“I’ve gotta be honest with you, for as much as I dislike the little grubby rodent, I think it’s important he stays in the watch community … I think it’s fantastic that Watchbox has taken over his channel.” ~ Paul Pluta (a.k.a. Archie Luxury) on Scottish Watches Podcast #50, 23 June 2019
The internet watch community is not entirely unlike other online communities. There are characters – larger than life figures with legions of followers and detractors. But where opinion is divided, tribal groups often form and the loudest voices always seem to be the anonymous ones on the fringes either side of a debate. These days uninformed people are often the first to pile into an argument with the strongest viewpoints. We watched this exact scenario unfold on our Facebook page in the wake of Tristan Veneto (better known as TGV) announcing on May 29, 2020 his departure from Watchbox and the “End of the Urban Gentry” together with the fact that he is now “looking for a job.” So here, for the record, is our take on it.
For us, the news was a complete surprise. It was not a development we relish or take delight in. We actually think it is rather sad, rather telling and rather consistent with TGV’s history in the watch community. The announcement came at the end of a one-year association between TGV and Watchbox, the multi-million-dollar global watch selling and trading entity. At last count the Urban Gentry YouTube Channel had more than 400,000 followers, why would TGV be “looking for a job” and suddenly unable to monetize the channel he started? We suspect it is because he no longer owns it.
Whether you’re a defender or a detractor, extreme voices do little to get to the heart of the matter. This is particularly so when private business arrangements are behind what is going on in public. None of us knows for sure (unless we are parties to the agreement that spells things out), so this reflection is just an opinion based on our own business experiences (and an anonymous source). We suspect now, though, that Paul Pluta’s comment from June 2019 was actually more accurate than even he knew at the time: Watchbox took over the Urban Gentry Channel.
Let’s start with what is public. Back in May 2019 Watchbox made an announcement which read in part:
“WatchBox, the global leader in pre-owned luxury watches, today announced the expansion of its in-house creative studio and video production division, WatchBox Studios, through the acquisition of The Urban Gentry YouTube channel. Representing the foundation of WatchBox’s digital media strategy and the company’s position as a video-first frontrunner, WatchBox Studios combines creative vision and horological expertise for insight, opinion, and editorial excellence. As of today, The Urban Gentry is now “Powered by WatchBox,” adding a new dimension to WatchBox’s rich content portfolio, and leveraging the WatchBox global inventory and video production capabilities to deliver a wide array of original content to its growing audience of watch enthusiasts.”
We’ve underlined the important bits. Watchbox acquired the Urban Gentry YouTube channel as part of their media strategy. They added the Urban Gentry to their portfolio. This happens in the business world all the time. You buy out your competitors. You keep someone on for a while and tie them into a non-competition arrangement where if you let them go, they cannot continue in the same field for a period of time. They get compensated for their intellectual property (usually in the form of money) and in exchange, the purchaser gets to own the brand and do with it as they choose. What is strange in this instance is that TGV was hardly a competitor of Watchbox.
At the time of the announcement, there was a lot of shocking chatter online, particularly on the Watchbox YouTube channel where a cascade of negative sentiment showered down after the announcement. To their credit, unlike TGV, Watchbox did not censor the negative responses. It did seem an odd match – the Urban Gentry with its focus mostly on inexpensive timepieces on the one hand and Watchbox with its focus on luxury timepieces on the other. But if Watchbox actually purchased the Urban Gentry as a brand name, then it was acquiring a YouTube channel with (back then) 377,000 followers. Others have pointed out that after the acquisition, the number of followers on Watchbox related channels increased.
When TGV announced the relationship he described it as an opportunity he was not even looking for, but one that meant he ended up with his “dream job.” (Tim Mosso later said that TGV came to them, but no matter). Veneto relocated to Philadelphia with a lot of fanfare, and a slow motion shot of his abs. One suspects that he did not imagine being out of that “dream job” exactly one year later.
Perhaps the parties entered with the best of intentions – TGV looking to improve the quality of his videos (he suddenly had a video production team following him around on various outings), accessing more and better watches while Watchbox was looking to expand its reach into the watch enthusiast market. There were many ways to structure such a union – a joint venture, a partnership, or a purchase and sale agreement. We think it must have been the latter. The press-release from May 2019 more or less says so and a source close to Scottish Watches informs us that an entity known as WBQ USA LLC is currently doing business as The Urban Gentry. That entity, friends, is the legal name of Watchbox.
There is no doubt that TGV introduced a lot of people to entry-level watches. He came across as truly enthusiastic about watches no matter their price, and he bemoaned watch snobbery in all of its forms. Most of us have watched him and some of us even purchased watches because of him. We know he inspired the start of YouTube watch review channels that followed him. But TGV has always also courted controversy. He talked about loyalty and trust an awful lot but did not typically display it. His anti-watch snobbery criticism actually hid an intolerance for legitimate criticism and for all the talk of gentlemanly behaviour there are ample examples of him being anything but one.
He leaves in his wake a series of broken watch relationships. The split from Watchbox is just the latest in his splits with previous business partners. His tight grip on those critical of him through his Facebook group is well known (there are probably more people kicked out of his group than are currently in it!). His disastrous interview with Tim Mosso at the launch of the relationship with Watchbox is there for all to see as are his struggles with using other people’s intellectual property and trying to pass it off as his own. He was allegedly locked out of YouTube for 3 months in early 2019 after a successful copyright infringement claim was brought against him and he brought shame to his new relationship with Watchbox early on in their relationship with the anOrdain and Deployant scandal.
If the split with Watchbox was mutual and did not involve a sale of intellectual property, TGV would simply be carrying on with the channel doing what he did before – monetizing a channel with 400,000 viewers. But he’s told us he’s not going to be doing that. His one-year contract is up? We are not buying it. We think Watchbox bought him out and moved him on. TGV is out on his ear. While it might be important for him to stay in the watch community he might not be able to. At least not for the time being. TGV is down, but we suspect he is far from out.
Downwards and onwards.