On August 13, HODINKEE received an email from a current Eleven James member alerting us to the fact that the prominent watch-lending service was no longer responding to his emails. When we checked the Eleven James web site, we found it to be totally unresponsive, failing to load over and over again. A perusal of the company’s recent social media activity revealed that, depending on the platform, the company’s channels haven’t posted any new content since May or June 2018. All of this seemed a little strange to us. Eleven James supposedly had thousands of members at its height, so why did it all of a sudden seem to disappear?
In case you’re not familiar with Eleven James, the company was founded in New York in 2013, and was a membership-based operation, providing its members with the chance to “test drive” multiple new watches over a period of time in exchange for a membership fee. You got a watch in the mail, wore it for a few months, sent it back, and received a different watch in its place. Simple enough.
Late last week, I reached out to Eleven James’s customer service number (it’s hard to find, but it’s 855-353-8365 in case you’re wondering) and left a pair of messages saying that I would like to speak with someone at the company directly. The next business day I received a call back from an employee who declined to give their full name, and got somewhat combative when I started asking questions and insisted that the website was merely experiencing technical difficulties. Something about this still seemed a little off to me.
Over the last two days, I have spoken with three former Eleven James employees, though only one of them is willing to be quoted by name. I also spoke to other sources with knowledge of the matter, though purely on background. All of these conversations confirmed a consistent narrative.
According to Robi Cai, the company’s former head of corporate strategy and development from September 2016 through June 2018, earlier this year Eleven James tried to raise additional funds to allow them to continue operating. When the company was unable to raise said funds, the company’s main lender pulled its existing line of credit, causing the company’s management and board to begin winding down operations around the middle of June 2018. This process involves reclaiming lent watches that are currently with members. Cai’s understanding is that members who have returned all watches would no longer be charged their membership fees. At present, he says that he understands there to only be a handful of employees remaining at the company.
Another one of the three former employees, who wished to remain unnamed in this story, told me that no public announcement has been made because Eleven James is trying to reclaim as many watches as possible as it winds down. The likely fear is that if customers know that the company is folding, they might try to hold on to the watches indefinitely. He also told me that there are three bids on the table from “well known pre-owned watch entities” to purchase Eleven James’s inventory of watches. I understand the concern here, but one has to assume that law enforcement could pretty easily take care of any would-be thieves – Eleven James presumably has names, addresses, and phone numbers for anyone with a watch, right?
Since Eleven James appeared on the scene five years ago, the company has enjoyed lots of positive media buzz and was covered by the likes of Business Insider, Forbes, and the New York Times (not to mention right here on HODINKEE). The idea to rent timepieces on a short-term basis was a novel one for the at-times stodgy watch business and followed in a path paved by the likes of Rent the Runway and the original incarnation of Netflix. But whereas fashion and media are, by their very definitions, ephemeral, fine watches tend to be viewed as more products meant to last a lifetime. The idea of experiencing a variety of watches on a revolving basis certainly seems to have appealed to Eleven James’s customers, but one wonders if offering financing on one nice watch would be a better strategy for purveyors of permanent luxury items. Only time will tell, but this seems like a strange end to a very interesting story.
Editor’s Note: Just as we were about to publish this story, I spoke with a current employee of Eleven James, notifying them that we were publishing and asking if they would like a chance to comment on the record. They politely declined the request.