Chicago Illinois is strategically located near the geographic center of the North American continent. It's close proximity to not only to the center of the United States it's location at the far south western end of the great lakes as well as nearby access to the Mississippi river system has made it a crossroads for people, ideas, and goods nearly since it's inception. Chicago is a ship, rail, road and air transportation hub, a crossroads, which goods navigate in their journey from all corners of the world to the American heartland and vice-versa.
Howard Frum's it easily recognizable from the hallway by the life sized figures of "Jake and Elwood Blues" singing out a tune from the movie the "Blues Brothers". Howard opened an Antiques store back in 1976 and has since specialized in "flipping watches". Although Howard isn't an authorized Rolex Dealer, however more Rolex watches cross his threshold probably than any authorized dealer within 500 miles. Visiting Howard's is an experience, the last time I visited was just before the early 2004 price increase and I had the opportunity to get a feel the energy of the shop when things are a popping. It's always worth a visit.
SEP Tools specializes in watch and jewelry making tools and supplies. Ranging from springbars, Polywatch and batteries, to fully outfitted watchmaking benches. For the serious collector having ready access to pieces and parts they need for new acquisitions (such as springbars and the like) and tools to utilize them are a boon.
In addition to these stores there are a number of other watch dealers within the mall and in adjacent buildings to the Maller's building. In essence, while New York City, whose population is close to three time's Chicago's, has two full city blocks of a Jewelry district, Chicago's main jewelry district is centered about the area of three quarters of a block around the corner of Wabash and Madison.
All four corners of this intersection hold storefronts of interest to the watch fans and collectors. One store of interest is Carteaux Inc. located at 31 North Wabash who carries Rolex, Omega, Fortis, Bell & Ross, Oris, Tutima. Among others Marshall Pierce at 29 East Madison who carries IWC among others, Chicago Watch Center, 21 N. Wabash, There are many more stores, some really just spaces leased out from a larger tenant in this area. Be aware that aside from the places I mention by name many of the other dealers are gray market dealers and you need to ask all of the requisite questions to be on the safe side.
To sum up, one could easily make a day of the Chicago Jewelry Mall and the corner of Wabash and Madison if one pokes through every nook and cranny. Many stores are open Monday through Saturday, however since many of the proprietors in the Jewelry mall are Jewish, many are closed for the Sabbath. So it's best to visit during the workweek. For great food, I suggest the nearby Miller's Pub 134 S. Wabash Ave. (at Adams), for refreshments and dinning. It's usually best to phone ahead (312) 263-4988 and make a reservation unless you wish to wait during peak hours. A little bit of trivia for all of you who have followed my articles, it was the previous location of Miller's Pub where I met my family after buying my first Swiss Watch, a Speedmaster Professional Mark II in the early 1980's...
Before leaving the Chicago "Loop" which is what local's call the downtown area that is within the loop of elevated tracks and the adjacent areas, I'll mention a couple of other places worth a visit if you have the time. Two of the area's largest prestige retailers flagship stores located in this general area. Marshall Field's which spans the block from Wabash to State Street, and CD Peacock on State Street. Both offer a wide selection of watches across many brands. Marshall Field offers a far greater price range starting at the Swatch level and going up, CD Peacock, offering Rolex, Omega and Panerai among others. If one is into "slumming" there also are a number of Pawn Shops in the downtown area. Don't laugh; I bought my first mechanical Swiss watch in a State Street Pawn Shop. The watch, an Omega Speedmaster Professional Mark II was the item that infected me with the watch collecting bug, and that Mark II still keeps COSC time today, despite where I rescued it, how I treated it for many years and the fact it was never certified at a chronometer. Sometimes you find a jewel amongst all the junk.
A long walk, 8-10 blocks, or 5-10 minute cab ride up North Michigan Avenue along the "Magnificent Mile", a World-Class shopping district (comparable with Park Avenue in New York City) will take you to Water Tower Place (800-900 North Block), a multi-level shopping mall adjacent to the famous Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive the 1871 fire that decimated the city. If you choose to walk, be sure to swing by the Jazz Record Mart, and keep an eye on the architecture as you walk. Chicago was the birthplace of the Skyscraper and many interesting sites can be observed if you keep your eyes open and look at the sides and towards the tops of the buildings. The Tribune building is very neat up close... You might find a moon rock from Apollo 15.
Further out from Downtown but still within the city limits, there is Father Time Antiques located at 2108 W. Belmont is as the name implies a specialist in Antique and vintage timepieces.
One of the better shops in the area to shop for vintage and/or used watches has to be Smart Jewelers located on 3350 W. Devon Ave. in the nearby suburb of Lincolnwood. In addition to being authorized dealers of U.N., IWC, Omega, GP, among many others, they have a stunning spread of vintage and second hand watches to peruse.
I have also heard very good words about Swiss Fine Timing located in Highland Park (40 minutes North of Chicago): 847-266-7900 although I have never visited it personally.
My personal difficulty is that I live nearly 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, and I only get the opportunity to do watch related shopping in town a couple of times a year.
In the suburbs, the dealers of "mid-range" to high-end watches are fewer and farther between. But more are moving out to my area. Three years ago, I had to drive 20 miles to find a dealer of anything more sophisticated or "higher end" than a TAG-Heuer, now I have two dealers of Omega, Rolex and other similar caliber brands within 5 miles of me.
In this environment, a collector turns to local chapters of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, and fellow collectors that they hear about via word of mouth and the Internet...
The Chicago Chapter of the NAWCC has marts about 4 to 6 times a year, while a closer, but smaller Fox Valley chapter, has a much smaller mart nearly every month. Sometimes one can find items of interest there, but usually the pickings are few and far between.
Fortunately, there are a goodly number of fellow watch addicts in my neck of the woods and they are more than happy to pass along information.
After that, the collector spends a lot of time on-line and on eBay looking for items of interest
Over the past few years I've noticed a steady decline in the depth, breadth and quality of interesting items both locally, on eBay and on-line. While I am certain that some of this is due to my finding (and hence crossing off) items I was interested in. I believe that as more and more people get interested in watch collecting the competition for interesting pieces becomes more intense and there were finite numbers of interesting pieces made in the first place. So I would be very surprised if this trend reversed at any time in the near future, unless there is some compelling reason for collectors to liquidate their holdings.
Pricescope provides a searchable listing of Chicago Area Jewelers:
And the Watch Tourism Page has an extensive listing for Chicago and many other metropolitan areas:
I hope you find this article interesting and worth your time
P.S. I don't know what salubrity is either!
P.P.S. I should note that this document was originally written at the behest of Eric So for a Hong Kong publication he was editing/creating at the time. It was pretty up to date when I wrote it, but I take no responsibility for stores moving, closing, etc. in the time since. I live far enough out from Chicago (30-40 miles) that I only get downtown a handful of times a year, and watch tourism, as strange and unlikely as it might seem, isn't always at the top of the itinerary. A few years back Stephen Sugiyama compiled and hosted a wonderful site on his webpresence called "the Watch Tourism page". Unfortunately, about 6 months before I received Eric's request for my thoughts on shopping in Chicago, Steve pulled down the Watch Tourism site as it had been based on posts at TimeZone in the 1999/2000 epoch and he felt it was most likely out-of-date and he needed the space for other things. So I created this page based on my travels in the Chicago area. I would love for the Watch Tourism pages to be revived updated and incorporated somewhere. I'd offer my services, but I'm overtaxed as it is, and would rather offer my contributions where I can make them. -- Chuck