith watch, it is the next step in our evolution.
We are looking to be the store that offers products for the upper echelon of consumers, yet still not forgetting that they are not the only people to whom we cater to. If you come in and you want to buy a $200 Tissot, we will give you the same exact experience and service as to someone who would buy a $15,000 Omega or a solid gold Zenith Chronomaster at $28,000. We want to give a personalized experience to everyone who comes through our doors, so that they feel good about their purchase because I think, it is just as important as the actual purchase itself.
When a new customer buys something, I don’t think of it just as a single purchase, to me, it’s the start of a relationship.
I think last time, when you were here, TimeCaptain made that comment that he noticed that we were giving just as much attention to the person with a $6 battery change as to the client who bought three watches. Why? Because we try to keep those bonds with customers strong, we give them the best possible service at a fair price. It’s the only way to last in this business for so many years. At least that’s how my father taught me to do things. Treat the customers well. Make them understand that they are getting value for what they are purchasing. When a new customer buys something, I don’t think of it just as a single purchase, to me, it’s the start of a relationship.
On a personal level, I also like the fact that I get to work with my family. It’s a family business, and I enjoy being with my wife here. I enjoy being here with my brother and my father, I can learn something from him every day.
The last time, I’ve visited Bijouterie Dominic was about two months ago, and Marco was really excited to break the news, they’ve become authorized retailers for Zenith, the only ones in the province of Quebec. Until the late 70’s, they were not only authorized retailers but also an authorized service center for Zenith. This came to an abrupt end when Zenith Electronics Corporation claimed the brand name, and Zenith, the watchmaker, withdrew from the North American market. It took Marco more than 5 years, but his effort paid off and he will soon unveil a Zenith shop-in-shop using a new concept, a first in North-America.
Besides Zenith, they are also AD for Omega, Longines, U-Boat, Rado, Meistersinger, Tissot and Gucci. When it comes to jewelry, they carry Chimento, Zoccai, Tacori, Pesavento, as well as an extensive selection of 18KT gold imported from Italy.
Next time, you’re in Montreal’s Little Italy, make sure to visit Bijouterie Dominic (6810 Boul. St-Laurent).
Let me finish by sharing with you a few mindblowing pieces from the Cantiani family’s personal collection.