Jewelers Suite JHJ Magazine

An uncommon complication: IWJG responds to COVID-19

written by Lee Wiser McIntosh

I was first struck by a word that I don’t run across much these days: guild. The word entered my lexicon as a child. My grandmother, an accomplished artist and weaver, was a member of several guilds. She took her memberships very seriously and seemed to go to a lot of guild meetings, as I recall, and in my mind it must have been some sort of party. Guild is an old word that emanates from a Germanic culture rich in craft and tradition. Yet, it landed on my desktop in 2020 when I googled the IWJG. Its traditional meaning is an “association of craftsman and merchants…for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal…often having considerable power.”

The International Watch and Jewelry Guild, known in the industry as IWJG, is a member-based trade organization that is the most active central exchange of watches in the world. Membership is gained, much like the guild tradition, by sponsorship. You must be known, trusted, and respected by two current members who have also gone through the same vetting process. The current membership hovers around 7,800.

The composition of membership is based largely in the United States, with approximately 30% coming from Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Events are held monthly in different cities and regions; Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas make up the circuit. There are three tiers which are constantly evolving. A Tier 1 event would be 175-200 tables with 500-600 people attending. Tier 2 events have 200-250 tables with attendance ranging from 600-750, and Tier 3 events have 250-350 tables netting 750-1,200 attendees. The city, the calendar, and adjacencies to other events heavily influence the tiers. 

IWJG was founded 32 years ago by Burly Bullock. He was a larger than life Texan, who had the vision of creating a place for the buying, selling, and trading of strap watches based upon a mutually held code of ethics. He loved his members and took their business concerns seriously. This tradition continues under the leadership of his long time friend Joe Nelson, Burly’s wife Olga Cortez Bullock, and daughter Christina LeDoux.

Complications in the watch industry have taken on a whole new meaning under the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis. How does a guild respond to the current environment that changes on a day-to-day, if not hourly, basis? That question is not theoretical and was put to the test for Nelson on March 11th. When he brought that date up, I could immediately recall that Wednesday as well.

I was having lunch with a friend who was headed to Greece that weekend. I was making plans for regional travel to meet with clients. Fast forward a few hours… he was not going to Greece, and my regional travel now entailed a long drive to Michigan to pick up my daughter whose campus was closing. Nelson was monitoring the situation closely.

Then, for the first time in IWJG history, they cancelled the event in Las Vegas that coming weekend. Other cancellations quickly ensued. There was no time for handwringing, so Nelson mobilized quickly to support the membership.

Although scheduled for later in the year, IWJG hustled to launch a fine watch platform in partnership with eBay on April 6th. The IWJG banner on the fine watch section of eBay provides a portal to an impressive inventory of watches for the end consumers and provides an exponentially larger worldwide market to the members. With this expanded exposure comes a dedicated eBay support team, and the well known assurances provided by eBay for the buyer are further bolstered by the imprimatur of IWJG. Only two weeks later, IWJG initiated an online marketplace for members to facilitate trade in a private and frictionless space. 

The timing of each of these developments could not be better. Community is one of their greatest strengths, and at this time, it continues to be strengthened through use of the internet. Twice weekly, relevant information lands in the inboxes of members, including realistic show reports, industry news, and valuable after-market price guides. The IWJG Facebook page and website are informative and provide lively exchanges. Pictures posted from events create a veritable “who’s who” of the fine watch world. Members also receive eight newsletters annually with further market analysis.

Hopefully, the show schedule and face-to-face interactions will be restored soon. Until then, Nelson picks up the phone and reaches out to members to see how they’re doing. Some are bored; some are buying and selling; some are enjoying the relaxed pace of this enforced, global spring break, and all are looking forward to the future. Nelson reflects, “We have a lot of work to do in the next three months.” And taking the long view, however obscured that might be, this is a time of preparation akin to making the most of a dozy July to have a smooth and prosperous fourth quarter.

Fun fact: “guild” is related to “yield” in the archaic German origin, meaning “to pay and repay.” The IWJG does that by providing a place for retailers and dealers in the high end watch business to ply their trade. 

And those monthly parties of buyers, sellers, and traders don’t hurt either.

My grandmother approves.

For more information on how to become a member of IWJG contact Joe Nelson at 888-777-8363 or