중앙데일리

Business slowing on Watch Road as time ticks by

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul 22nd in series: Jongno 4-ga Watch Road]

Nov 03,2008
A customer picks wristwatches to purchase at one of the stores along Watch Road. There are some 2,000 stores selling a large variety of watches along the street in Jongno 4-ga. By Jeon Min-kyu
Yellow watches are popular in times of economic recession; a bullish economy favors platinum.

This is a trend that Jung Kwun-chun, chairman of the Jongno 4-ga stores association and owner of the watch wholesale shop TM Watch, has learned from selling wristwatches there since 1979, a job he got immediately after graduating from high school.

He works on a street noted for its cluster of over 2,000 watch shops, in Jongno 4-ga.

“Nowadays sales of yellow watches are on the rise,” Jung said. “This means that the market is entering a recession.”

The street dubbed “Watch Road” is located right next to the Gwangjang Market in downtown Seoul. In narrow alleys behind Shinhan Bank, small shops - some without roofs - are crowded together, displaying row after row of glittering wristwatches behind glass panels. In some of the shops huge colorfully decorated clocks instead of watches, hang on the walls. It’s nearly impossible here to lose track of time. The buildings where the shops occupy the first floors are no higher than three stories. The street was not crowded one recent afternoon as the sun was setting.

Lim Seung-yeon, 37, was searching for a wristwatch. He said he was a long-time customer of the street. “Ever since I was a young student this was the only place I would come to buy a watch,” Lim said. He says that nearly every watch imaginable is found at Jongno 4-ga and they can be had at bargain prices. There’s even a limited edition of Longines Lindberg Hour Angle in a square wooden box with pilot gear that retails for less than 3 million won [$2,325]. According to Jung of TM Watch, customers can get discounts of 10 to 40 percent. The stores even accept credit cards. “You can’t do business without those anymore,” Jung added.

“The products here are sold at lower prices than at department stores because overhead is cut out,” Jung said. “Here we don’t spend too much on display or on packaging. If you are a practical consumer, this is the place.” He said because many of the stores invest little on displays, employees and lighting, some customers believe the models aren’t the same as those found in department stores. “They think it’s an entirely different model because the lighting on the watches is different than at department stores,” Jung said. But the watches are the same, he says. In addition to selling watches, the street is noted for polishing and watch repair services.

“Other than electronic watches, which require special wiring, most types of mechanical watches can be fixed here at an affordable price,” Jung said. “I would say 98 percent of watches are reparable.”

He said the strength of this neighborhood is its one-stop service. Any customer who wishes to polish and repair an aging watch can have it done in a single day. The street in recent years, however, hasn’t been what it used to be. Kim Gwan-soo, 62, who began selling watches in the street 45 years ago at the age of 18, recalled the heydays when the street was bustling with customers. “There were many film actors and celebrities who came here to purchase the latest watch,” Kim recalled. One of the frequent visitors was the film actor Kim Han-seop also known as “Twist Kim,” who was popular in the 60s and 70s. “When business was good we would open our stores early in the morning and close after midnight,” Kim said. “People came and went like the tide.”

A store owner on Watch Road attends to a customer. The street is noted for watches and clocks since the 1950s and flourished until the late 1990s. By Jeon Min-kyu
Now, however, stores close by 6 or 7 p.m. The glittering street turns quiet as shops pull down their shutters. “During their prime, watch stores even took up space in neighboring areas,” Jung said. “The entire basement of Sewoon Plaza was packed with watches,” Jung recalled.

The street was first formed sometime in the 1950s. Kim says the shops first started businesses by selling secondhand foreign-made wristwatches on the side of the road. “Before the government sealed up the Cheonggye Stream, there were many restaurants and yojeong (gisaeng bars) on the street,” Kim said. “With so many people coming and going, merchants started selling all sorts of antiques and items, including wristwatches collected from U.S. military bases,” Kim recalled.

With shops popping up here and there, they soon formed a street of watch shops. The watch sellers said the market started to take its current form in the 1970s. The market flourished in the 80s when electronic watches like Casio gained wide national popularity and was still going strong until the late 90s.

“The industry was heavily struck by the financial turmoil. Since then business hasn’t picked up,” said Jung. The biggest contributor to the decline is modern digital technology. Digital mobile phones, which also tell time, have replaced wristwatches. “People are reluctant to buy wristwatches because they can tell time from their mobile phone so what’s the need of a wristwatch?” Jung said.

The watch seller added that only the rich buy watches as wedding gifts. In Korea, it has been a long-standing custom for a future husband and wife to buy each other wristwatches. In the 70s and 80s, Rolex was the most popular brand.

“The most popular wedding gift wristwatches were those in the 200,000 won to 500,000 won range, which were affordable for the middle income class,” Jung said. “With middle incomes disappearing, there’s hardly anyone in that class buying watches as wedding gifts.”

