The process of buying a luxury watch is as arduous as it is exciting. It’s a matter of building relationships and trust with sellers as they try to find the exact model you’re looking for, which can prove elusive. The seller-buyer dynamic has its own complications; I made my first big watch purchase a few years ago, and I found that salespeople—mostly men—had plenty to say to me. They recommended smaller faces, diamond bezels, things that would feminize my watch. (I finally landed on a Rolex—31mm, two-tone Datejust, with a gold face and a jubilee band.)
In the years since I bought my watch, watch content has exploded on social media. But the business of making watch videos, much like the rest of the watch world, is still predominantly a man’s game. Just this month Jasper Craven wrote for the New York Times about what he called on Twitter, “the appeal of TikTok’s watch men.”
Among that crowd, Julia Azer—known to her 300,000 TikTok followers as @watchbyjuls1—stands out. Her videos on TikTok and Instagram document her hardnose negotiations as a watch seller, her sharp expertise, and even sharper wit. But Julia’s content is more than just another account in a sea of #watchtok creators—and it’s not just because she stands out as a woman in this male dominated field. Watching Julia’s videos makes me want to buy a watch from her, but there’s something about her content that makes me want to be like her, to be her friend, to sit and talk to her for an afternoon about the magnetic person behind the TikTok fame.
So I ring her up over FaceTime. Calling from her apartment in New York, she is wearing her signature wide brim hat. Her bright blue eyes attract comments on her videos and it’s clear why: they’re striking—warm but determined, it’s like there’s a superspeed computer working just behind them. I called Julia on a Sunday morning, but it wasn’t a day off for her—she doesn’t get those, she explained. That’s the job.
I first came across Julia on TikTok, in a video by vintage watch expert and #watchtok power player Mike Nouveau: she was the only woman in a group of mostly older men who all sell watches on 47 St. in the Diamond District of New York City.
That’s part of what makes Julia’s social media presence so winning: it’s thrilling to watch her deal with men, often twice her age, with brute but nimble precision. She calls herself the little fish who “navigates among the sharks.” Videos of her negotiations are high stakes but without pretense. She’ll throw in dinner with a seller or a cup of coffee that she owes them, and she’ll chow down on thin crust New York style pizza plopped on the glass counter she works at. She’ll explain the difference between two high end models of iconic Rolexes, and film herself hustling her way through a watch flip from start to finish. And she does all her wheeling and dealing in chic silk blouses, sharp black eyeliner, and with perfectly manicured nails.
Watching Julia barter with a client or fellow dealer feels like witnessing a tightly choreographed dance where she sets the pace; she’s in control in a way that’s addictive to watch. It’s apparent that people underestimate her, for whatever reason—age, gender, experience, or all three. But Julia has an adept sense of how to use her expertise, charm, and savvy. You can feel her beam through the screen when she seals a deal, and proves an obviously skeptical counterpart wrong.
But Julia’s TikTok celebrity is just part of her story. Azer grew up part of a small Jewish community in Morocco. After studying in Israel—where the educational opportunities for women were better—she moved home and saved to move to the US. While in Morocco, she started selling secondhand luxury goods; after moving to New York to continue her studies, she kept up the practice in her free time. But she outgrew that world quickly: after landing a big client the company she worked for had been trying desperately to get, her boss denied her commission.
This was a turning point for Julia and soured her on the fashion industry. Then Covid hit, and she got laid off. She started to game out her next move and she thought about her grandfather, a watch lover.
“I always asked my grandfather,” she says, “What is 47th Street? [He would say] ‘This is the Diamond District, where everything happens.’ And I said in my head, I’m going to work there.”
She put in a call to someone she knew working on 47th Street and offered to work for him for free—managing social media, listings, grunt work. She knew next to nothing about watches, so she spent her days googling, watching videos on YouTube, and texting with a watchmaker she knew, learning about the inner workings of timepieces and of negotiations. These days, Julia manages reselling and negotiations from top to bottom; she sources and authenticates watches, manages repairs, and resells to clients of Ari’s Luxury Watch on 47th Street.
The world of #watchtok gives the impression that flipping watches is a high-speed, high-yield business, but this is an oversimplification, Julia says. It’s also high-risk, and reputation is everything. Julia’s authentication process is meticulous; she’ll refer to two, sometimes three watchmakers—filming all her interactions for documentation.
“It’s a lot of work….It’s a 24 hour job,” she says. “You want the client to be happy because you want the client to come back. Because the client is going to send you the cousin and send you the other cousin and the other cousin and you’re going to make your margins, but you need to have good service in the beginning.”
Watches are unique in the luxury goods market. Despite the often astronomical price of the watches Julia and others on 47th St. sell, the demographic of watch buyers, collectors, and sellers looks nothing like the insular world of luxury retail on social media which is, in large part, driven by a culture of exclusivity. The world of luxury watches and reselling is singularly diverse and down to earth, she says.
The people she works with, she says, are a community of immigrants like her, while buyers include everyone from the uber-rich to working class folks looking to commemorate a milestone in life with an investment that will stand the test of time unlike any other luxury good.
Still, despite its lack of snobbery, the watch world isn’t exactly hospitable to women, she says.
“The men look at you, they think you’re stupid,” she says. “They turn their backs and they ask [my] boss….One day a client was very rude to me, so I just said, ‘Why are you being rude to me? Do you know the reference of the watch? Do you know the model number? Do you know how the watch runs?’ And I started showing him. And my boss was looking at me saying, Oh this girl is good, she doesn’t give a shit about anything, she’s doing the job.”
And it’s a gender divide that’s not necessarily reflected in her clientele: most of her followers on social media are men, while most of her customers are women. She says one of her biggest hopes is to inspire more women to develop a love and knowledge of the world of watches.
Julia takes great pride in being an immigrant woman who made it on her own—while most of her colleagues are carrying on a family business, Julia is building her reputation from the ground up. “I’m in a male industry, I’m the only woman,” she notes. And while “working with men was hard at the beginning, but now I love it.”
She’s managed to adapt. She explains that the wide-brim hats that feature in almost all her videos are more than just a fashion accessory. “It’s strategy, because when you’re doing face to face contact, you cannot express your emotion. If you’re not comfortable you lose yourself. And I felt I needed a way to manage that.”
She tilts her head down and shows me how easily the brim of her hat obscures her face. “It also helps [dealing with] eye contact,” she says, “because you know, when men look at women, they are like dogs. Men are dogs.”
We share a knowing laugh and I ask her if she feels like her feminine intuition has its advantages, too.
“I think one minute after talking to the person, I know. I know if they’re going to buy, I know if they’re not going to buy,” she agrees. (She also jokes that she can tell a lot about a man by the watch he wears—her favorite is a Patek Phillipe Calatrava.)
And she’s already paving the way for the next generation. A few weeks after our chat, Julia messages me on WhatsApp, excited to share that she has hired a new girl to work with her at Ari’s Luxury Watches.
Perhaps her most recognizable mark as a woman on 47th Street is linguistic. Watch sellers often close deals by exchanging mazels—Hebrew for good luck and congratulations—to signify the completion of a negotiation. Julia wanted a word that could represent the position she earned as a woman in this man’s world. “I wanted to change it a bit and put feminism inside the word,” she says. So, as a French speaker, she added an A to end, feminizing the word.
“Every time I finish a deal,” she explains, “I say mazela.”