David Duggan is one of the UK’s best-known watch dealers, with a world-class reputation for selling pre-owned Rolex and Patek Philippe watches. In 2016, he was the UK’s first pre-owned watch retailer to be awarded Tudor “Authorised Dealer” status. A lover of fine wine and dining as well as timepieces, Revolution caught up with him recently at his private office in London’s Burlington Arcade.
Duggan’s interest in watches began when he started working for his brother – a prominent coin dealer – in 1976. Together they would travel all over the UK buying rare and unusual coins, pocket watches and Albert chains. “We did this for around seven years,” says Duggan. “And I do wish we’d advertised for wristwatches, too, at that time – just imagine what might have surfaced! My favourite items to deal with were the pocket watches and it was these beautifully made timepieces that really whetted my appetite.”
In 1983, the coin trade slowed down significantly and so Duggan began to focus on jewellery and wristwatches. For the first three years, he says that he actually lost money on timepieces, relying on the jewellery to keep his business afloat. “It was such an exciting time of learning and discovery for me,” he reminisces. “I was based up in Lancashire at the time and would travel a lot to the various markets and fairs. The Charnock Richards fair each Sunday was good, as was the monthly session at the Bull Ring in Birmingham. My favourite, though, was Portobello market on a Saturday. I was travelling down to London three times a week, but Saturday was special as I would meet up with other dealers and collectors who would travel from all over Europe to trade watches and stories and enjoy a coffee.
“It was so exciting to see such a variety of incredible watches. Rolex MilSubs, Paul Newman Daytonas, Bubblebacks and Pateks to name just a few. One of my great friends was an Italian dealer who had a penchant for rectangular gold Patek Philippe watches. I was amazed at the sheer number he bought, but he loved them and back then he was buying them at around £20 over the watch’s scrap gold value. Each time I saw him, he’d bought a few more and he would put them in his safe deposit box. Probably one of the best savings plans I’ve ever seen.”
Now based in the legendary Burlington Arcade, Duggan opened his first store in the Bond Street Antiques Centre in 1989 – a basement site by the toilet that he describes as “the worst unit in the place”. Three years later he moved to a front window unit and a change in fortune began as he did a roaring trade until 2007 when he moved the business to its present location, of which he says: “The Arcade has a magical aura that I believe is due to the rich history of the place. It was first opened in 1819 and was a hub for jewellers shops, but there was a much older trade being plied from the first-floor windows – in fact, they call it ‘the oldest trade in the world’. So-called ‘women of the night’ would stand in the windows and gentlemen would wander up the arcade and make their selection. Once business was complete, the gentleman would buy the lady a piece of jewellery from the shop below the window where she worked. Later on, the lady would then go back to the jeweller who would buy back the piece and everybody made a bit of money.
“We also have the only independent Police Force: the Beadles. The original uniforms that they still wear are fantastic. There are also a good number of undercover Beadles operating at all times on the Arcade.”
Over his four decades in the industry, Duggan has noticed a lot of change in the vintage watch market: “Whilst precious-metal Pateks have stayed fairly stable, steel Pateks are now super-hot. And the past five years have witnessed a meteoric rise in the value of vintage Rolex, in terms of both auction prices and the knock-on effect in the retail sector, it’s been staggering,” he says, also acknowledging that Tudor has come of age, with prices not that far behind its sister brand.
“I also believe that the internet has played a big part in altering the market – especially for dealers like me,” he continues. “Everybody is a lot more informed about what they have, which is good but it can give them unrealistic ideas of what they believe their watches are worth. I can see people checking Chrono24 on their phones when I’ve made my offer to buy their watch. It’s a strange situation, but it is what it is. And I still love it.”
The Crown and The Rose
Duggan says that vintage Rolex and Tudor are showing no signs of slowing down and believes that, in fact, vintage Tudor is in some ways undervalued. The lucky owner of an original owner “Homeplate” chronograph with the exceedingly rare black version of the dial, he says (smiling): “If the Homeplate is the Paul Newman of Tudor then the black-dialled version is definitely the Oyster Sotto equivalent [the Oyster Sotto is a very rare black dial, screw-down pusher Paul Newman Daytona that sells for over £1 million in good condition]. The Rolex Paul Newman Daytona is a very desirable watch, but I often see people holding handfuls of them on Instagram. I’ve never seen people doing that with Tudor Homeplates – grey or black.”
One of the few lucky enough to handle some of the world’s rarest wristwatches, Duggan says that a couple in particular stand out for him. One day, one of Duggan’s oldest clients was sitting with him when he pulled out of his pocket a vintage Daytona ref. 6263, with a silver dial, and started to talk about the rarity of the watch due to the fact that the sub-dials were silver instead of black. “It looked more like a 6238 monochromatic dial,” says Duggan, “but it was, indeed, a correct 6263. I bought it thinking it was actually quite ugly, but probably something special. A few days later one of my great clients, a certain Mr Eric Clapton, came in to see me and he was quite taken by it.” A deal was done and the rest is now horological history!
On another occasion, a gentleman visited Duggan’s shop and asked if he’d be interested in a Rolex Prince. Of course, he was very interested and so the seller reached into an old doctor’s style bag and brought out a brand-new Rolex Prince box. Although Duggan was initially sceptical, he opened the box to reveal a New-Old-Stock yellow gold Prince with the hangtag and perfect papers. He then produced another one in silver, followed by a striped-gold example. All three brand-new and never handled.
“I bought a total of six off him that day,” says Duggan. “They were the best Rolex Princes I’ve ever seen. It transpired that his father was a jeweller in the 1930s and he’d put some pieces away with instructions for them to be sold once his grandchildren were about to start university. His father was a wise buyer and over the following weeks he brought me more watches, a rare bank note collection, 200-year-old silver items; all beautiful. Those were the days!”
Talking about his admiration for Tudors old and new, Duggan says that he has always loved military watches and sees military Tudor Submariners as a relatively new field for collectors: “Rolex MilSubs are considered rare, but Tudor MilSubs are possibly even rarer in a lot of cases. I have a beautiful South African Navy issued Tudor Snowflake [acquired from the author], of which there are probably less than a dozen known. Now, to my clients who are looking for something different, a little off the beaten path, what could be better than a watch like that with its history of being used in active service?
“I have always loved the old Tudors. I think the Monte Carlos are some of the nicest sports chronographs of any brand. And the Snowflake Subs were always great looking watches. But they were never big sellers and demand was very low. I bought a few over the years and put them away. Then in 2010 Tudor released the Heritage Chrono and I was blown away at Baselworld that year by the quality of the watch and the faithful way in which it celebrated the original Homeplate. I enjoyed those watches and when I could get them they sold very quickly. Once Tudor re-launched in the UK I couldn’t wait to get involved. In the shop, we have arguably the largest selection of vintage Tudor watches of any dealer and I enjoy placing them side by side with the re-editions.”
When asked for a top tip for buyers, as with so many of the experts Revolution has interviewed, Duggan says that when buying vintage, it is important to find as original a watch as possible: “You don’t want to ever have to defend a watch unnecessarily or have to try and explain an issue it has. Make sure the dial is correct for the reference and it fits the serial range of the case. Are the hands original or service replacements? All these things make a difference to the value and the potential to resell the watch in the future.”