Television: the forgotten watch retailer
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There are many different routes into serious watch collecting, but the one taken by a particular Oxfordshire-based horophile is more unusual than most.
“It all started during Covid when I was trying to get hold of some face masks,” says the collector, who asks to be identified only by his first name of Gordon.
“Someone told me they could be bought from a television shopping channel called Ideal World, so I tuned in and discovered that . . . there were regular shows dedicated to watches.”
Gordon bought his first watch from Ideal World in early 2020 — and has since acquired a further 89, for a spend of about £45,000.
Launched in 2000, the UK’s Ideal World television channel is now owned by private investor Hamish Morjaria, who bought it for an undisclosed sum from asset management firm Aurelius Equity Opportunities earlier this year. Its selling catalogue has included watches — among a broad range of other products — for the past 20 years.
But the watches category has burgeoned of late, following a surge of interest among buyers who — like Gordon — found Ideal World to be a source of alternative purchasing during the long days of Covid lockdowns.
“I was given my first watch at the age of 18 and, being a mechanical engineer, I have always been interested in them and have bought several over the years from regular watch shops and jewellers,” he explains.
During the first months of the pandemic — with physical stores staying shut during lockdowns — Gordon found that buying watches through a TV shopping channel was a very easy way to build his collection. He credits the presenters with making the programme informative by working with co-hosts who are experts in the field.
One such person is Jonathan Bordell, a self-confessed “salesman at heart” who had worked in high-end residential property prior to starting a retail watch business in 2012.
Pandemic supply challenges meant that watch business was forced to close a little over two years ago. But, just two days after that, he was contacted by Dartmouth Brands — a longstanding UK-based company that owns a stable of more than a dozen watch dial names, which are available to buy via Ideal World.
“They had seen my watch-based YouTube channel and footage of presentations I had done for other watch companies,” says Bordell.
“With the growing interest in watches on shopping TV and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience, it was felt an informed guest would appeal to the ever-increasing viewership.”
The cost of watches sold on Ideal World ranges from £80-£1,500, compared with retail prices for identical models of £250-£3,000 when sold elsewhere. Prices can be kept low because the watches are offered direct from the manufacturer, removing the usual margins taken by distributors and retailers.
The fact that there are no ambassadors, launch events, or marketing campaigns to pay for also eliminates the need to pass-on extra costs to the consumer.
Bordell describes his customers as representing “a broad stroke of society” and says that many are experienced collectors who often own numerous watches from high-end brands but appreciate the accessibility and affordability of the Dartmouth Brands offerings, which are largely manufactured in Hong Kong and mainland China.
“The shows are broadcast live and viewers are able to email questions about a particular watch while we are presenting it — and it is clear that many of them are extremely well informed both historically and technically.”
Each model of watch is offered in limited numbers during the hour-long broadcasts, with the variety extending from simple, three-hand designs to chronographs, dive watches and even tourbillons from dial names such as Avi-8, Spinnaker, Cadola, Nubeo and RGMT.
The watches often come with interesting stories which the presenters expound upon during the show — such as that of a batch of certificated Nubeo Nasa watches, which went on a two-hour weather balloon flight to the stratosphere as a test of endurance. All 500 of the £379 watches available sold out in six shows.
“The regular watch market focuses on the high end and collectors who have deep pockets,” says Bordell. “But I believe we appeal to a far bigger audience of people who truly collect for passion as opposed to for investment.”
Gordon is certainly among the former group, saying he derives immense pleasure not only from buying the watches from Ideal World but also from cataloguing his hoard. “The watches may not cost as much as famous, high-end makes but the design and style is often on a parallel — and, in some cases, I think the build quality might even be superior.”
However, people who buy watches through television shopping channels should not expect the value of their purchases to increase, warns Adrian Hailwood, a former manager of Swiss watchmaker Breguet’s Mayfair boutique and now head of online auction site Watchcollecting.com.
“The last thing we want to promote in the watch world is snobbery,” he says. “If you look down at your wrist and what you see makes you smile, then you have made a good investment. But people have to remember that, while they may think they are getting a watch at a knockdown price, they are probably not paying any less than what it is really worth. Buy because you like what you see and because you enjoy the fun of collecting, by all means. Just don’t expect to turn a profit.”