Luxury retailer and repairer Feldmar Watch Co. in L.A. celebrates 100 years of helping people mark time

Luxury retailer and repairer Feldmar Watch Co. in L.A. celebrates 100 years of helping people mark time
Scott and Sol Meller represent third and fourth generations in the business. Sol, right, is considered a skilled salesman; Scott a savvy marketer. (Feldmar Watch Co.)

It's tempting to describe the success and longevity of Feldmar Watch Co., the Pico Boulevard seller and fixer of luxury wristwatches that's celebrating a century in business this year, by ticking off some of the numbers: nearly 10,000 square feet of store stocking close to 3,000 timepieces representing 50 brands and ranging in price from $40 to $200,000. A smaller, but even more impressive number is four — the number of generations the same family has helmed the business across the last 100 years.

But that would be like trying to explain what makes a luxury wristwatch worth the price tag by opening the back of one — an Omega, Blancpain, Tag Heuer or Breitling, for example — and trying to determine what makes it so special by scrutinizing the various cogs and pins and springs inside.


No mistake, Feldmar is special. Brian Criddle, the West Coast sales representative for Breitling, a brand whose relationship with Feldmar goes back some 30 years, says the business has quite a reputation. "Wherever I go across the country — work meetings or to other retailers — everyone asks about Feldmar," Criddle said. "They want to know how they're doing, what they're doing, what's going on over there. Retailers all over the country know about Feldmar. The company has a strong reputation and a remarkable image."

Like the watches it sells, Feldmar is a complicated and finely tuned machine, complete with meshing gears and finely balanced counterweights, whirring motors and gears behind a seemingly simple facade. And like a fine watch, more than the sum of its parts.

"Nobody needs a wristwatch," says Scott Meller, Feldmar's 37-year-old vice president and fourth-generation of the founding family. "We're selling a product that makes people really happy. There's something magical about it."

Meller, whose great-grandfather Jack Feldmar started the business, can be forgiven for waxing a bit poetic about the watch business. He practically grew up in the store and has worked there full time for more than half his life. He's also well-versed in the back story of the family business, which he shares on a recent afternoon.

It begins with Hungarian immigrant Jack Feldmar, who, in 1913, carved out a niche for himself by repairing broken watches for Hackensack, N.J., pawnshops. When Jack's wife, Bella, became sick, doctors recommended a change of climate. So Jack Feldmar moved West, setting up shop in downtown Los Angeles.

One of the firm's biggest breaks, says Meller, came with the advent of World War II. "The telephone company couldn't get repair parts because of the war," he explained, "so they brought my great-grandfather something like 196 stopwatches that couldn't be fixed. He was able to assemble 186 working stopwatches."

Feldmar's early stopwatch focus would prove fortuitous. "Stopwatches were used for timing all kinds of things — sporting events, television and movie production, coordinating bombing raids," Meller explains.

The family business moved from downtown to a stretch of West Pico Boulevard just east of Doheny in 1956. Sometime shortly thereafter, Jack Feldmar retired, passing the torch to his son and daughter-in-law, Barney and Harriet Feldmar.

"My great-grandfather wasn't really a businessman. He was just a watch repairman," Meller says. "And my grandfather ... was a watch repairman man.... He loved to build projects and [make] toys, but my grandmother — who is still alive at 93 — prior to my dad, she was really the boss."

Scott Meller's dad, 66-year-old former lawyer Sol Meller, married into the Feldmar family and has been working at the store since 1972.

Sol — known as "Uncle Sol" to longtime patrons — with his pleated pants, unbuttoned dress shirt and trim beard, is an enthusiastic throwback to an earlier era, quick to shake your hand and even quicker to speak his mind.

"By the second generation, most have either snorted it, sold it, blew it or didn't like it," Sol says about the prospect of a long-running family business. "The third generation almost never [gets involved].... How have we survived for four generations? It's because we live and breathe the watch business."

Scott Meller credits his father — whom he describes as the consummate salesman — with transforming the family business into what it is today. "When my dad took over, it was essentially a mom-and-pop business," Scott says. "They weren't making real money — they were just surviving. My dad put all the risk into the business, building [watch brands]."

If Sol brought the salesman's touch to the business, Scott's contributions have been to bring marketing efforts into the new millennium, publishing a thick yearly magalog, updating the company's business cards and logo and ensuring that the brand has a robust digital presence with a website, a Facebook page, Twitter feed and even Pinterest board.


The result combines a proven track record, an old-school emphasis on customer service, a deep bench of brands and new marketing tools to make for an up-to-date century-old business.

Scott Meller says while the family business plans to celebrate its centennial at some point this year, right now he's got a more pressing matter — getting a sign up on the outside of the building at 9000 W. Pico Blvd. It's the last piece of a recently completed 21/2-year renovation project that saw the store expand its square footage by 40% by taking over the building next door and adding a specially vented clean room that can accommodate 10 watchmakers processing about 400 repairs a month.

Standalone shop-in-shops for brands such as Omega and Breguet flank the walls, and glass display cases showcase the latest wares from luxury brands that include Tissot, Blancpain, Carl F. Bucherer, Breitling, Tag Heuer and Bell & Ross.

With the forward-looking renovations complete, what are the prospects for a fifth generation? On Scott Meller's smartphone is an image of a young boy holding the right side of his jacket open to reveal rows and rows of colorful watches pinned to the inside lining. It's his 5-year-old son, Jordan, from a kindergarten project in which students shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. Behind the boy a piece of posterboard reads: "I want to be a watch seller."