London’s Watch Retailing Gets A Gallic Boost By James Gurney

The imminent arrival of Parisian store Kronometry 1999 in Bond Street is cause for celebration for watch collectors, says QP editor James Gurney.

London watch retailing

Until the arrival of Marcus a decade ago, buying a good watch in London used to mean going to Watches of Switzerland, the then somewhat tatty Harrods watch department, Selfridges or Asprey.

Founder Marcus Margulies set out to create “the most important watch collection in the world.” Despite sticking with such an ambitious strap-line, Marcus has succeeded in creating an environment where, for the first time in London, horological wonders such as Audemars Piguet and Greubel-Forsey were given the light and space they deserve. With a first-floor lounge space where husbands could escape Bond Street’s other attractions, the store’s success was easy to understand.

Marcus was quickly surrounded by single brand boutiques such as Breguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe and Harry Winston, making Old Bond Street a watch destination that might just aspire to vie with the Rue de Rhone or the Ginza. But aside from those shops, the public still wasn’t being offered anything more than reliable stand-bys such as Cartier, Breitling or Rolex.

Wempe’s arrival added to the scene, but not greatly in terms of adventurous choices, while the Watch Gallery found it increasingly difficult to stay close to the creative and daring choices that made its name under Franz La Rosée. Half the interesting watch companies we wanted to buy from were simply not represented in London.

Then everything changed. William & Sons’ hosting of stand-outs such as F. P. Journe and De Bethune meant Marcus had some viable competition. Harrods created a new watch room that was both attractive and, eventually, free of a confusing and bizarre concession system. Selfridges updated their watch department, and Jura arrived to show that Londoners were not just open to, but would actually buy, new brands and designs.

Now with Kronometry 1999’s opening, names such as Jacquet-Droz, who the Swatch Group felt the UK market could do without, are finally available to English consumers – just look at their contribution to the Only Watch auction to see what we have been missing. London – finally – has the watch retailers worthy one of the world’s shopping capitals.

James Gurney is the editor of QP Magazine and will present SalonQP on 6th November 2009.