While men are notoriously more responsive to visual stimulation in one particular life arena, something akin to lust seems to overcome watch lovers of both genders when they take in the concentric dial of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, or behold some intricate geometry lovingly applied to a bezel by a forgotten Genevan engraver from a now distant century.
But dedicated timepiece aficionados who relish what lies beneath the face – those for whom mechanical intricacy, precision engineering and artisanal flair make up a holy triumvirate – will find an hour conversing with Luxury Watch Repairs (luxurywatchrepairs.com) founder Oliver Pollock just as edifying as a tour of Bond Street’s most hallowed timepiece emporiums.
Founded just over three years ago, Pollock’s enterprise, one named in deference to the prosaic realities of search engine optimisation, was – like many a good entrepreneurial success story – born of frustration. “My earliest memories are of running around my family’s watch strap factory in Cardiff where I grew up,” he explains, “and I got into trading pre-owned timepieces after I graduated. We’d service everything before we sold it, but using the brands to service watches is costly, can take forever, and is also unmanageable when you have in excess of 200 watches out at different manufacturers and workshops all around the UK.”
The solution, Pollock saw, was doing the servicing in-house, which meant getting official authorisation from the major watch brands to work on their wares – the only way to get the correct tools for the trade. “Many of the bigger brands have now restricted their parts and brand-specific equipment only to accredited workshops,” he says. “So a lot of independents now can’t get hold of the genuine parts and equipment.”
Why is this so essential, the layman might be tempted to ask? “Even just the case-opening tool to access the back of one watch compared to another is very different. A Seamaster has a completely different case-back to another Omega. Omegas have dozens of different case-backs because they come in all sortsof shapes and sizes. You need specific tools – if you use generic ones they’re not perfect, and you risk scratching corners, deforming cases and so on.”
Having brand-specific rather than generic parts is, Pollock says, equally imperative. “Any luxury watch is full of tiny parts that are made specifically by the brand to fit that particular movement. A lot of people go down the route of buying generic parts – and they can be quite good, to be honest – but in the majority of cases they’re a fraction of a fraction of a millimetre out, or the metal compound is slightly different to the original, so it scratches or splits more easily. If you’ve got something incorrect in there, the watch might work OK for a number of months, but then it will affect the other parts. If a wheel is interacting with another part in a fractionally different way, over time that tiny wheel will be damaged. That will cause other damage elsewhere, and then when someone opens up the watch in a year’s time, loads more parts will be worn and need replacing.”
Accreditation gained, and with that a vast plethora of brand-specific tools and parts – to complement the basic essentials such as loupes, tweezers, screwdrivers, files, pliers in all different shapes and sizes, plus some special tools developed in-house – Pollock and his colleagues found they’d found not so much a gap in the market as a yawning void. “Some of the stores we worked with – those we’d either supplied or bought from – started giving us stock they hadn’t even bought from us and asked us to service it because they were experiencing exactly the same problem we’d encountered,” he explains. “They knew no one except the manufacturer who they trusted to do good work.”
This is an enterprise whose success can be attributed to more than just spotting a niche, though: pivotal to Luxury Watch Repairs’ ethos is a level of customer service deeply rooted in an understanding of customers’ ardent relationships with their watches. “It’s usually a highly cherished item – the owner’s pride and joy. So we want to constantly reassure people their prized possessions are in the best hands – hence things like the time-lapse videos we offer. We now put cameras on our bench lamps which zoom in and show, in detail, the actual wear of the movement of the customer’s watch.”
This scheme offers customers reassurance – “People are always asking us, ‘How do we know the old part was actually worn?’” says Pollock – but also a precious insight into the inner workings, the intricacy, the engineering integrity, of a personal keepsake they’ve likely been cherishing mostly as a thing of aesthetic beauty: “The vast majority of people who own a good watch have never seen what the whole of the movement inside looks like,” as Pollock points out. “Now, they can see their watch’s movement dismantled into 180 pieces, then put back together.”
Business, for Pollock, is booming. Our conversation takes place on the floor beneath Luxury Watch Repair’s existing premises, in a cacophony of drilling, sawing and sanding, radiators ablaze on a balmy spring day to dry the paint, as workmen install polishing machines and rows of watchmaker benches, in the process doubling the size of the company’s Hatton Gardens premises. Branches in Manchester and New York will follow shortly.
It’s passion that’s driving Pollock forward. And, hear him talk about the folkloric romance of a Patek handed down generations, the coaxial escapement invented around 1974 by English watchmaker George Daniels, or bespoke movements produced pre-1930, and you’ll realise that this enterprise won’t be running out of verve any time soon.