Why London’s largest vintage retailer only sells Rolexes

“We’m lucky because we do not attract that kind of smash ‘n’ grab criminal,” says David Silver. “I don’t think that kind of criminal would really know what to do with what we sell. You need the sophisticated kind of criminal who appreciated design and history. “

Still, Silver has a very large safe where he packs vintage Rolex watches for millions of dollars away every night. In fact, Silver, which runs The Vintage Watch Company in London’s Burlington Arcade, owns the world’s largest collection of Rolex watches.

“Of course, our inventory always changes, but I own every watch in our hands,” Silver says. “And if I buy a watch, I must know that it is the real thing, because it is an investment for me personally, not least because the prices paid for these pieces now mean that a mistake has greater consequences. Whether it’s a watch for £ 2000 or £ 200,000, it has to prove itself to me as a Rolex. Really, the number of dealers who do not [that due diligence] is extraordinary. “

Silver’s company name is misleading in a sense, because all he sells globally are vintage Rolexes – from entry-level oysters, often bought to match the year of manufacture to a year of birth, to rare pieces sought after by hardcore collectors. He is not, he says, himself a watchmaker, but a retailer competing in the wider world of fashion and design, having put the family business’ big bet on vintage a little over 25 years ago, when vintage was still more typical , and less appealing, called used. (Although in watchmaking there may be a completely different appeal to that phrase.)

A small part of David Silver's extensive collection of vintage Rolex watches at Vintage Watch Company's outpost in London

A small part of Silver’s collection

Vintage Watch Company

“Vintage was just this very clique, very cool thing for a particular set to begin with. But then in 2017, Paul Newman’s Daytona was auctioned for $ 17.7 million and became the most expensive watch sold in history, found itself on every front page, and suddenly vintage watches were perceived as desirable, ”he recalls. “It’s funny, but Rolex used to be so uninterested in its past, and now it revels in tracing each model back to some origin story. Vintage now means special, individualistic.”

But for Silver, at least that means Rolex too. He says what he is doing could not be done with any other watch brand. Rolex has surpassed the clock nerdiness to become the all – time luxury watch among the five largest global brands. It’s the watch brand everyone has heard of, regardless of their interest in watches. It’s also what has enabled him to recently publish a hefty coffee table book, Vintage Rolex: The largest collection in the world (Pavilion).

“Rolex has done an extraordinary job with its marketing and still does – its ties to sports, Hollywood and so on – even to the point that it has been criticized for running advertising campaigns for watches that no one can buy,” explains Silver. “Does Rolex make the best watches in the world? No. They are not even that rare – Rolex makes hundreds of thousands of watches every year. But there is a genius in creating a brand and a product that is so desirable for all faiths and walks of life. And the drug is there. ”

book cover "Vintage Rolex: The largest collection in the world"

“Vintage Rolex: The Largest Collection in the World”


“For me, as for many people, it’s about the design, the colors, the outside of the watch,” he adds, noting that classic Rolex models like the Oyster and Submariner are probably the most copied watches – of other watch brands, never mind counterfeiters – ever. “If I were in a hostage situation and had to name all the parts of a mechanical watch, I would probably fail. Customers typically know more about watches than I do. But I know what sells. I know how to dress a watch.”

He learned this from his father, John, who owned a chain of jewelry stores before selling them to a large British department store group. John Silver was briefly director of that group. When he traveled, he did so after learning a lesson: in retail, working with critical mass. Offer not only handbags in five styles, but in 55. “And my dad thought he could offer critical mass with vintage Rolexes,” says David Silver. “It also meant that the pressure to sell was gone – because a large portion of our stock is still rising steadily.”

It also means that when he buys – from people who contact him about any heirloom they do not want, from dealers, occasionally at auction – he is also careful to ensure that the watch is 100% vintage. There are plenty of very sophisticated restorations, he says, which nonetheless result in discrepancies between parts: a genuine 1960s Submariner given a genuine 1990s Rolex disc, for example. Since even Rolex is sometimes a customer – filling in gaps in its archive – it’s important. “It’s the kind of detail I go into a lot. A watch that is not completely original, completely point-correct, would not be a watch for us,” he says.

Not that The Vintage Watch Company caters to the kind of high-roller who would probably put his purchase away in a safe and await a nice return a few years later. Of course, some people come in and ask for the rarest watch he has, a question Silver gently dismisses as a bit nonsensical. “A Rolex over 100 years old is rare, but not very valuable. Of course Daytones are rare, but then there are GMTs that are rarer,” he says. There are, he says, watches that are so rare and so rare that they become an obligation – hard to pass on to a broadly ordinary customer.

A vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust

A vintage Datejust

Vintage Watch Company

“Being offered a £ 250,000 watch is a lot of money to invest when we do not know who can buy such a watch or when,” he explains, “and when we could buy 25 GMTs for the same money. has never set out to be ‘the proud owner’ of a certain incredibly rare model … Can we sell it? We do not get emotional about the watches; there are lots that we on paper should not have sold because of their subsequent “But it’s not retail. And that’s my father’s discipline there.”

“Besides, most of our customers love the watch they buy, and those are the customers I’m interested in,” Silver explains. “It sounds pretty awful to say, but there are plenty of people who can spend up to £ 20,000 on a watch without thinking much about it – and we can not deny the business we are in. But if you spend over £ 20,000 on a watch, which is the sweet spot, you better really love it. “

Of course, Silver needs to keep up with trends: inevitably a new release from Rolex will create a demand for its vintage equivalent, and not least because Rolex’s extremely tight inventory control means you’ll probably not be able to grab a new model for some time anyway. Right now, Rolexes with “stella” discs – colored – are hot. Right now, patina is also important for the horophiles: a “pumpkin” lume or a “tropical” dial or a “ghosted” bezel, the fading and discoloration that only comes with age, and which for some is so valued for being an expression of age that they get their own insider terminology.

“But, frankly, other people are appalled by the patina – the idea of ​​paying three times the normal rate for something in distress makes no sense to them at all,” laughs Silver.

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