London Calling — The Big Smoke Is A Watch Lover’s Paradise
Four months — that’s how long it’s been since I moved to London with my family. Aside from a week and a half in Florida, I’ve been here nonstop. Folks often ask me how it’s going in the overall sense, but they’re especially curious when it comes to watches. Well, I’m happy to report that on both accounts, the experience has been nothing short of amazing. London, despite the reports of its imminent demise, is alive and well!
I won’t kid you; I’ve always wanted to live in London. Alongside Tokyo, this has always been my favorite city to visit for so many reasons. The history, the neighborhoods, the customer service, and the pubs (that might be number one!) rank highly on my list. As an English speaker from America, I also love that I can easily communicate here while it still feels European. But living here? People moan about the costs, the crime, the dirt, and the fact that the country is always days away from complete destruction since leaving the European Union. No place is perfect, but so far, I’m failing to see the downside. Perhaps most importantly for this article, it’s a great city if you happen to be a watch lover.
A warm welcome to London
My experience with people here in London has been fantastic from the get-go. I won’t make this into a negative discussion about my former home of Frankfurt, Germany, but there are seismic differences in the way that people socially interact. When I first announced that I was moving to London, the outreach from watch buddies, many of whom I had only “met” virtually, was incredible. Offers to grab a beer (oh, how I love my cask ale) or lunch came and weren’t hollow. By and large, people here are spontaneous, always up for a drink, and love to chat. To Lawrence, Nick, Giancarlo, Dave, Ben, Eitan, Vuokko, Josh, James, Mike, Chris, Dan, Neil, and more — thank you!
London is a massive city of over nine million people, yet I’ve found it to be very friendly. Are there classes of people who act snobby? I suppose so, but it hasn’t been my experience. Regarding watches, everyone is welcome, and the like-minded friends I’ve found seem to respect whatever a person decides to collect. From Patek to Swatch, people tend to appreciate the passion and dedication even more than the watches themselves. It’s an aspect of watch collecting that I knew existed but had rarely seen aside from a rare Speedy Tuesday meetup.
Always something to do
As a watch nut, I’m happy to report that there’s almost always something happening related to our collective hobby in London. Whether it’s the Breguet exhibition at the Clockmakers’ Museum or an auction preview, it’s easy to see amazing watches on display. As far as get-togethers, I’ve been fortunate to attend Time4APint for all but one month since I moved. It’s a wonderful venue that exemplifies all the non-snooty traits I mentioned previously, and I’ve met even more new friends there. Plus, it has reinvigorated my interest in vintage watches (as if that fire needed more stoking). Honestly, getting together and looking at watches is something all of us missed over the past several years.
When it comes to brand activities, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that London is one of the world’s great cities. Name the brand, and there’s probably a boutique here along with a dedicated, country-specific marketing arm. I’ve already been fortunate enough to attend some brand-related activities, and I’m probably not invited to the majority of them! If I were invited to everything and decided to attend, I’d need to look for a new spouse. There’s truly that much happening here.
The other point worth mentioning is that someone is always in town. Our place is essentially an Airbnb, but even if we don’t have guests, London is a destination. I’ve managed to meet up with Balazs and Dave from our team so far. Dave even did his best to clean out our refrigerator! 😉
History is part of the fabric
It’s nearly impossible to live in a city like London without coming into contact with history. It could be a blue plaque on the wall telling us that Jimi Hendrix once lived in the house, or it could be the sight of Big Ben. History is everywhere here, and it continues to shape a lot of the dialogue. It’s absolutely natural that it comes into play even more when vintage watches are the subject. Of course, England was involved in loads of military conflicts and was also a massive empire up until 60 years ago. Both points result in an absolute treasure trove of watches here on the “island,” and many are from an era earlier than my normal wheelhouse. Heck, I’ve even been eyeing pocket watches! With the help of friends, I’ve learned a lot and have seen pieces that never previously crossed my path. One of my favorite acquisitions thus far came in the form of a 9K gold (a very English alloy) Universal Genève piece that was given to an employee after 25 years of service.
The elephant in the room — safety
When it comes to watches and London, the number one question from outsiders is: “Is it dangerous there?” Concerns persist about robberies, machete-wielding moped riders, and crafty pickpockets who can remove a watch without its wearer noticing. Look, London is a city. It has incredibly wealthy areas, and it has poorer areas. Weirdly, the two seem to be where a lot of the trouble occurs. I’m not going to spout statistics because, frankly, I firmly believe that one can find numbers these days to suit an argument in either direction. I will simply give you my take on the situation.
The bottom line in London (and any city these days or historically) is to be smart and diligent. Is it wise to wear a gold Daytona in the summer with a short-sleeved shirt? I wouldn’t do it, but people do day in and day out. Is it warfare on the streets here? Absolutely not, and while there are plenty of bad stories, storefront thefts, and so on, I know loads of folks who wear their watches without fear. They don’t make a habit of flashing them around, but was that ever a good idea anywhere?
Now, to be perfectly honest, I rarely wear a Rolex and choose to keep mine in a bank vault. I simply see their bracelets as too recognizable, but I am in the minority. I see loads of Rolex, Cartier, Royal Oaks, Aquanauts, and the like on the Tube and on the streets among the flood of Apple Watches. Perhaps my more conservative stance has a silver lining. I now wear vintage or other modern watches that no one knows or cares about. Plus, it’s nice to give them some use.
No, London isn’t going away
The whole Brexit topic is a powder keg discussion point. It incites a high level of emotions from most who dare bring it up during drinks or dinner. Frankly, I’m not a citizen here, so I’ll keep my opinion on the matter to myself. I’m sure there are those who are currently hurt by the situation, and I suppose some are seeing gains. I also can understand why existing EU members are cranky with Britain. Yes, there are lots of emotions everywhere. When I was living on the “mainland,” the rhetoric led me to believe that London would fall apart and crumble within a short period. I know that the city is not representative of the entire country, but I can assure you that this place is crowded — all the time. It’s still the early days, but it very much feels like a powerful, large city. And if I bring that back to watches, it means that all the activities and opportunities I mentioned above should continue to exist. Like it or not, in as much as America is an aspirational country for many folks, London and its surrounds also still serve that purpose.
Yes, I love living here in London. My family is happy here, and we’ve had a great experience in nearly all respects. When it comes to watches, aside from New York City, I’m not sure there’s a more active locale. I’ll go out on a limb and remark that there probably isn’t a friendlier, more welcoming place than here when it comes to watches. It’s also remarkably diverse with all sorts of nationalities and both men and women taking part without judgment. So next time you’re heading to London, be prepared to enjoy all that the city has to offer when it comes to our hobby.