The largest and most impressive collection of Rolex watches, from vintage to new, is in the proud possession of David Silver, who has a compelling passion for the incomparable brand.
“There’s no one who doesn’t desire a Rolex in some way. They have an extraordinary appeal to young and old alike,” he says. “They’ve always been so far ahead of other top brands.”
The seeds for his intense attachment to Rolex were sown by his father, who has always been in retail and for many years ran a modern jewellery retail business with stores up and down the UK and many concessions in department stores.
“From the age of 11 or 12, I would go with him at weekends as we trawled his stores all over the country,” David recalls.
“That business was eventually sold, and afterwards, he was looking for a new venture, and with my sister on board, he stumbled upon the area of vintage watches, primarily as a hobby. This rapidly grew into an exciting niche, and he settled on Rolex as the brand he wanted to specialise in.
“He opened a very niche store in Notting Hill. No one else had anything like it in the area at the time. I was involved there from the very beginning.
“Like my father, retail was always in my blood. My earliest working career was at the age of 16 when I started a Saturday job at the Paul Smith fashion house in London’s Covent Garden, which was a lively place at the time and a real eye-opener to the world. I loved working there.
“I went to university in London and studied for a degree in English but also continued to spend my time in a retail environment.
“After graduating, I went to work for a real estate company in Mayfair and was there for several years, but I continued to work my Saturday job at Paul Smith and kept my hand in with the retail trade.
By this time, my father had opened a small unit in Bond Street with a fantastic collection of vintage watches, relatively small in terms of the number of different leading brands. It became apparent to him that Rolex was THE name, and it would be the real power in the world of watches. He started the task of amassing the most extensive collection of vintage Rolex on display in the world. Something we have achieved!
“I set up the Vintage Watch Company website from my desk at work and would visit my father and sister every lunchtime to see what was happening.
“At that stage, the internet phenomenon was beginning, and we were one of the earliest retail websites. It was very successful, and I also pioneered the idea of having everything photographed by a professional photographer.
“The website was very successful, and we began to get an international reputation. Eventually, my father decided it was the right time to expand and asked if I was interested in becoming involved full time. We opened our first store in the Burlington Arcade about 15 years ago.
“We wanted a destination store, and the Arcade is the ideal location as international clientele flock there. The business is enormous now, and I’m addicted to it; it’s my passion. I work six days a week and love every minute of it. Each day is unique, and I meet amazing people from all walks of life.” We attract clients from all over the world – heads of state including Bill Clinton, international royalty, film and sports stars, business people, celebrities of all kinds.
David says people are sometimes surprised when he says he is not a ‘watch buff’ per se but a passionate retailer with one of the world’s most unique and desirable products.
“I’m not particularly interested in what goes on inside a watch – my focus is on style, and that dictates what we buy. Our concept is very much retail-orientated. We want people to buy a watch they like according to their taste and style – and enjoy wearing it constantly.
“We are wholly dedicated to Rolex only. We’ve always maintained the integrity of the collection as it kept on getting bigger and bigger and better and better. Rolex is a global brand, among the top ten brands in the world.
“Our collection is enormous and varied, everything from the very early days of Rolex to the present-day and including some rare, historical models. We will never dilute it.
“There is a Rolex for everyone – male and female, young and old. The entry-level at our store for vintage pieces is similar to new, £4,000 to £5,000. The average we sell is £6,000 to £7,000. Some rarer pieces can run into tens of thousands of pounds, but that is a different market. We are comfortable not going above the £20,000 to £30,000 level.
“We have generations of families who come to us for a Rolex. Mum and dad and then their children come along.
“We often have themes for our displays from our many thousands of pieces. Vintage models made in the year of someone’s birth are very popular as gifts. There’s something extraordinary about a present like that, and it’s a knock-out every time. We can engrave the case back with initials or a personal message scanned from the original handwriting of the person presenting the gift.
“Every day is different, and there are always new developments coming along. And the Covid situation has changed the business, but we are lucky to have an excellent online platform.
David has written a stunning book about the history of Rolex.
“It’s very pictorial, and although it includes 25 years of our collection, it isn’t wordy. It’s a beautifully illustrated book to dip into from time, for anyone, not just collectors.
“Rolex as a company has always been innovative and inventive, always far ahead of other brands. It grew slowly and steadily until the 1950s, when it exploded. It escalated again from the 1980s when it became associated with the Wall Street concept of wearing a Rolex to say ‘I have made it.
“A Rolex is iconic, with a timeless appeal. I am passionate about it, and I enjoy talking to people and sharing my passion with them. Encouraging them to buy a watch that speaks to them and that they can enjoy wearing forever.”