BY LARA BELL // 11.02.20
HOUSTON, Texas – November 02, 2020
Not too long ago, I was at my friend Donae Chramosta’s store, looking at a really nice quality pre- owned designer handbag. I was wanting a new workbag or briefcase but did not want to pay full price and she has hundreds available to purchase at a much lower cost. While there, her husband Rob happened to come out from his back office to say “hello”. He and Donae have always shared a space and now they share a name. She is known around Houston as The Vintage Contessa, showcasing new and fine quality authentic handbags and jewelry from Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and beyond. Rob’s company is Times Past. For over forty years Rob Chramosta has purchased, sold and traded coins, estate jewelry, fine watches and GIA diamonds. Rob started showing me Rolex watches dating back to 1920’s in sizes ranging from ladies to men’s jumbo watches. I have to admit, I am not very knowledgeable about watches but when he said, “Look at this one, it is a hard to find Steve McQueen watch from 1970”. Not understanding the value but somewhat understanding the coolness, I took a photo of it and sent it to my brother who is somewhat of a watch connoisseur. When he saw the Steve McQueen watch he said, “Is that for sale? I love that!” Even me, a non-collector, thought it was cool enough to do a story.
Swoon: Rob, tell us about Times Past and how you got started.
Rob: I began collecting coins as a kid growing up in Chicago, IL. My stepdad would ask me to mow the lawn as one of my chores, although I thought it was a better use of time to pay the neighbor kid to mow the lawn so I could go to coin shows and make money. At fifteen, I began traveling to coin shows buying rare coins and Rolex watches and at sixteen, I made more money than my mom made in her full-time job. That is when I knew I had a talent.
I decided to go to the same university as my step siblings, University of Colorado in Boulder because in addition to collecting coins I also had a passion for hunting, fishing and snow skiing. In Boulder I continued to buy and sell coins and watches, working part time at a coin store, adding diamonds to my repertoire. After graduating from college, I bought an unairconditioned VW Beetle convertible and traveled around Oklahoma buying scrap gold and selling rope chain to pawn and coin shops. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I still work today with the same guys I met forty years ago in the coin business. Now, many own auction houses, watch, jewelry and of course coin businesses.
In the early nineteen nineties, I moved to Houston to be close to my father and I realized this was the place I wanted to call home. In 1993 I split my time between Argentina, Brazil and Houston but ultimately decided to move part time to Mexico City in 1995. The peso was devalued from 4 to 1 to 8 to 1 compared to the US dollar. Given my ability to speak Spanish and my love of travel, I saw a great opportunity to buy beautiful jewelry from prominent Mexican families. I continue to do business with many of these families I met many years ago in Mexico. In 1997 I decided to lease my first office space in the jewelers building at 6222 Richmond.
Swoon: You have over 250 Rolexes from many decades. Can you tell us about some of the watches you have?
Rob: I have classic watches from the 1960’s and 70’s including Submariners, Explorers and Daytonas. My inventory varies daily based upon what is purchased in the store or arrives by carrier from domestic and international sources. I buy and sell basic Datejust Rolexes on a leather strap at prices starting at $2500 up to Daytona’s starting at $10,000.
The hottest watches out right now are the sport Rolexes. Even women are wearing the bigger dial sport watches, called the Professional Series, including Hulk, Smurf, Batman, Batgirl, Root Beer, Coke and Pepsi. They are really fun. For the most iconic look, male and female clients alike are always searching for great vintage Submariners and Daytonas. Those will never go out of style. The Times Past watch service program is a one-year warranty on any watch purchased by a retail client. The company also offers competitive pricing for Rolex, Cartier and similar brands needing service including cleaning, oiling and adjustments.
Swoon: Do you sell any other type of watches?
Rob: In addition to wrist watches, we also sell vintage pocket watches. The primary brands we sell are: Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet , Tag Heuer, Omega, Breitling, Hublot
and Richard Mille.
Swoon: I know this is like asking a parent their favorite child, but which watch is your go-to?
Rob: Donae recently bought me a Rolex Batman on a jubilee band for our fifteenth anniversary.
So, I would say that along with the Patek Phillipe travel time she got me as a wedding present are my favorites. Additionally, my father’s Rolex Explorer and my first 1971 Daytona I have owned for thirty plus years, are also very special.
Swoon: I read somewhere recently that Rolex Watches are hard to buy now due to demand. Is this true and can you explain?
Rob: Yes, that is true. The demand for Rolex far exceeds the supply. In fact, Rolex watches bring over retail- even in preowned conditions. During COVID, Rolex stopped production and shipping, causing a shortage and an increase in demand.
Swoon: Full disclosure, as you know, I’m dear friends with your wife Donae, tell our readers how and why you all combined businesses to “The Vintage Contessa and Times Past”.
Rob: After meeting and dating, she and I began traveling together. As I searched for watches, diamonds, coins and jewelry, she was on the hunt for pre-owned luxury handbags and accessories for herself and friends. With a passion for fashion and lover of all things vintage, her family and friends christened her as “The Vintage Contessa” In 2011. Donae officially left her family business and launched her own division of Times Past, sharing my showroom with her handbag and accessories business under her own name.
I am really proud of what Donae has accomplished in the field as a pre-owned luxury dealer. She is a respected influencer and philanthropist in Houston.
Swoon: You all started a podcast together recently, how is that going?
Rob: In an effort to stay connected with the community Donae had the idea to launch a podcast called, Living the Authentic Life. Each week we invite different personalities to come on to share their authentic journeys of connection, commitment, and purpose as they tell their unique stories that led them to answer the question, “How do I know it’s real?” It has been a lot of fun. I am normally traveling to shows domestically and internationally approximately two hundred days a year so when the pandemic happened we had to come up with different ways to reach wholesalers to buy, sell and trade virtually. Together Donae and I expanded our outreach by including a Monday Facebook Live segment at 1pm, Tuesday is unboxing, WACKY WATCH WEDNESDAY is a lot of fun to do watch facts and trivia, Thursday is our 10am Podcast, and Fridays we do giveaways. We were surprised how popular these facebook LIVE segments were and that just told us people love to see luxury items for great prices.
Swoon: Last question- I promise! What will you be doing for Thanksgiving this year and what do you think is going to be some of the hot Christmas gifts this year.
Rob: Donae and I along with Bella our thirteen-year-old daughter and our spoiled King Caviler will go to Beaver Creek. We all love to ski and have a lot of friends and family there. As for what is going to be on lots of lists this Christmas? Of course, vintage and new style Rolex watches, specialty diamond dial and bezels for watches, diamond hoop and stud earrings are always popular and classic. We have also been stocking up on Hermes Belts and Clic Clacs bracelets as those tend to sell as fast as we get them in. Then Donae says she has been getting calls for Chanel totes and belts, Louis Vuitton monogram bags, specifically Keepalls, Neverfulls and Crossbodies and Gucci’s hard to find new collection handbags.
For more information you can find The Vintage Contessa and Times Past call 713-977-7296 or visit us at www.thevintagecontessa.com.
Special Thanks Rolls Royce North America and their 2021 Rolls- Royce Ghost, the Hat Store and Tavaero Jet for assisting with photo shoot.