the dealer -
Timing is everything. Picture the electric atmosphere of a Wall Street trading floor ten minutes before close on a Friday. Transfer that scene to a smoke filled cafe in the West End of London and hey presto - South Americans, Egyptians, Italians, even Brits, all around a table arguing and bantering, whilst watches and cash changed hands faster than the blink of an eye.
I learned so much by just watching and listening. If, by chance, I had a sudden rush of adrenaline I would enter the horological feeding frenzy and make a minimal purchase. This invariably ended up with the loss of a couple of hundred whilst I tried to extract the watch from where the sun doesn’t shine. They ate me for breakfast. Not a full English, more like a croissant to them, but for me it was a Sunday roast. It was, however, worth the odd loss, not only for the knowledge I gained, but for the wonderful stories that were endlessly told ... An American had been on a buying trip to Peru. Such trips involved advertising in local newspapers stating your location, normally some swanky hotel, and giving certain times for locals to come and sell you their wares.
An elderly woman enters his room with a Rolex Daytona.
"How much do you want?", he says.
"Your advert says you pay $1000 any Rolex chronograph"
"And so?", he says, reiterating the question.
"Give me thousand dollar"
Now, a thousand dollars is nothing when you compare it to today’s price eight grand, but back then these watches were still worth at least three grand.
As the woman counts her cash she says nonchalantly, without looking up, "You want more?" Does a bear shit in the woods? He thinks before replying "Possibly".
"I have fifty", says the woman, looking up to gauge his reaction. "I used to work for the government", she continues, giving instant credence to her otherwise extravagant claim, as the watch he had bought was Peruvian Air Force issue.
Now if that had been me, I would have frog-marched her to the hoards, working out on the way how to organise a $50,000 payment with such an obscene potential for profit afoot.
"What am I going to do with 50 Daytona’s at $1000 a piece? Not for me, but thanks anyway", he replies.
"How much you pay?" the woman says.
"If they’re working $600, if not $450".
"I think", she says and leaves.
Four hours later a black sack containing not fifty, but fifty-three, Daytona’s was plonked at his feet with only six duds. A dud meaning that it would cost all of fifty quid to get it going again! It was fair though, I could have pretended a lot more weren’t working!" said the guy as he concluded his tale.
Normally, the trick was to work out which countries contained wealth during the 1940’s and 1950’s (the best period for watches) and try to buy. The most consistently successful hauls came from India. I knew an Italian who went twice and the purchases he made were nothing short of obscene.
On the first occasion he was awakened by a furious hotel manager at 9am sharp and asked to come at once to the foyer. He could not believe it as his gaze followed the escalating queue of around fifty Indians all arguing and trying to push in, apparently worried that he would run out of money before the tail-enders had a chance to see him!
He bought Rolex Prince’s for $200, current value £6000. Rolex Bubble Backs for $60, current value £1150. He even bought some Patek chronographs for $1000, current value £20,000.
Whilst earning these obscene profits, due to a newly emerging marked, must have been very nice thank you, it definitely causes problems in today’s market. Firstly, you’ have to stay motivated on a 20% profit, rather than the 500% you were used to. And secondly, you’ve really got to examine every piece very carefully as a mistake will cost you dear, whereas when buying watches so cheap that you needn’t open them, (safe in the knowledge that a good fake would cost you double the price anyway) you’re not actually learning anything. Ironic isn’t it. You might have had through your hands pieces that dealers like myself can only dream about, yet might be the easiest mark when it comes to fakes.
So, would I swap my knowledge for the cash that these originals have earned? You bet ya! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all measly twenty and thirty per cent profits. Every now and then you do get the chance of a food earner. About two years ago there was a stainless still Patek moonphase offered around to various dealers for £15,000. Now to some dealers that sounds a lot when you consider the gold versions are only worth £20,000. The thing is, they only made five in steel, and this one was unique. No one bought the watch and so it went to auction. £625,000 it fetched!
And where was I when it was being offered around? My first holiday in a year or so. See what I mean?
Timing, timing, timing.
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Like the reintroduction of the Mini motorcar over a decade ago, this reinterpretation of Big Pilot by IWC is better than the original. This 1st series Platinum example is of course the top of the top.