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Changing hands: 23-year-old entrepreneur takes over Towson luxury watch brand from Under Armour founder Kevin Plank

For Spencer Shattuck, it started with the Montblanc pens that his father would bring home from board meetings.

Shattuck began collecting luxury writing utensils at age 11, at first from his father Mayo A. Shattuck III, CEO of Constellation Energy before its 2012 merger with Exelon. That led to a fascination with high-end timepieces.

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Now 23, Shattuck has parlayed his hobby into a business, becoming the latest owner of Towson Watch Co., the luxury watch brand founded in 2000 by watchmakers Hartwig Balke and George Thomas. Shattuck purchased the watchmaking company last year for an undisclosed amount from a venture capital firm owned by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a longtime family friend. Sagamore Ventures bought into the company in 2016.

With high-end microbrand watches gaining in popularity, Shattuck, the company’s president, envisions rejuvenating American luxury watchmaking.

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“There is a rebound in the luxury watch space happening right now,” and renewed interest in independent watchmakers, Shattuck said. “I’ve always looked at watches as art, individualized pieces of art that not everyone has. I’ve always been just very interested in art and creating something from scratch.

“Switzerland is not the only place to obtain a luxury watch,” he said.

While fewer people now wear watches since smartphones also offer the time, watches are staging something of a comeback, both as smartwatches and as fashion statements.

The global luxury watch market stood at $23.6 billion in 2020 and was forecast to grow at an annual rate of 3.25%, according to Mordor Intelligence, a market research firm based in India. Its report found the market contracted somewhat with the COVID-19 pandemic but has begun to bounce back.

“Globally, the growing consumer preference for high-quality, premium watches, which are perceived as status symbols, is the major driving factor for the luxury watches market,” Mordor’s report said.

The luxury market is largely dominated by such large brands as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Breitling.

There’s even an active market for secondhand luxury watches that consulting firm McKinsey valued at $18 billion in 2019 and growing to $25 billion by 2025.

Shattuck was a senior at Johns Hopkins University just over a year ago, planning a career in finance, when Sagamore representatives inquired about his interest in the brand. Plank, Shattuck said, recalled that he “was always into watches.”

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“Kevin [Plank] cared a lot about the longevity of this brand and he really wanted to pass it down to someone who was going to be committed to it,” Shattuck said. “I’m in a very lucky position where I do have the opportunity to pursue my dream out of college.”

He’d had some entrepreneurial experience, running an online luxury goods resale business he started in high school. Money he earned through that business, along with savings, enabled him to buy the company on his own. He was encouraged to do so by his father, who retired as chair of Chicago-based Exelon last month after the energy giant split its utilities and power-generation businesses to create a new, Baltimore-based Constellation Energy.

A spokesman for Sagamore Ventures said the firm had been “proud to support” the watch company, calling it “a treasured Baltimore business.”

“We are thrilled that it is now in the capable hands of two passionate locals, master watchmaker Hartwig Balke and brand builder Spencer Shattuck,” said Jeremy Soffin, the spokesman, in an email. “We are rooting for their success.”

As a collector, Shattuck had known about the brand for years. He even interned there briefly in middle school. It boasts exclusivity and precision craftsmanship and two watchmakers who design and craft custom, handmade timepieces in limited numbers. It makes only 100 watches in each design.

The company does not disclose annual sales, but Shattuck says it builds 300 to 400 watches each year, which sell for $2,000 to $15,000. He plans to adhere to the founders’ approach, designing and building all watches in-house. Since taking on the company last year, he has hired an apprentice and plans to bring in others to learn the craft from Balke and Thomas.

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Each watchmaker works from his own home workshop, though Thomas is mostly retired. Balke also works from a newly expanded workshop in City Garage in Port Covington, where the brand moved its office and showroom under Sagamore’s ownership.

In one key change, Shattuck has switched to a direct-to-consumer model, discontinuing sales through jewelry stores. Instead he connects with customers through a website, social media and the Port Covington showroom and at watch collecting events.

Such events can be more about networking than sales, said Taylor Classen, a longtime watch enthusiast and friend of Shattuck’s who helps court clients and manage suppliers as a minority partner. Classen, a Towson resident and sophomore at Elon University, said he and Shattuck have traveled around the U.S. showcasing products and meeting customers.

“The watch world is a very small world, and your reputation is everything,” said Classen, who met Shattuck when they were both high school students with vintage watch resale businesses. “Part of my success selling vintage watches was through meeting people at dinners or collectors groups, outlets where people talk about watches.”

Shattuck was in eighth grade at Baltimore’s Calvert School when he first met Balke and Thomas, spending time learning how watches were made for a school project. That internship, like his recent company purchase, came about thanks to his family’s connection with Plank, who was preparing at the time to buy a stake in the company and eventually acquired full ownership.

Balke and Thomas, master watchmakers who met by chance at an Irish pub in Annapolis, had built a following for their timepieces.

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Balke, a mechanical engineer, is known for having designed a watch worn by a NASA astronaut during a space shuttle mission in 2000. In 2009, the watchmakers were called in by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to examine and repair a gold pocket watch that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, and helped discover a message engraved by a watchmaker who repaired it in 1861.

Balke has said that neither he nor Thomas attended a traditional watchmaker’s school and instead learned by doing.

Eric Zaccone discovered Towson Watch after moving to Baltimore in 2014 to work as a researcher for the Johns Hopkins University. He first saw the brand displayed in a Smyth Jewelers store.

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“I was blown away by how beautiful they were,” said Zaccone, a collector since age 16.

Now 39 and a medical science liaison for a New Jersey company, he’s been impressed by the company’s craftsmanship and willingness to show customers where parts originated, including from Germany and Switzerland.

As what he called a “luxury American microbrand timepiece,” Towson Watch is “a staple in watch culture,” Zaccone said.

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He considers his “Mission” watch, the design that launched the company, “my most prized watch.” He spent several years searching for one of the rare models that had been made and finally found an owner willing to sell.

Just weeks ago, he purchased another watch directly from the company, a $4,800 customized Choptank with a copper face and blue hands made in Switzerland.

The brand, he believes, is poised to grow.

“You are getting a fantastic, high-end watch for a fair price,” Zaccone said. “These watches stand up with those highly recognizable big names. ... They’re just beautiful timepieces, works of art, both functionally and in appearance.”


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