Q&A Sessions

Raj Jain on the fascinating intricacies of vintage timepieces

The founder of WatchCentre shares his storied passion for wristwatches as he tells us what makes vintage timeless and exactly which parts are worth keeping an eye especially

Could you tell us a little bit about your career and what led up to you opening WatchCentre?

I began buying watches in Bombay, on a holiday trip to India. I’ve always been based in London, but I would go to India every year, and in 1985, I visited the antiques market where I came across a lot of wristwatches – they were very abundant there at the time. I bought some because I was passionate about them, but afterwards I realised just how valuable they were and how much cheaper they were there than in the West. I then opened a showroom in Bombay, and although my holiday was for a few months, I ended up staying there five years, and I created one of the largest showrooms in Bombay. I came back to London in 1990 after five years and started my operation here, selling watches.

What draws you to vintage pieces, and in your opinion, what is it about them that makes people want to invest in them? 

People are drawn to vintage pieces because they have a styling from yesteryear. Obviously, these vintage pieces were made in the 1920s 30s 40s. There were certain styles such as Art Deco in the 1920s and 1930s that have become scarcer, and therefore, coveted as aesthetics changed. These designs are fabulous to look at and they are often handmade pieces that aren’t made anymore. 


For me personally the designs from the 30s and 40s were amazing, and I’m sure many collectors have that same feeling. At that time, there were mainly rectangular wrist watches that were widely manufactured, while square pieces were what came much later on. But what’s interesting about the rectangular timepieces is that they weren’t just rectangular – they also had certain designs around them that were a lot more flowery than today, which makes it important as far as investment goes. 

As they become rarer and rarer, they also appreciate over time. It’s a bit like collecting, say, fine wine, for example. 

Do you think vintage pieces will ever fall out of fashion? Why/why not? 

Pieces do fall out of fashion and their appreciation, as a consequence, isn’t as high as other collectible watches that are currently in fashion. That is because fashion and tastes change over time. 

In the 80s and 90s, certain wrist watches by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantine, Rolex, and Cartier were highly collectible and in great demand, but if you look for those same pieces today 30 years later, they aren’t as in demand as they once were. Although their values have gone up, they appreciate slower than some of the latest pieces that have come onto the market, especially the sporty stuff like diving watches, aviator watches, and chronographs. 

Fashion trends dictate a lot about what is in demand, so timing is everything in order to get a good price. 

What should somebody looking to deal vintage pieces and jewellery know in order to be successful in this industry? 

They need a lot of knowledge and experience in order to be able to authenticate the watches. You also need to know how to open up a wristwatch, so you have to have certain tools to open them up and inspect them from the inside, especially its movement. 

The most important part of the wristwatch is the dial. I liken the dial of a wristwatch to those old Penny Black postage stamps, which are very valuable while also being very tiny. If you are looking to deal in vintage pieces, you have to be able to determine whether that dye is still original or hasn’t been touched up, or if it has been repainted or in any way refinished. Around 70% to 80% of the value of a wristwatch is in the originality of the dial. 

Because of these small intricacies, you have to develop an eye to authenticate and ascertain what is original and what about the piece has been retouched. This skill takes years and years and years of experience, especially with the vintage stuff, because they’re not made anymore. In this business it’s important to learn as you go along. I myself am self-taught from being in the business for nearly 40 years. In that time, I’ve managed to gain quite a lot of experience. 

In regards to your showrooms, have you got anything new planned?

We’re thinking of having an exhibition where we showcase various timepieces, from pocket watches to wristwatches, to visualise a timeline of how the pocket watch evolved into the wristwatch. 

This evolution took place from around the 1900s and gradually evolved from being worn in the pocket to eventually being worn on the wrist . We will be chronicling how it evolved over the years to the wristwatches from the 20s 30s 40s right up to the modern day. In this timeline, we’ll have one of the first pocket watches and at the present-day end of the timeline we will end with a large sports watch to see how it developed over the past 510 years. 

As we’re growing, we’re thinking of inviting some of our clients and even maybe the press to have a look. 

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