Ultra-luxury CT jewelry and watch store closing its doors after nearly 50 years
Armstrong Rockwell Watches & Fine Jewelry owner Al Armstrong talks about the details on an Arnold & Son watch at his store on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The watch and jewelry store will be closing their doors after 47 years in business in Hartford. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Hartford's Armstrong Rockwell Jewelers, a staple along the city's iconic Trumbull Street, is set to close its doors after nearly a half-century in business.
Known as a destination for high-end watches and jewelry, Armstrong Rockwell sells designer Swiss watches and jewelry from several ultra-luxury brands, including Omega, Carl F. Bucherer, IWC, Arnold & Son, and Hearts & Arrows Diamonds.
"It's not a store that people just drive by and walk in, it's a destination place," Armstrong said. "We have people from all over come here. But you can wait a while for someone to walk in."
But it wasn't always that way for store owner Al Armstrong.
"I came from humble beginnings," Armstrong said. "I was the guy that would run around to the pawn shops on Park Street and try to see what they picked up. I would then run little ads that would say I'm buying vintage watches in newspapers. In those days, I had a parade of people walking by and coming in."
Armstrong started his business in 1976 on Asylum Avenue, right next door to the Brownstone. In the nearly five decades since, the well-known jewelry store owner said he has seen great change in both the industry and the city.
"There were 6,000 people a day walking by my window on average back in those days," Armstrong said. "There were shops, shoe stores, clothing stores. We even had a haberdashery.
Steinway pianos were sold on the corner of Ann Street. We had a Huntington's bookstore. It was really the place to be back then. Little by little, stores began to leave. I was proud to stay in Hartford."
Through the 1990s, Armstrong began to tailor his business towards a high-end market, making the little jewelry store on Trumbull Street an international destination for those looking for ultra luxury. By the mid-19905, Armstrong Rockwell Jewelers was selling the most expensive watches on the market.
Armstrong Rockwell Watches & Fine Jewelry owner Al Armstrong talks about the details on a Roger Dubuis watch at his store on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The watch and jewelry store will be closing their doors after 47 years in business in Hartford. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
"My store became known as a safe place to trust and send insane amounts of money," Armstrong said. "Customers were assured that we would deliver the right product for the exact condition we said it would be in. We never had one single complaint in all of our years in business."
Among the more notable watches to pass through the shop was then the most expensive watch ever sold at $1 million. The Blancpain 1735, released in 1991, pioneered the minute-repeater.
The technology, which remains cutting edge, strikes out three different mechanical sounds for hours, quarters, and minutes. The watch, with more than 700 individual components, remains the world's most complicated produced automatic winding wristwatch. Minute-repeater watches are among the most expensive in the world.
"I've had an incredible career and I've been able to meet all sorts of people," Armstrong said.
In his store, surrounded by millions in merchandise, Armstrong points to two items of which he's most proud: a map of the world with pins on every continent showing his customers over the decades and a 70-year-old "dollar watch" that sits inside a heavy safe.
"I was 5 years old when I got my first watch," Armstrong said. "It's an Ingersoll movement pin-lever escapement that was called a dollar watch back then. My brother and I were each given one by a man that worked at the bank my mom used to work at. His name was Eddie Jordan. That watch now sits in my safe next to some of the most amazing mechanical watches in the world. It really spoke to me back then. It's what started all of this."
The store, which also sells fine cut diamonds from Hearts and Arrows and FOPE gold bracelets, will be selling several of its luxury pieces at a discounted rate over the next month to clear out merchandise. Armstrong said that he expects customers to come from all over the area to view his inventory. The store is just one of two Omega authorized dealers in the state, the other being in Greenwich.
Armstrong said he intends to maintain a presence with an online e-commerce site and plans to have a small private office in Hartford for those looking for a curated selection of inventory by appointment only. The 75-year-old jeweler said that Hartford remains his home.
"I've met the most interesting and amazing people from industry experts to well-known celebrities. I've represented and sold the most exclusive timepieces and diamonds in the world.
I'm ready for new endeavors."
Longtime customer Jeffrey Bodeau, who has purchased several timepieces from the store over the years, said the announcement is a huge loss to the industry.
"I've been a customer since I was 28 years old," Bodeau said. "He's always been good to me. His knowledge is off the charts. It just blows me away. He knows so many people and he was really the focal point of the industry in central Connecticut right in downtown Hartford. It's sad to see him close his doors but I completely understand it. The fact that the store has been around for 50 years in business, it's monumental."