Mount Everest. The Oval Office. The Moon. Precision timepieces have been to many of the great places in this world and beyond, and luckily for Charleston, they can also be found at M.P. Demetre Jewelers on King Street.
Milton Demetre and his family have been providing the Lowcountry with high-end watches since they opened their store in 1980. Their building—a former bank—is gorgeous, with a sandstone facade that would not seem out of place in ancient Greece. Inside, a high-vaulted, newly renovated showroom features antique chandeliers that throw light onto display cases of Rolex, Omega, Tudor, U-Boat and Scuderia watches.
In a world of electronic technologies and smartwatches, Peter Demetre, manager of the company, says that there’s still great demand for mechanical watches that exude craftsmanship and style, especially around Charleston.
“While there are certainly many people around the world who respect and collect the best brands, Charleston has a great watch community in its own right,” says Demetre. In fact, the Charleston Watch Society resides on the top floor of the Demetre building, and the family and society often coordinate events to celebrate fine timepieces.
While many styles of highend mechanical watches may have classic or even throw-back designs to celebrate past looks and achievements, the internal workings of new models are on the cutting edge of timekeeping technology.
The best companies in the world constantly research new methods and materials—such as antimagnetic ceramics to ensure precision amidst the barrage of electromagnetic waves that the modern world emits. The objective is to create what Demetre refers to as a “body/ watch” synthesis that allows a timepiece to become as much a part of the wearer as the wrist itself.
“When a person wears a watch, they want to wear it all of the time,” says Demetre. “This means that the best watches can handle anything you do, whether it’s swimming or climbing or staying out in the elements. The watch needs to be able to withstand everything that the wearer does, and the premier brands make sure that their watches are up to the task.”
Many of those premier brands are the same brands that have been around for decades. Rolex is, of course, still one of the most popular choices among watch enthusiasts.
“Rolex is a classic and will always be a classic,” says Demetre. The Demetres are so certain that Rolex will continue to be prized that they plan to expand their building to include a showroom specifically for the brand.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Rolex boasts two of the most famous watches around. The Presidential model, made famous in the 1960s by Lyndon Johnson, is timeless. It features an 18-karat gold casing as well as an 18-karat bracelet with a champagne dial and a day-date window. The Explorer model celebrates the company’s long-standing relationship with people who pushed the frontiers, including Sir Edmund Hillary when he became the first person to scale Mount Everest. It has a simple yet distinctive face and a steel band that ensures the watch can go anywhere.
It should also come as no surprise that Demetre’s personal favorite is a Rolex. The Milgauss, (from the Latin mille, meaning a thousand, and gauss, a unit that measures the strength of a magnet) was designed for scientists who needed precision timing but were exposed to high levels of electromagnetic interference that would stifle an ordinary watch.
Not to be outdone, Omega boasts a well-known watch of its own: the Speedmaster, also known as the Moonwatch. This model has been a constant companion to America’s space program and even landed on the moon with Buzz Aldrin. The Speedmaster ensures precise timekeeping and has two-date and 12-hour subdials housed within a stainless steel casing.
Even with the company’s wide selection of high-end brands and models, there’s even better news for watch enthusiast in the Lowcountry: Demetre Jewelers in one of the few places in the country that carries Grand Seiko, a brand that Seiko introduced in the 1960s and is only recently available in the United States.
“We’ve loved building strong relationships with our customers,” Demetre says. “Hopefully our products and our future expansion will make it even easier to help customers find what they are looking for.”
M. Luke Yoder is a freelance writer based in Charleston. Learn more at facebook.com/mlukeyoder.