The Kabazade family of Trabzon was large and prominent. According to Tevfik Aydın, a highly educated member of the family by the name of Hacı Mehmed Nuri worked as an examining magistrate at the Trabzon Courthouse. The father of six children, Mehmed Nuri Bey experienced some financial difficulties in 1889 and, in an effort to overcome them, opened a shop to sell watches and clocks. He got help from his son Tevfik, a student at a trade vocational high school, who became his father’s most important helper thanks to his talent for commerce. Assuming an increasingly central role at the store, Tevfik learned how to repair timepieces and also ventured into the eyewear business. Over time, their workplace at No. 15, Trabzon Kunduracılar Avenue turned into a general store. The young Tevfik Bey regularly traveled to İstanbul to purchase merchandise, and these trips both expanded his horizons and presented him with numerous opportunities. His bicycle, a rare sight in Anatolia at the time, and his well-groomed and modern appearance set him apart from most of his peers.
During World War I, Trabzon was severely bombed and then occupied, leading Mehmed Nuri Bey and his family to move to Adapazarı for a few years. They returned to Trabzon in 1917, once the occupation was over, and went back to business. In the early 1920s, the name “Nuri Bey and Sons” appears in the sources as both sellers and repairers of watches and clocks. In 1928, Kabazade Hacı Mehmed Nuri was one of three watchmakers in Trabzon, and the situation remained the same throughout the 1930s. His competitors included Abdülhalimzade Abdullah and Hafız Ahmed Fehmi of Polathane. Anxious not to violate the courteous standards of competition of their day, the firm placed some discrete advertisements. One, decorated with images of a pocket watch with Ottoman script, a wristwatch, and a pair of glasses, said: “Kabazade Hacı Mehmed Nuri, Selling Watches, Eyeglasses, Gramophones, and Miscellaneous Tools, both Wholesale and Retail.”
Tevfik Bey performed his military service in İstanbul’s Taşkışla barracks in 1937. When Trabzon got electricity in 1938, he saw another opportunity and obtained an electrician’s license after attending a twenty-day course of instruction at the Pertevniyal School. This made it possible for him to become the Trabzon agent for Philips light bulbs. In the meantime, when the Surnames Act was passed in 1934, Tevfik Bey convinced his father to take the surname “Aydın” and the firm’s name became “Nuri Aydın ve Oğulları” (Nuri Aydın and Sons).
When the number of radio transmitters began to increase during the 1940s, another chance presented itself for dealers in technological equipment. Nuri Bey and his sons, who had led the way with numerous innovations in the Trabzon area, did not pass up this opportunity. Despite opposition from conservative quarters, the Aydın family added radios to their product line. Meanwhile, Tevfik Bey had begun to put into practice what he had learned about electricity, taking on some contracts to build power networks around Trabzon, in Sinop, and elsewhere.
Still, even a major city like Trabzon remained too limited for his and his father’s ambitions. With some support from his older brother and his father, Tevfik Bey opened a store in 1940 in İstanbul’s district of Eminönü, and soon became a well-respected member of society. He was among the first members of the Watchmakers’ Professional Committee of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce, as well as among the founders of the Eyewear Sellers’ Association of Turkey and its first president. These years were a turning point for Tevfik Aydın in terms of professional specialization. While the eyeglasses business continued for many years, it soon became clear that mechanical clocks and watches were the way to go. An advertisement he placed in 1948 in the newspaper Hürriyet, immediately next to the masthead —i.e. in the most expensive spot in the paper— stressed the durability of his products and addressed potential customers as follows: “Do you wish to choose a permanent gift, a good friend? Then think no more…” He began to experiment with tradenames in 1949, launching Tefay and Nidya, words derived from his name and surname. The firm’s motto was: “We distinguish ourselves by selling the most excellent watches.” In 1955, the company advertised “rare” and bejeweled watches on the front page of the newspaper Tercüman.
