When it comes to watches, London is obviously the shopping capital of the world – or not, depending on whether you favour Singapore, Geneva or New York. The point being that London, capital of the nation of shopkeepers, should be at the front rank, which until quite recently has simply not been the case.
Up until a decade ago, buying a good watch in London was remarkably hard to achieve, with only Asprey, Harrods and Watches of Switzerland being serious contenders. Then Marcus arrived, and everything changed.
Marcus Margulies set out with the typically shy and retiring ambition of creating "the most important watch collection in the world." And, despite sticking with such an ambitious strap line, Marcus has succeeded admirably 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. Add a first floor lounge where husbands could escape Bond Street's other distractions, and the formula's undisputed success is easy to understand. Marcus continues to offer a truly world class collection – its global reputation is now so strong that the store is able to offer its own limited editions from the likes of Hublot, Franck Muller and Audemars Piguet – look out for the unique Marcus/AP Royal Oak Grande Complication.â€¨
Wempe arrived not long after and turned out, with their resolutely high quality selection including A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original and their own German-made chronometers, to be a bell-weather, as they and Marcus were quickly joined by single brand boutiques such as Breguet, Chopard, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, 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.
And then the scene gained a new and exciting dimension as William & Son's hosting of horological genii such as F.P. Journe and de Bethune meant Marcus had, at last, some viable competition. In the past year Jura arrived to show that London shoppers were not just open to brands they had known for decades, but could buy into a much more adventurous selection of models, showcasing everything from BRM and Bremont to Giuliano Mazzuoli and Graham.
Then there was the arrival of Frost, who specialise in funky diamond set pieces from the likes of Tiret. The timely launch of French retailer Kronometry 1999 is a genuine cause for celebration for watch collectors, with brands such as Bovet and Jacquet Droz not just available but presented with depth and knowledge. Look out this autumn for Bovet's spectacular collaboration with Pininfarina, arriving around the same time as Jacquet Droz's new black ceramic watches.
Recently Harrods opened a much improved watch room that is both attractive and notably ambitious in terms of the brands carried and their scope. Asprey, too, have upped the ante, with a discerning and knowledgeable clientele once more relying on Bond Street's grandest store to supply their need for rare pièces uniques from the likes of Parmigiani and Arnold. Meanwhile, at the top of Mayfair, Selfridges finally released the time warp on their watch department and started showing a collection that their more fashion-conscious clientele could actually buy into, from funky beach watches by Toy to Jaeger-LeCoultre's timeless Atmos clocks.
As Arnaud Bamberger of Cartier noted, proximity matters, and serious collectors now gravitate very specifically to Old Bond Street, where Cartier have long been established, attracting a new wave of flagship boutiques from the likes of Bulgari, Chaumet, de Grisogono and the long awaited Piaget. Don't overlook the watch departments of luxury giants Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton, who both have new "maisons" on Bond Street.
And for those who really wish to indulge their passion, London now hosts SalonQP each November, a unique chance to see the world's finest watches gathered under one roof, with the added attraction of having the watchmakers and designers on hand to impart their insight and knowledge. With brands as diverse as Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger and the inestimable Roger Smith confirmed, SalonQP will be a high-point of the horological calendar.
Add the near unbeatable vintage offering that Mayfair stores such as David Duggan, Somlo and the Watch Club offer, and the sales held by auctioneers such as Bonham's and Sotheby's, and London has suddenly become the watch capital to contend with.
Harrod's, Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Fortuny & Mason
London FW 2010