Anyone that is into watches in Chicago or around the Midwest region of the U.S. has heard his name. Howard Frum is the biggest pre-owned watch dealer in the Midwest and perhaps one of the top ten watch dealers in the country. As Howard himself says about anyone selling watches in Chicago —not in an arrogant way: "If he doesn't know me, then he is not in the watch business".
Howard is an amicable and very welcoming gentleman. He is a self-made businessman who started his business around 1978 after buying a Rolex watch for $175 and selling it for $225. At that time, little did he know that he would become the pre-owned watch authority in Chicago and the Midwest.
Located on the 8th floor at the renowned Mallers building in Chicago —the building with the big neon sign that reads 'Jewelers Center' located on 5 South Wabash—, Howard greets all his customers with a big smile and usually a joke. If you've been to Howard Frum Jewelers, you probably have heard one of his famous lines before: "Do you have any money?"
Additionally, Howard mentions that he was one of the founding members of the IWJG —International Watch and Jewelry Guild founded in 1988 by Burley Bullock. He told us that back in the late 80s, it was customary for dealers —like himself— to show up a few days earlier wherever the NAWCC regional shows were about to take place and buy all the good stuff before their shows started.
Howard holds a wealth of memories around watch collecting and trading that he likes to share with anyone walking through his shop's door, the same door that leads to one of the most fascinating and unique looking watch stores. As we were taking pictures around the shop and we were about to take a picture of the Audemars Piguet wall clock, Howard said: "We are just a mom-and-pop store, don't waste your time taking pictures".
A mom-and-pop store —like he likes to call it— that holds one of the largest selection of vintage and modern Rolexes sharing the showcases with Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks and Royal Oak Offshores, IWC Big Pilots and Aquatimers, Vacheron Constantin Overseas, Patek Philippe annual calendars, Panerais and other interesting timepieces from Graham to Tudor, to Cartier and everything in between.
In his shop, you will find almost every single Rolex reference —modern or vintage— including a few rare 1630s that are on display. Who knows how much more is sitting inside the safes and what rare pieces are not out on display but just waiting in the safe to be picked up by that buyer that placed an order for him to hunt down a Red Sub or a Double Red Sea-Dweller with box and papers.
Watch and sports memorabilia, autographed pictures of politicians, sportsmen and celebrities cover the walls and share the stage with amazing timepieces. Behind his favorite stool at the shop —right where the phone is located— a large display of patches from almost every police department in the state of Illinois guards his back. Howard has sold and repaired watches for musicians like Charlie Daniels and Chicago; actors and actresses like Sandra Bullock, Richard Pryor, Brian Dennehy, Rodney Dangerfield, Steven Seagal and Joe Pantoliano; sports figures like Ernie Banks a.k.a. Mr. Cub from the Chicago Cubs, Marián Hossa from the Chicago Blackhawks, golfer John Daly and former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén; and even politicians like the former governor of the state of Illinois James R. Thompson.
Who knows how many of the Rolex Submariners given away as wedding presents in the Midwest have been sold by him. This is the same man that on the day the stock market crashed in 1987 placed flyers on all cars parked by the Board of Trade with the tagline: 'Howard Frum Will Buy Your Watch'. There are two sides to this story, on one hand, he grew his business through a tough situation but on the other hand, he provided much needed liquidity to anyone in finance that day.
Howard is an innate salesman. A man that can sell ice to Eskimos and that before becoming the watch dealer that he is today used to sell advertising in newspapers as well as antiques. Finally, meet Howard and his business partner Maurice Tal.
Next time you stop by Howard Frum Jewelers, be careful with the small dog guarding the door, ask Howard for one of his exclusive pens and have him show you some of his magic tricks —he is almost as good as David Blaine. Howard, that trick with the matches was something else!
Oh yeah and make sure you buy a watch before you leave, he'll take good care of you.
Howard Frum Jewelers
5 South Wabash Avenue, Suite 814, Chicago, IL 60603
Monday thru Friday - 10am to 5:30pm
Saturday and Sunday - Closed
Walk-ins and by Appointment