A BOLT WHO’S NUTS ABOUT WATCHES - When Dustin Hoffman is in town and needs a dealer, he calls Tom Bolt. Wearing jeans and leather, the only clue to Bolt’s profession is the occasional flash of a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch, one of only eight in the world commissioned by the Sultan of Oman from Asprey. A self-confessed watch junkie, Bolt, 36, deals in modern and vintage pieces on his website watchguru.com, is currently helping Henry Dent-Brocklehurst to collect rare timepieces for display at Sudeley Castle and has just been appointed watch designer at Alfred Dunhill.
Bolt fell in love with watches aged 11, when he saw Rodger Moore playing James Bond wearing a souped-up, vintage Rolex in Live and Let Die. Bolt begged his parents, actress Sarah Miles and screenwriter Robert Bolt for a watch for 12th birthday. “I can still remember the moment,” he says, “as we drove through Richmond Park in my father’s Triumph Stag and I compared the Timex I’d been given with my father’s Rolex.”
Tom grew up surrounded by movie giants, including Laurence Olivier, Robert Mitchum, Paul Schofield and Robert Shaw. At 13 sporting a Mohican haircut, he toured Britain with the band The Subway Sect. He flirted with movies and television, but lost the role of a young monk in The Name of the Rose to Christian Slater.
Disillusioned with films, Bolt settled down seven years ago to pursue his love of watch-dealing. Now successful, happily married to Fifi and father to two-year-old Billy, he doesn’t give it a second thought when he sees Slater’s name in lights.
Watches provided bonding moments for Bolt and his father, in his dying days after he suffered a stroke almost 10 years ago. “He was a subtle man, my dad,” says Bolt, “but his face would light up when I brought a gold watch to show him.”
Bolt deals in watches that date from the Twenties to the present day, and are priced from £100.
“Boys love their toys,” he says, “and a watch is the ultimate gadget, so it can become a passion to men. The whole foreplay of finding a rare watch is so exciting.”
However, he urges caution for new buyers. “You have to find a dealer you can trust,” he says. “Seventy per cent of the value of a vintage watch lies in the face, and a dial may have been restored, which reduces its worth.
He maintains that rare watches, in their original state, make solid investments. “Vintage watches are like a Rembrandt painting,” he says. “They don’t crash in value because another one can never be produced again.” Bolt says he bought a Rolex Moonface Oyster for £15,000, five years ago. “I’d happily pay £50,000 for one now,” he says. His advice is to aim as high as possible and buy one good watch rather than five cheaper ones.
His first timepieces for Alfred Dunhill demonstrate a new vision of the brand’s driving ethos, with dashboard-style bezels and limited edition number plates beneath the dials, and were the talk of the Geneva watch fair last month. “I want to inject some humour into Dunhill watches,” he says.
And the watch he dreams of at night? A Fifties Patek Philippe screw-back, split second chronograph, of which only five were made; the last one sold for £1,500,000 at auction. For the rest of us, he tips Roger Dubois as a good buy and says that the movements by Jaeger-LeCoultre are vastly underrated. “I can also see the end of the big, sporty watch trend in sight,” he says, “and jewelled dress watches are very reasonably priced.”
Bolt’s “addiction” neatly came full circle last autumn, when he bought the original Rolex that featured in Live and Let Die, and persuaded Roger Moore, over lunch, to sign it for him. “I’ve had outrageous offers for it,” he says, “but I’m trying to resist and hold on to it.”
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