Secret Watch Shop
“I guess I should have called it The Watch Speakeasy instead,” laughs Patrick Parrish. It has just been pointed out that the name of the New York design gallery owner’s latest venture, the Secret Watch Shop, is possibly less than appropriate now it has been featured in The New York Times, as well as his own Instagram feed, replete with over 43,000 followers. But he’s very clear on one thing. “I want the people that come to be serious about it.”
After all, timepieces are a subject that Parrish treats with genuine solemnity. He has collected watches for over 20 years and had toyed with the idea of opening a store a decade ago. However, it was the outbreak of COVID-19 that finally persuaded him to take the plunge. ‘Like a lot of people I had more time on my hands during the pandemic,’ he explains. ‘So I started revisiting my collection and had it appraised. I was surprised by the results.’
Keen to avoid public transport, he started walking four miles to work each day, listening to watch-based podcast en route. ‘I literally listened to hundreds and hundreds of hours of watch podcasts,’ he says. ‘It rekindled my passion. That passion was always there but it was kind of a slow burn and I was concentrating on the gallery. I didn’t really have time to do watches.’
Parrish studied photography in Chicago but fell in love with design when he visited The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 exhibition on a trip to Atlanta. ‘I saw all this incredible, streamlined, machine age, American Art Deco, industrial design and one-off things,’ he remembers. ‘I freaked out. I lost it.’ He bought the exhibition poster and book. ‘My goal was to find things in that book, just for myself
“Like a lot of people I had more time on my hands during the pandemic. So I started revisiting my collection and had it appraised. I was surprised by the results.”
He worked for renowned auction house owner, Richard Wright, in his first Chicago gallery before, rather reluctantly, making the move to New York in 1992. ‘I was always scared of New York to be honest. It took my two sisters moving here to make me think it was doable,’ he says.
He opened his first gallery on 22nd Street in Manhattan, moving to Duane Street five years later. For the last decade his eponymous Patrick Parrish Gallery space has been based in the NYC neighborhood of Tribeca. ‘Tribeca was then, and is even now, more affordable than adjacent neighborhoods. I was one of five galleries when I first moved here and now there’s 50 or 60. It’s because there are great spaces and it’s still cheap compared to Soho.
“I was one of five galleries when I first moved here and now there’s 50 or 60.”
The Secret Watch Shop is behind a translucent wall on the gallery’s lower level, away from prying eyes on the street. Customers can visit by appointment only. Parrish’s collection focuses on tool watches from the 1950s to 1970s. He started collecting pieces relating to space, then aeronautics before alighting on racing and, finally, dive watches, ‘because they’re the least complicated’. And, while he pulls out pieces of his collection to sell, these are complemented with familiar brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Breitling and Omega, as well as lesser known makers like Wittnauer.
Parrish had been aware of USM furniture for many years and, once he got over his initial sense that the product was a little ‘office-y’, had come to love it. So specifying a display cabinet (in blue, his favorite color) was an obvious choice, as he points out: ‘It seemed the perfect fit because 99.9 per cent of the watches I sell are Swiss. USM is Swiss and its level of technical craftsmanship is really fitting. Its modular nature means I could change things and I was able to get it exactly the way I wanted it.