Having just had Small Business Saturday 2018 we thought what better way to promote small businesses than feature a fellow trader on our website. Luke from Watch U Wareing specialises in the sale of Vintage timepieces.
What enticed you to the world of vintage watches?
I fell into it by accident. I was looking for a way to earn a living that worked around my girlfriends ME. I started going to local auctions and bought a mixed bag of jewellery and watches. There were 3 obviously fake Rolex in the bag and a gents Tissot. In researching that watch I went down a rabbit hole and saw a picture of a Bulova "Wrist Alarm". I was really interested in the idea of a mechanical alarm watch and captivated by one small detail, the alarm hand was wiggly rather than straight. I had to have one but couldn't afford it although every so often when I found a watch I liked that was affordable I'd buy it "to tide me over". Unaware that I was already addicted I eventually realised I'd formed a collection with an emphasis on American and Art Deco and unusual watches.
(if you want to know how that became a business) I was reluctant to sell any of these watches but I thought with the little bit of knowledge I'd picked up I should concentrate the fledgling business on an area I had a vague clue about rather than the random purchases I was bringing home from the auctions. This conveniently meant I could buy more watches because I was definitely going to sell these lol. I realised I was going to need to buy some ladies watches too and bought a selection that I thought would appeal. I was wrong and nearly gave up on the ladies watches until I had the fortune to talk to a lady dressed as a flapper girl on Instagram. It turned out she (like a lot of enthusiasts) would dress head to toe in authentic gear but didn't think she could afford a 1920s watch. She looked at my page and bought two (& a few more since). When they arrived she showed her friend who bought an Edwardian one. I realised there were plenty of people out there who, like me, had a taste for something different from the norm.
Tell us about your favourite watch that has been in your collection and what makes it so special?
It's hard to pick a favourite, I love all my babies equally. I really love the American style of the mid 20th Century, if you look at a British car compared to an American one from that era you'll get what I mean. I do have the odd classic traditional watch in my collection but I like to wear something I know no-one else has and I discovered it doesn't have to be expensive to be exclusive. I have a watch with my sons name on the dial as the brand, another from the year of my birth but if push came to shove I'd probably choose a watch that doesn't even work! It's a Louvic "Reverso" It looks like a regular watch but if you turn it over there's another watch face but with a "Mystery Dial" (it has no hands, instead two "Diamonds" that appear to float around telling you the time). I've had it for years and haven't been able to find someone to work on it. It runs but has issues due to having 2 faces going in opposite directions, I've seen 3 or 4 now and every one has the same problem so it's a design fault. But it's still really cool.
Do you have any up and coming events that you will be attending ?
I have 2 fairs booked in the run up to Christmas - Dec 2nd Frock Me Vintage in Kensington which runs as a double fair 4 times a year, Clothes downstairs and a specialist Jewellery fair upstairs. It's genuinely full of the best Vintage items, you get lots serious collectors there along with some celebs as well as the enthusiasts and the public. There's also plenty of TV & Movie costumiers buying, last time I sold two watches that will be worn in ITVs Grantchester and three for a Spanish movie set during the Spanish Civil War. There's some rare items but also some bargains to be had, I'd recommend it even if I wasn't going. I'm also doing Lady Bay Vintage Fair in Nottingham on the 15th, a really well run fair which also has fantastic food cooked by the organiser Virender.
What process is undergone when renovating your watches?
I don't work on my watches myself, it's easy to break or lose something if you don't know what you're doing so I use a professional horologist for any work. A basic service involves dismantling the movement, Ultrasonically cleaning it, re-lubricating whilst reassembling and electronically timing it. If required or requested parts are replaced.
Not every watch is economically viable to service and my guy has more work than he can handle but every watch I sell is tested before sale, if I'm not confident, I won't risk my reputation. If someone buys an unserviced watch from me I'm happy to get it serviced at an exclusive rate.
Do you have any top tips for customers who want to maintain the condition of their vintage timepieces?
Watches are like anything else mechanical, properly maintained they can last for a very long time. If you wait until it goes wrong it may be too late so a basic service is advisable every 3-5 years.
Other than that you need to remember vintage watches are rarely as robust or waterproof as a modern one. If you drop it on a hard surface it can damage the mechanism and moisture can penetrate the case so avoid steam, humidity and getting them wet. If you spot moisture inside the glass place it in a bag of uncooked rice or if you can safely get the back off do so and place it somewhere out of the way, warm (not hot) and dry, never use a hairdryer, radiator or airing cupboard. It may be possible to replace gaskets to improve things but unless it's pressure tested and you know otherwise always assume it's not waterproof. Having said all that I've dropped some of mine and not broke one yet and never take my watch off to wash my wands but it helps to be aware or potential issues. There's a more detailed "Note" on care and maintenance on my facebook page as well as plenty of other sources online
Which watches would you recommend as a Christmas present for someone special, male & female around the £60-£100 price?
