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David Duggan: My life in luxury watches

Patek Philippe

From the early days of the vintage watch trade in Portobello Road to his long-term home in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade, David Duggan has proved he knows a thing or two about watches. A lifetime of experience has confirmed his status as an internationally renowned specialist in highly sought after, complicated timepieces, with a particular passion for the Swiss masters Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Luxury Lifestyle recently spoke to David to explore what’s it’s like to have been at the heart of the preowned luxury watch business since its infancy.

How did you get into luxury watches?

I started working with my brother John, a leading specialist in rare coins, in 1975. We began to buy and sell valuable pocket watches and albert chains on Portobello Road. I had a particular passion for pocket watches and Swiss wrist watches. At this point, interest in pocket watches was declining and we were mostly trading in them for their silver and gold content. But I was noticing a jump in the popularity of pre-owned wristwatches. So, in 1983, I parted company with my brother’s business and then started out on my own in a little shop inside an antique centre on Bond Street.

David Duggan
In 1975 David started working for his brother John dealing in rare coins and pocket watches, due to his growing passion for wristwatches he set up his own business in 1983

Do you remember purchasing your first watch?

I remember the first Patek Philippe pocket watch that I bought. It was a very important model in the brand’s history – a minute repeater with a split-second chronograph, complete with its original mahogany box and bill of sale. I found it at a trade fair and paid £12,500 for it, which was a colossal amount in those days! It was a lovely watch, originally bought in New York back in 1910, and originally sold for $310. It took me nearly a year to sell it, but eventually I did sell it in 1986 to a private business man.

A few years ago, I purchased a Patek Philippe minute repeater wrist watch from Bonham’s for £220,000. When I received the watch, and checked the bill, I was stunned to see the name of the man I’d sold my first Patek Philippe pocket watch to 28 years earlier. I was spooked when I saw that: to buy a watch all these years later from the same owner of the first watch I ever bought!

What’s a typical ‘day in the office’ like for you?

Mostly we sort out watches which people have expressed an interest in, contact them and provide all information and photographs, answer questions on the watches, that kind of thing. Collectors come in and often want to see me simply because they see my name over the door, though my other staff are just as knowledgeable. The showroom closes at five, and then I’ll start talking to our clients on the international market to accommodate their time zones. And of course we are constantly undertaking repairs and servicing in our on-site service room, sourcing rare and extraordinary models to client’s requests, and assessing watches that are brought in for sale in the showroom.

rolex watch
David has a huge passion for the Swiss masters Rolex and Patek Philippe

What is the most extraordinary watch ever to come into your showroom?

I’m fortunate to have had quite a few rare Patek Philippe minute repeaters. Eric Clapton’s albino steel Rolex Daytona was a really memorable highlight.

I once had a man phone up to say he had some brand new 1930s Rolex Princes, which I initially assumed were fakes due to their rarity and apparent ‘original’ boxes. Lo and behold, he came in and presented me with six brand new Rolex Princes, 9 carats, ultra-rare, each with spare straps and the price still attached – in guineas – from 1939. They were truly incredible, in fantastic condition with all with their original guarantees.

I sold all six before they even hit the showroom, including three that went to an overseas client as wedding presents for his children.

What is the most extraordinary client experience or request you’ve handled?

I had a golf caddy approach me saying that he wanted a white gold Rolex Daytona with a meteorite dial for his boss. I spoke to him on a Wednesday and he wanted one by the Friday. We didn’t have one in stock and, though not overly rare, it could still potentially take me up to six months to see one in the showroom.

Two hours later, like a miracle, the exact same watch was offered to me at the counter. The golfer in question was the Argentinian, Ángel Cabrera. He had recently won the US Open and was currently competing in Dublin, and he asked if it could be delivered that Saturday.

It just so happened that I was heading from London to Dublin that Friday. What are the chances of me heading there and for the watch to suddenly appear? I met with Ángel in the locker room, fresh off the fairway. He was delighted and, after he tried it on, handed me a blank cheque!

David Duggan watches store front
David Duggan is located in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade

What can your clients expect from their experience at David Duggan watches?

Our staff are without doubt our most important asset. They have over 150 years of prestigious combined experience from makers including Patek Philippe and Rolex. And having trust in our experience and service is key. I’ve always believed in building rapport with a client before introducing any talk of money. I believe you should always try and get a smile on the client’s face and focus on creating an enjoyable, relaxed and happy atmosphere. The cornerstone of our business over the last thirty years has been the importance of relationships and repeat business – I’m a big believer in that. The most important sale to a client is never the first, it’s the second, because that’s where the friendship starts. We take our work seriously, of course, but buying something as wonderful as a luxury watch should be a genuine pleasure, and it’s up to us to create that ambiance.