Please introduce yourself
My name is Justin Vrakas and I am 28 years old from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am the founder and CEO of watchsteez.com, an online boutique of rare but affordable vintage wristwatches. My brother and sister introduced me to Instagram over 3 years ago when I ditched my BlackBerry for an iPhone. I started by posting mostly personal photos along with the occasional wristshot until I discovered the #watchfam and got hooked. I have since met so many great people and so many great friends through Instagram. It’s funny now because you’ll rarely see a “personal” photo from me, even on my personal feed. The watch thing has sort of become my life in a way.
Is there a story behind your Instagram name?
No story, no creativity, just my first and last name put together (@justinvrakas). We have a separate Instagram account for watchsteez.com and you can follow us @watchsteez.
When and how did your passion for watches start?
My family is in the jewelry business and my great grandfather was a highly-skilled watchmaker, so I’ve always been fascinated with watches. I had several novelty watches as a young child (like my digital G.I. Joe watch), but I purchased my first actual watch when I was 14. It was a two-tone Casio quartz model for $51.15 and I still have it complete with original boxes, paperwork, and receipt. I later inherited a vintage Universal Geneve Polerouter Automatic that was owned by my great grandfather (he had good taste). This sparked my interest in mechanical watches and got me hooked on vintage watches in particular. Eager to learn more about mechanical watches and repair, I decided to take two semesters of horology classes at MATC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I am currently a member of the NAWCC (National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors) and the Commonwealth Crew, Chicago’s version of New York’s Red Bar Crew where I get to hang out with other watch nerds on a regular basis. I started selling watches over 10 years ago just as a means of getting through college without needing a real job, but I quickly learned that this was something that I wanted to do long term. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and becoming a licensed Certified Public Accountant, I went to work for a large CPA firm where I gained valuable entrepreneurial knowledge and real-world experience in business operations.
Which watches are in your current collection?
I currently collect almost solely vintage wristwatches, although I do have a couple of old pocket watches. What you see on my personal Instagram feed is what I am currently wearing and collecting, but things come and go quite a bit. I enjoy wearing chronographs that were manufactured for a specific purpose such as yachting, diving, military, motor racing, aviation, or medical/scientific use. Gallet is one of my favorite brands because they made many iconic watches designed specifically for these purposes. I also favor watches with useful complications such as those with a GMT function, moon phase, mechanical alarm, slide rule calculator, tide indicator, etc.
Why these watches?
These watches were built for a purpose and I can appreciate that. Each vintage watch develops a unique patina and comes with its own story. Where has it been? Who owned it? What did it do? You can drive yourself crazy searching for the answers unless you’re lucky enough to acquire a vintage piece directly from its original owner (or be the original owner). At watchsteez.com, we aim to bridge that gap and breathe new life into these vintage watches by giving them new homes and new stories.
Do you have a favorite and why?
If I had to pick a favorite watch in my current collection, it would be my Gallet MultiChron Waterproof Calendar in solid gold. It’s just so beautiful and elegant, yet complicated. Sometimes I just stare at the dial. It also looks great on my wrist. This model has drawn comparison to the famous “Jean-Claude Killy” Rolex (for only a tiny fraction of the price of course).
What are the most important factors when you buy a watch?
All of the above – I don’t think one can make an informed purchase decision based on a single attribute. I usually take into consideration a combination of things such as condition, originality, functionality, aesthetic, price, investment potential, etc. I’m the one wearing it at the end of the day, so I generally only buy what I love.
What are your grail watches and what’s so desirable about them?
The “Holy Grail” for me and my absolute end-game watch is the Heuer Carrera Skipper ref. 7754. It is rarer than rare and I can safely say that it is the coolest watch that I have ever seen. You get a stunning blue dial, colorful yachting sub-register, and red chronograph seconds hand all in a classic Carrera case, which is one of the best cases ever made in my opinion (and designed by Jack Heuer himself). I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to own one of these, but one can dream!
In your eyes, what makes the perfect watch picture and do you have some tricks?
It all starts with the camera – The iPhone 6 does the trick for quality Instagram photos. From there, it is a combination of good lighting, correct angles, and interesting backgrounds. Oh, and you need a steady hand to make sure the photo is in focus and not blurry.