Just over 15 minutes from the Greenville Spartanburg International Airport, in the Hub City of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is an unassuming cluster of houses. By all accounts, this particular neighborhood of Spartanburg is unremarkable. That is, unless you’re a fan of vintage Seiko watches.
The cluster of houses is home to Hub City Vintage, and its founder, Seth Roberts. Roberts is tall, lean and clean cut. He has a southern drawl, but his speech is clean. He’s organized, methodical and particular. He’s a father, a husband and caretaker to two cats. He also happens to be the guy for repairing, sourcing and selling vintage Seiko watches from the 1960s, 1970s and occasionally the early 1980s.
For the uninitiated, Roberts founded Hub City Vintage in 2015 and now sells around 12 watches in drops on his website every few weeks. “It literally started as I was just flipping a couple things I found on eBay,” Roberts says. “I wasn’t servicing anything back then. I literally had a full-time job, and I didn’t have time to do any of that kind of stuff.” His full-time job at the time? Working at a Rolex authorized dealer in Spartanburg. That’s where Roberts cut his teeth. He was fortunate enough to be mentored by watchsmiths there, and it’s where his interest in watches that he fostered from a young age exploded.
So why go from a Rolex dealer to fixing vintage Seiko watches? “[Seiko] watches are just built so well, and they last” Roberts says. “I felt better about selling Seiko watches to people than a lot of the other brands that I was doing at the time because they were so reliable. And I enjoy working on them. The more I did, the more I enjoyed it. The breadth of Seiko is huge. It covers everything from $10 to $10,000, you know? It’s a massive, massive brand.”
But it’s about more than that. “I’ve never looked back. I thoroughly enjoy this,” says Roberts. “We live a very modest life, you know. We’re not looking to be millionaires. I love getting to do what I love, and there’s not a day that I wake up and I don’t come in here ready to go to work.”
In Roberts’ shop, which occupies a decently-sized room in the back of his house, everything has its place. It’s clean, but not sterile. His tools are just so. In fact, he’s very particular about his tools, down to the brand of cotton swabs he uses for cleaning watch parts by hand (they’re yellow, and the sticks are made from plastic instead of paper). Of course, he doesn’t clean every part by hand — rather, he also uses an ultrasonic cleaner to bring parts back to top shape. On the walls are letters from happy customers, vintage Seiko magazine ads and various other pieces of Seiko watch paraphernalia.
But his shop wasn’t always such a prominent part of his house. In the beginning, in fact, his shop wasn’t much of a shop at all, and work progressed slowly. “He was working in our dining room instead,” says Caitlin Roberts, Seth Roberts’ wife.” And he had this bench that he would stand at. He can do about 12 watches now in two weeks. It probably took him that same amount of time to do one or two.”
Today, Roberts’ vintage Seiko watches are highly sought after. He’s shipped watches as far away as Gibraltar and Australia. When he posts watches to his website, they sell out almost instantly. “I have a lot of repeat customers who have Google Alerts set up or something,” Roberts jokes. “They know when changes happen to my site. I don’t even get to the Instagram post before they’re selling.”
But there’s another reason that Roberts’s watches are flying out his door: they’re priced fairly. “The hardest thing for me to do is price the watches. I know what I’ve got, and I need to pay my mortgage and put food on my family’s table, and make a certain amount of money,” Roberts says. But I would never do it at the expense of taking advantage of someone else via the price of a watch. Do I think I could sell them for more? Yeah, I do. I could probably put higher prices on there and move them, you know, maybe not as easily, but I want to feel good about the whole situation. I want people to feel good about the watch they got.”
Seeing Roberts stooped over his workbench, loupe glasses on, disassembling, cleaning, fixing and then reassembling a watch, is inspiring. It’s deliberate, disciplined and efficient. And above all, it takes patience. When asked if Roberts always had patience, his response is clear. “No, no, no. I’m not a very patient person. But this is different. This is like my therapy. Having a finished product in your hands in something you lack at a lot of jobs. There are few things you can do that are so involved in a minute. You don’t have time to think about anything else.”
The Three Watch Collection
If Seth Roberts could only have three watches in his collection, these are the ones he’d hang onto.
Grand Seiko Chronometer 5722-9990 by Seiko Learn More: Here (Photo: The Grand Seiko Guy)
Submariner 5513 by Rolex Learn More: Here (Photo: Crown & Caliber)
Speedmaster Professional by Omega Learn More: Here (Photo: Crown & Caliber)