#realrealexperts: Meet Our Head Watchmaker
If you shop The RealReal obsessively you’ve seen the vast array of covetable luxury pieces on the site. What you don’t always see are the people behind the scenes. Specifically, the people whose job it is to ensure that all of those amazing pieces are 100% authentic. But we have over 40 people on the team who do just that, from luxury brand experts and horologists to gemologists and art curators. With our #RealRealExperts series, we’re introducing them to you.
Head Watchmaker Laif Anderson is not your average watch enthusiast. Not only does he know the history and craftsmanship behind the world’s most renowned timepiece brands, but he’s also one of a small set of experts who can actually open up a watch and make it tick. Find out what goes on behind-the-scenes at the watchmaker’s bench and see the watches he recommends for experienced collectors, gifting and more.
For those who may be unfamiliar, what exactly is a watchmaker?
In a nutshell today’s watchmaker is a micro mechanic — someone who is not only able to assemble and disassemble a micro machine, but repair it as well. What a watchmaker is today is very close to what a watchmaker was in the past. The tools have changed and watch materials are more advanced, but at its heart the essence of a watch hasn’t changed very much and neither has the watchmaker. The biggest difference today is that we are required to make fewer parts from scratch, for which we are immensely grateful! To be a successful watchmaker the one thing you really need is attention to detail. A watch can have upwards of 200 pieces and you need to make sure everything is correct because the slightest issue or misaligned part can stop a watch in its tracks.
What’s something that interested you in watchmaking that most people might not know?
We often overlook the fact watch and clockmaking helped shape the world we live in. From early water clocks to timepieces that let us accurately navigate by sea and air to pieces measuring speed and distance, the field of horology is both a science and an art that has been fundamental in the creation of the world we live in.
Can you walk us through what it’s like to authenticate a watch?
When we authenticate and test a timepiece first we do a visual inspection of the watch. We check the exterior for the proper hallmarks and stamping and check the overall construction and condition of the timepiece to see if there are any issues, like an aftermarket dial. Secondly, we do a functions check of the watch — does the chronograph work properly, is the date change functioning correctly, etc. Next we inspect the movement, checking the timing and running of the watch and changing the batteries. We wear finger cots to keep any oils and dirt from our hands from marking the movements. The oils from human skin can and will discolor — and in some cases etch into — the brass plates of a watch movement. Finally we do a 3 bar pressure test on all watches marked water resistant. If the watch passes all of these authentication inspections we fill out our authentication paperwork with all of the relevant information.
What are some of your most important tools?
Watchmaking is a very tool-heavy profession. But at the core of our day-to-day work are the loupe, screwdrivers and tweezers; they are the most used and are often personalized to the watchmaker.
What are some of the most exceptional watches you’ve worked with?
Aside from high complications like the equation of time, perpetual calendars and tourbillons, some of the coolest watches I have had a chance to work on have been from the 1800s. The way those watches were made without the machinery of today is amazing.
You mentioned you crafted your own watch. Can you tell us about it?
When I graduated from school I decided I needed prove to myself I could do it. While I didn’t have the machinery to make all the parts, I was able to source a case, hands and Unitas 6497 movement. I skeletonized and decorated the movement and decorated a black dial as well. I was going for a WWII vintage pilot’s watch look and I am very pleased with how it came out. One of the the things I like best about the watch is the reveal. The dial is solid and when you turn it over you can see that the movement is skeletonized — the reaction from people is always wonderful when they flip the watch over.
Do you have a favorite watch brand?
I have two brands I really love: Vacheron Constantin and Minerva, which is now Montblanc Villeret. Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest (arguably the oldest) watch companies around and they do some of the most beautiful watches in my opinion. Montblanc Villeret (Minerva) is a lesser known company, but they are still making watches by hand; from making their own hairsprings to creating bridges by hand, they embody watchmaking from the ground up.
Which watches do you recommend for gifting, whether holidays or milestone achievements?
You can’t go wrong with a Rolex, arguably the most well known and recognized watch brand out there. A Rolex is perfect to celebrate any occasion you want to make special.
What are your thoughts on vintage watches?
I love vintage timepieces and The RealReal has some really amazing pieces. We recently took some timepieces that are pocket watches converted into wristwatches. These pieces are super cool and exemplify how the first men’s wristwatches came to be. In World War I soldiers had lugs soldered onto their pocket watches and added leather bands. When they came back from the war, they kept the watches on their wrists. I think it’s so cool to be able to own something like that.
Do you have recommendations for collectors about cornerstone pieces to invest in, or pieces for beginning collectors versus avid collectors?
That’s a great question. While there are a lot of great watches out there, I would recommend the following four iconic timepieces for any collection.
The Omega Speedmaster, aka the Moonwatch. This watch was the first watch to travel into space and to the moon. It’s an iconic timepiece that has an amazing history to go with its good looks.
The Rolex Submariner. This is a watch that is instantly recognizable and marries wonderful aesthetics with functionality. Truly a watch that can go from the beach to the boardroom without missing a beat.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas. One of my favorites that speaks to refinement, luxury and history. This watch in any of its forms — chronograph, dual time zone or time only — will earn heavy rotation on your wrist. It’s another watch that looks great with any outfit.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava. This is an iconic dress watch from one of the best known and respected manufactures. In true and proper dress watch fashion, the Calatrava has a smaller and slimmer case that looks amazing with both business and formal wear.
Inspired to add to your collection? Shop our selection of pre-owned watches from top brands, all authenticated by experts like Laif.
Photos by Aimee Brodeur