For the ladies the silver and marcasite or diamante cocktail watches are always popular. They have a lot of festive sparkle and were generally only worn for special occasions so tend to be in great condition. The Ernest Borel cocktail "kaleidoscope" watches are also eye catching in the extreme with a hypnotic mystery dial that makes it like no other watch, ever popular I endeavour to keep a range in stock although they are almost impossible to find in the UK. About half of the Mens watches I sell are actually for ladies so well worth considering if you prefer a larger face.
For Guys you can't go far wrong with a classic Seiko, I didn't originally stock them but the first one I had attracted so much interest I realised how popular they were. Great quality movements, timeless dress watch style but with a rugged edge, they are suitable for every occasion. There are a lot of them coming over from India cobbled together from whatever parts they have to hand, many of them whilst looking great are in really poor mechanical condition. I choose mine very carefully, The Seahorse and Sportsmatic are great examples. If you prefer something a little less traditional I stock a range of Deco styled watches in different case shapes and finishes, I'm partial to a Rose Gold case with a copper dial, a very 1940s vibe.
Do you have any his and her sets for the ultimate stylish couple?
I've been stocking up for Christmas so I have a few options right now, and, of course, I can supply any watch to your specification.I have a selection of Ernest Borel Cocktail watches including two different mens models, a great "pair" of Mystery Dial watches (me and my better half have this pair too). If you want the ultimate though, it would have to be His and Hers Bulova Academy Award watches in their original bakelite boxes which are sensational in their own right. The lid is clear with a gold film applied to the underside highlighting the Theatre Curtains and "Oscar" design. The range of around 30 watches were designed to embody the Hollywood glamour of the era (c1950) and were included in the legendary Oscars Night goody bags for all Award nominees. If you're a lady who likes a larger watch or if you're after a His n His watch I will be collecting a matching Pair of the Academy Award watches from my horologist this week, one Yellow gold filled, one White.
What are your plans for 2019 and how will you be expanding?
Next year will be an interesting one for me, A lot of traders will tell you the last year has been a challenging one, you're not going to spend money on luxuries if you're struggling to pay the bills and for me as I import a lot of my items from abroad the post Brexit economy means the future is uncertain, I truly hate spouting marketing speak but in a nutshell I will need to adapt to survive whilst remaining true to the brand. I tried diversifying this year but ended up deciding I would be better off concentrating on what I know and do best. I am aiming to grow the business online but genuinely love dealing with people face to face so need to balance the two, hopefully I'll find a few more great fairs in the North of England and maybe make a trip up to Scotland.
I'm especially excited to be going to Twinwood Festival for the first time. Through my love or Vintage watches I've slowly but surely been drawn into the wider Vintage community. I meet wonderful people at every fair I attend but as I'm working I don't get to socialise or enjoy the full experience so I can't wait to spend a couple of evenings making the most of the music and entertainment.
I'd also really like to do something that benefits other vintage traders not just myself, I've got an idea that could be fantastic so fingers crossed it might turn out quite exciting.
Do you have a private collection of watches as well as your dealer collection?
My Private collection isn't quite as out of control as you might imagine but obviously I have more watches than most people. I don't own any Rolex or anything worth crazy money partly because I couldn't afford it but also because I genuinely believe you don't have to spend a fortune to own beautiful, quality watches. I've got a couple I picked up for £10 in my collection that I love, most were under £100 and only three were over £150. I have sold two or three of my own watches this year as well as some I wanted to keep and they were all lovely and will be hard to replace but I've added a couple that I've wanted for a long time (plus a few others) so I can't complain. I enjoy the hunt so if I get to keep a few trophies whilst sharing the joy by passing some on then that'll do me fine. I sold a beautiful watch a few months back, a Lord Elgin "Thornton" I could have kept it then along came Mrs Thornton who bought it for her husbands Birthday. The right person owns that watch and who knows it might well still be in the family in a few generations time. I enjoyed wearing it for a few days though :) And it's less than 40 if you're still wondering. Probably.
How do vintage watches stack up in quality to the watches of today?
Watch technology hasn't developed much since around 1950 or so, if fact if you search Marie Aintoinette Breguet you will be astonished at how long certain aspects of watch making have been around. It's fairly safe to say a decent watch from the second half of the 20th Century is as good as an equivalent watch from today. The 1950s and 60s was a golden era for watchmaking, a lot of those watchmakers didn't survive the arrival of the cheap quartz watch and today the market is dominated by fashion brands who happen to sell watches. Prior to that they weren't as waterproof or dustproof and were more susceptible to shock damage but even then most will keep very good time if properly regulated. If you know what you're looking for you can buy superb quality pieces for a fraction of the cost of a new one and choice of style is truly enormous. There's even the possibility it will go up in value, vintage watches are attracting serious interest amongst some investors.
Find Watch U Wareing on Facebook @watchuwareing Instagram @watchuwareing