The rich look for more expansive wristwatches. “A man’s status is visible in the car he owns, the clothing brand he wears and the watch slapped on his wrist,” Jung said. “For the higher income class, expensive wristwatches are popular.” Additionally, fewer people buy watches for their function; wristwatches as fashion accessories are gaining enormous popularity.

“Customers want fashion brand watches like Gucci and Armani,” Kim said. It’s hard for Watch Street to compete in the fashion game.

But there’s hope. “There are people in their 20s and 30s who search for rare watches,” Jung said. “There are those who are deeply interested in the frames, the details and even the straps.”

It is such young devotees who keep the street alive. To survive against the growing presence of fashion watches, the street needs to focus on what it does best, he says. “We are specialized in polishing and fixing rare old watches,” Jung said. “And we need to refocus on that specialty.”


By Lee Ho-jeong Staff Reporter [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



Glimpse of Business in Seoul list


  • [44th in a series: Gyeonji-dong Buddhist Street]
    Business booms before Buddha’s birthday

  • [43rd in a series: Edae-ap beauty salon street]
    ‘Perm factory’ streets slowly ebbing

  • [42nd in a series: Bangsan Wallpaper]
    Seoul’s Bangsan wallpaper area weathers crisis

  • [41st in a series: Namdaemun Glasses Street]
    Weaker won creates glasses spectacle

  • [40th in a series: Sadang Furniture Street]
    Sadang brims over with top furniture bargains

  • [39th in a series: Hoehyeon Stamp Shopping Center]
    Rare stamps and old-world charm

  • [38th in a series: Insadong gallery street]
    Something alluring stays on art street

  • [37th in a series: Jongno 5-ga Drugstore street]
    Cures galore grace ‘Drugstore Street’

  • [36th in a series: Itaewon’s international restaurant street]
    Itaewon’s changing face: global food

  • [35th in a series: Cheonggye bird and marine pets street]
    Birds of many feathers flock to midcity street

  • [34th in a series: Kwang-Hee leather and fur market]
    Leather and furs galore at Dongdaemun’s Kwang-Hee mall

  • [33th in a series: Kwang-Hee leather and fur market]
    Flea market is awash in used goods

  • [32st in a series: Jongno Lighting Shop Street]
    A street where film cameras thrive

  • [31th in the series: Nakwon Tteok District]
    Traditional Korean rice cakes take a pounding in the streets of Nakwon

  • [30th in a series: Majang Meat Market]
    Meat market is not for fainthearted

  • [29th in a series: Euljiro 4-5-ga printing and packaging street]
    Cookies helped create street known for printing

  • [27th in a series: Noryangjin Fisheries Market]
    Seafood market is largest in the nation

  • [21st in a series: Bangsan Baking Street]
    This tasty corner of Bangsan Market stirs up Seoul’s do-it-yourself bakers

  • [20th in the series: Seocho Judicial Town ]
    Need a lawyer? Check out Seocho-dong

  • [19th in the series: Jongno Lighting Shop Street]
    Light shop owners swell with pride over products

  • [18th in series: Jongno Jewelry Market]
    Glitter and gold fill the streets of the Jongno district

  • [16th in the series: Cheonggye Used Book Street]
    Past textbook haven specializes to survive

  • [15th in the series: Ahyeon Dress Street]
    What every bride needs: Dress St.

  • [13th in the series: Garak Market]
    A market where agriculture still rules the day

  • [12th in the series: Yangjae Flower Market]
    Fall flowers in fashion at the Yangjae Market

  • [11th in the series: Guro tool complex]
    Tool complex in Guro is a Mr. Fix It paradise

  • [10th in series: Toegyero motorcycle street]
    Bikers’ dream roars along in Seoul

  • [Ninth in the series: Yongsan Electronics Market]
    Yongsan Market offers a sea of digital gadgets

  • [8th in series: Internet shopping and discount stores imperil old Goblin market]
    An uncertain future faces Dokebi

  • [Seventh in a series: The Namdaemun imported goods market
    An uncertain future faces Dokebi
  • [Sixth in a series: Plastic surgery in Sinsa-dong
    Korea’s new face of plastic surgery

  • [Fifth in a series: Chungmuro pet street
    One stop pet shopping builds on ’60s tradition

  • [Fourth in series: Dapsimni antique market
    Antique market thrives in city’s lesser-known Dapsimni district

  • [Third in a series: Chungmuro pet street
    From guitar picks to pianos, Nakwon sells it all

  • [Second in a series: Chungmuro pet street
    Used car dealers say not to worry

  • [First in a series: Chungmuro pet street
    A fashion mecca thrives in Seoul





    dictionary dictionary | 프린트 메일로보내기 내블로그에 저장