Watch Gang Review Great Subscription Service, or Great Gimmick?
Updated: Feb 18
Last August 2018, strictly on a whim, and out of pure curiosity, I decided to begin a monthly subscription with the Watch Gang, monthly mystery box, subscription club. Having collected watches for over 25 years, I feel I have a pretty solid understanding of what contributes to the value of watches, and most importantly how the distribution & supply-chain process, manufacturing, and marketing costs can impact the pricing and availability of brands. So when a company touts they can provide quality timepieces to subscribers each month, at a fraction of their actual retail price, it immediately peaks my interest.
My first thought, when I began hearing the industry scuttlebutt about Watch Gang, the service has to be too good to be true. So, as a provision of my subscription, I told my self that I would give the service at least 6-months, to get a wide-ranging overview of the service, and experience the various partner brands that the Watch Gang service makes available to their subscribers.
On the surface, a mystery box subscription service should be appreciated for what it is, an opportunity to be surprised each month with a different selection, nothing more. However, Watch Gang makes a couple bold proclamations, stating that they have created an algorithm that can closely meet your watch wearing preferences each month, and the timepiece you receive will have an actual retail value worth more than your subscription cost, sometimes multiple times more, with monthly subscriptions offered at the following Tier levels: Original - $49.99, Black - $99.99, and Platnium - $299.99. There was also a Centum level, offered to certain select members, for premium, Swiss timepieces each month. Add to this, an additional claim, made by the Watch Gang CEO Matthew Gallagher during a Watch Gang Exchange forum thread, that on the Black Subscription level, a subscriber should expect to receive automatic timepieces at a rate of 33%, about 1 out of 3 on average (6 during an 18 month period). These claims, help to entice more-and-more would-be watch collectors, into buying into the service.
So, what was my personal Watch Gang experience, under the Black Tier Subscription level? My six watches received during my subscription period, are pictured below.
As you can see, the majority of brands I received during my subscription period were from lesser known manufacturers, Melbourne Watch Co, Heritor Watches, Grayton, Szanto, J. Brackett, save the Casio G-Shock at the bottom-right. A major question mark by many Watch Gang members, myself included, is do the watches received, actually meet, or exceed the value of the watch subscription? This question is difficult to answer on the surface, because when working with brands that have little, to no established retail history, there is no tangible information available, as to legitimacy of the suggested retail pricing, so the retail price reported becomes very arbitrary, and in most cases extremely over-inflated. The reality is, you won't find many, if any, watches selling at full retail price these days.
Regarding the percentage of autos claim, the majority of watches that I received under my 6-month subscription period were quartz, versus automatic (4 out of 6), as there was an Out Of Order, Casanova received, and not the Grayton shown, that a 67% delivery rate for quartz, versus 33 % for automatics, so that claim by Watch Gang is true, at least in the case of my particular subscription.
Some of the basic complaints about the Watch Gang service, among the Watch Gang membership, or "Gangsters" as they are commonly referred to, has to do with the lack of matching watch style preferences to the member subscription watches received, recycled subscription watches from previous months, validity of the brand watches being received, and brand saturation bringing down watch value. Watch Gang claims to have an algorithm which will send out a subscription watch that closely matches your listed style preferences. For my particular subscription, Watch Gang did a decent job of matching my style preference, but then again, my collection is primarily sport watches of various genres, dive, racing, pilot, etc., so my preferences would be fairly hard to miss, unless the watch was some sort of dress timepiece. But for some members, the watches they received, versus their set preferences, seem arbitrary at best. The Watch Gang algorithm is also reported to keep track of the brands of watches you've received, during previous subscription months, to prevent receiving recycled timepieces. But there have been more than a few members that have complained of receiving multiple recycled subscription timepieces. In my 6-month experience with the service, happy to report I received no recycles. With over 30,000 reported members, it would be difficult for already established, major watch brands, to meet the monthly subscription demands of the membership. For this reason, it appears that Watch Gang has enlisted the help, and partnership, of watch factories (most likely in China) to crank-out numerous brands, that have no brand lineage. The quality of these pop-up brands, and price-to-value ratio comes into question, especially at the Black Subscription and Platinum Subscription levels. Along with the value conversation, probably one of the biggest complaints about the Watch Gang subscription service, is brand saturation. Obviously, Watch Gang is going to try and secure their best bulk pricing from manufacturers, in order to get their best return-on-investment; that's just smart business. Having an influx of the same watch, hit the Watch Gang exchange market, at roughly the same time, kills any potential resale value. Even worse, Watch Gang is known to offer watches for purchase on their wheel of watches (online sales platform), only to have them sent out as Original tier or Black tier subscription watches soon after, obviously impacting the potential resale value for those that purchased their watches off the wheel. I don't spin the wheel, so I've never had this latter scenario impact me, but it is a valid complaint voiced by other members.
So, is the Watch Gang subscription service worth it? The short answer is maybe, or better yet, yes for the right type of collector. For the beginning collector, someone who is just getting their feet wet in the hobby, I think the blind subscription is a good way to be introduced to different styles and genres of watches. This will at least give the beginning watch collector a good idea of what styles they prefer. As far as the reported "value" of the watches you'll receive each month, the Watch Gang business model pretty much dictates that the value of the majority of watches sent out, will be below the subscription costs charged, how else is Watch Gang supposed to make money? My advice, disregard the style preference, and accept the blind subscription for what it is, a surprise; you'll have much less heartburn that way. Some subscribers love the wheel of watches, but I have never spun. To me, the wheel is just a gimmick to lure watch junkies in, for the sole purpose of trying to get a higher valued watch, than the one they were originally shooting for, commonly known as an upgrade; and the grail upgrades happen about as often as lightning striking. So the wheel equates to high-risk, low-reward for me, but I'll say, it's the best sales gimmick in the history of online watch sales. You can do much better searching for the watch you covet through the Watch Gang Exchange, or other reputable online forums, with a lot better pricing. And that brings me to my last point. The best part, and value of Watch Gang, isn't the subscription itself, but rather the Watch Gang Exchange. Being a subscriber, gets you access to the Watch Gang Exchange. On the Exchange, you can buy and sell watches from fellow members, with all different types of brands represented and available, not just the Watch Gang brands. The exchange is also a great way to acquire subscription watches, for rock-bottom pricing, as there are always members looking to unload their recently acquired subs, with many being very motivated sellers. The Watch Gang Exchange is a great source of interaction, camaraderie, education, and information exchanged between the Exchange members, and that may be the best Watch Gang benefit of all.