Eminönü was one of the three principal commercial centers of İstanbul, and the store remained there until 1957, selling clocks and watches of many different makes. The importance given by Tevfik Bey to promotion and branding is clear in the newspaper advertisement he placed from the 1950s on. The “top of the line and accurate” models of makes like Movado were sold at No. 4-6, Eminönü Square. However, the store was torn down in 1957 as part of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes’s expropriations, together with many other buildings along the avenues and plazas by the Golden Horn.
In a 1959 advertisement published to inform old and new customers about his new premises, the company name Tefay Ticaret appeared next to that of Tevfik Aydın. Indeed, Tevfik Bey’s name had been more prominent than his father’s for a decade. When Mehmed Nuri Bey died in 1958, his sons took out an advertisement to thank all those who had expressed their sympathies; in another advertisement a few weeks later, they announced a memorial service in his name. Over the years that followed, it became clear that the foundation laid by Kabazade Hacı Mehmed Nuri had been extremely strong. Tevfik Bey took the reins of the business and quickly added to the brands sold at the store. During the 1960s and 1970s, Tevfik Aydın represented not only Zenith but also Zodiac, Tissot, Nacar, and Omega. Even more importantly, he turned his firm into a virtual school, sending apprentices to Switzerland for training in balance adjustment. Tevfik Bey recalls those days:
I was the Turkish agent for Zodiac watches for fifty-one years. The owner of that factory had a unique watchmakers’ school, and he was the balance teacher. My repairmen attended three-week courses there, and [many later] became shop owners themselves.
In search of new directions for his firm Tefay in 1959, he continued despite his advancing years to attract attention with such products and mottos as “Bürk, the Western Night Watchman’s Clocks,” “Candino Watches for the Modern Era,” and “Zenith and Dogma, the Jewels of Switzerland.” He publicly celebrated his 88th and 89th birthdays in 1976 and 1977, respectively, thus drawing his clientele’s attention to his vast experience in the profession.
During the 1970s, Tevfik Aydın also sought to invest in other sectors. He was, for instance, an investor in Kartonsan, a cardboard plant founded in 1969; as a result, he worked for years on promoting and developing the cardboard industry. He was also a partner in Dönkasan, a paper and cardboard recycling plant established in 1978, along with well-known businessmen like Sakıp Sabancı. Tevfik Aydın’s name is also among the founders of such diverse institutions as the Esnaf (Tradesmen’s) Hospital, the İstanbul Bank, and the Trabzon High School Alumni Association.
After completing his education, Tevfik Bey’s son Ömer Fatih Aydın had gone into business for himself. He recalls that the workplace in Eminönü was like a stack of pancakes, tall and narrow. Watches and eyewear were sold on the lower floor, while Eminönü’s only Philips radio and television agency was on the upper storey. When İstanbul Technical University began experimental television broadcasts in 1968, Philips sent Tevfik Bey’s store a sample set from which many people got their first taste of television.
The 1980s ushered in new kinds of watches —battery-operated instead of mechanical, plastic instead of metal alloy. Although the older watches were of high quality, the public turned towards the new disposable “Quartz” watches, causing some economic difficulties in the timepiece sector. Tevfik Aydın described himself during those years as a “watchmaker who hated the word ‘Quartz,’” but he was able to weather the storm. His son Ömer Fatih Bey and daughter-in-law Melahat Aydın joined him in 1991. The Tevfik Aydın brand has received awards for its century of service from a variety of institutions, including the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce. It is natural that such a long-standing institution would have had customers of long standing, and thus, in 1999, a civil engineer from Eskişehir whose watch, bought from Tevfik Aydın fifty years earlier, was still in perfect repair brought it back to the store. These latter alerted the manufacturer, Tissot, who acquired the watch for their museum and replaced it with a brand new one.
The firm is today a joint stock company whose shares are owned by family members. Canan Hanım, the daughter of Ömer Fatih and Melahat Aydın, Can Taşcı, the son of Müjde Taşçı have joined the business so that the third and fourth generations of the family are working together at the new branch in the Kanyon Mall. Time, in other words, has not stood still at the Tevfik Aydın store since 1889.
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