As many of you are as passionate about watches as I am, I would like to share my recent experiences of shopping for contemporary and vintage watches in London.
I was excited to head to London to hopefully source some great watches as the city is known to have plenty of eclectic timepieces from leading brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin in the secondary market. British watch collectors have been vintage watch enthusiasts for a long time, which makes for a very exciting market for devotees like myself.
Since the British Pound is not as strong as it once was, this offers a better exchange rate for my US Dollars. Also, from my understanding, there are less Chinese tourists visiting and shopping in London right now and Russian expatriates are also spending less. So in theory, I was also expecting attractive prices.
During my stay, I explored two very different types of shopping—traditional secondhand and vintage watch boutiques at the renowned Burlington Arcade and other famous areas of London and the flea market.
I was overjoyed to feast my eyes on a wide assortment of beautiful watches from Rolex (including plenty of Submariner, Oyster, and Daytona watches), Vacheron, Zenith, Omega, Heuer, and Patek at the fancy boutiques. At the flea market on the other hand, I did spot some unusual watches, such as J.W. Benson pieces and half hunter pocket watches, but nothing that really stood out to me.
While I was happy to see such a great assortment of fine watches from different eras, unfortunately the prices were still very high and store owners were not flexible enough to offer better prices. It seems while the Chinese and Russian customers may have slowed their spending, the Middle-Eastern clientele is still very active and driving the market forward by buying watches at asking prices. However, as expected, sellers at the flea market were much more flexible in their pricing and were happy to discount their goods.
I was very surprised to see that most of the vintage Rolex watches displayed at “The Vintage Rolex Co.” (24 Burlington Arcade, Mayfair, London) had discounted price tags next to their sticker prices. For example, a 1978 Rolex Submariner had a retail price of £16,150 along with the discounted price of £12,920. There was also a Rolex Red Submariner at £28,000 discounted to £21,000 and a Rolex Daytona ref. 6265 originally priced at £61,000 reduced down to £48,000. That’s a 20% price reduction. Yet, despite the outwardly deep discounts, these London prices are still much higher than both the US market and the online watch market. In other stores I found an 18k yellow gold Patek Philippe World Time for £24,500 and a stainless steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for £14,500. Even after recouping the VAT at the airport, these prices are still higher than in the US.
Conversely, my experience at the London Omega boutique was different as the new limited edition Omega Seamaster 300 I have my eye on was, in fact, $800 cheaper than in New York.
Aside from the higher prices, I also found that the people working in the secondhand stores were not very friendly. In one particular store—specialized in watches no less—they did not have a loupe to get a closer look at the dial and the salesperson questioned why I wanted to see the details of the watch up close since they offer a two-year warranty. I suppose I am spoilt by top-notch American service and customer care at this point!
After visiting ten stores including the flea market, I have to say that the London market is exceptional for vintage watches, especially for unique pieces like a rose gold Patek with a Saudi map or a complete series of Vacheron Constantin watches from the 1950s. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for a person living in the US to buy a watch in London, given the more expensive price tags.
The stores I visited in London are: The Vintage Rolex Store, The Antique Watch UK, Watch Centre in Bond street, David Duggan, All Vintage Watches, Armour Winston, Watch of Westminster, Pieces of Time, and Vintage Watch Store. Below you will find a link with photos of the London watch shopping scene, including price tags.
Do you have any recent shopping experiences in London? Or any other international market for that matter that you’d like to share with me? I’d love to hear some stories from you too.
Until next time,
Laurent Martinez ✦ Laurent Fine Watches ✦
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