Timely Encounter Leads to Cool Venture
A well-timed lunch meeting with a childhood friend led to John Putnam’s first vintage watch purchase. But he had no idea that when he forked over $100 for a 1940’s Hamilton more than 20 years ago, he’d dialed into a new business concept too.
Putnam is the owner of Cool Vintage Watches in Parkville, Missouri. After that first purchase, Putnam scoured estate sales and garage sales for more timepieces and started selling them through a website he launched in 1997 called “What Time Is It?”
Putnam amassed a large one-of-a-kind collection that represents timepieces from the 1900s through the present day. It includes a unique assortment of classic watches, clocks and accessories such as Swiss IWC dress watches from the 1950s, pocket watches, military watches and dive watches. Opening a bricks-and-mortar store in 2012 allowed Putnam to add more vintage finds like stereo equipment, vinyl records, cool typewriters, cameras, toys and radios.
“There’s a lot of really neat stuff around here,” Putnam said. “But, the watches are the main thing, and that’s where my desire and love is.”
Putnam has attracted international customers ranging from professional athletes to musicians John Mayer and Paul Shaffer. Even President Obama stopped in for a visit once.
In an age of smartphones and multiple ways to track time, Putnam says that what makes his business tick isn’t selling watches. “I sell style and personality,” he said. “People wear watches to make a statement.”