With the motto Omnia, omnibus, ubique – all things for all people, everywhere – proudly emblazoned on its storefront, Harrods attracts 15 million customers a year. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that the range of timepieces at the Harrods Fine Watch Department is the largest selection under one roof anywhere in Europe. We chat to chief merchant and watch buyer Helen David, the woman who helps to keep the cogs turning, about her obsession with horology.
How did your career in horology begin?
I have been a watch fan for a number of years and I officially started working with horology when I became chief merchant at Harrods in 2016.
Which watches are on your Christmas list?
Top of my list is definitely the exclusive Tudor Black Bay for Harrods – it has the Harrods iconic green bezel with a British twist, including a reversed depth rating showing feet ahead of metres.
Which watch brands do you most admire and why?
There are a number of brands that I really admire, each for very distinct reasons. Audemars Piguet is a particular favourite of mine, with its elegant yet highly relevant aesthetic – meaning there are always a number of references on my wish list – coupled with an impressive heritage and strong brand DNA. Rolex, on the other hand, has an iconic status and an unparalleled ability to transcend demographics to appeal to collectors and first-time buyers, old and young, men and women alike. In terms of ground-breaking innovation and a brand that is really pushing the boundaries of watch making, I would have to highlight Richard Mille as a brand I really admire. It has been disruptive and really broken the mould in the modern history of haute horology.
What is your most treasured horological possession?
My rose gold Royal Oak with diamond bezel – it is the watch I pick almost every time over the rest of my collection at the moment.
What do you enjoy most about being the watch buyer for the Harrods?
I have a real love of watches, so travelling with the buying team to see new launches at events, such as the SIHH showcase and Basel, really doesn’t feel like work to me. We are very lucky at Harrods that we partner with some of the best watch brands in the world and that we have access to such incredible products, which is further magnified by opportunities that we have to develop exclusive and limited-edition pieces especially for Harrods clients.
Can let us in on an industry secret?
The fine watch industry is famously one of the most secretive, so I can’t divulge anything too explosive I’m afraid. An interesting fact that not everyone is aware of, however, is that although it is a Swiss company, Rolex was founded in London by a Brit and a German. Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis launched Rolex in London, before relocating to Geneva in 1919, when import and export taxes became too high in wartime England.
Where are your favourite places to relax in London?
My favourite places depend on my mood – I love spending time at KX health club at the weekends, for workouts, the spa and for meeting friends for a healthy lunches. When I’m in town and not travelling for work, I really enjoy going to see live music – Phil Collins at the Royal Albert Hall recently was incredible, as were Coldplay on their recent tour. Finally, there are some times when my absolute favourite place in London to be is at home – it helps that home is only a stone’s throw from Harrods!
What do you like most about the city?
I really don’t think you can beat London as a city to live in. It is multicultural and diverse, with an unrivalled restaurant culture and nightlife, and some of the most interesting and fun people I have ever met. Wherever I travel for work and play, I am always very happy to land back home in London.
Who, in your opinion, is the most esteemed watch collector of all time?
I think John Mayer has immaculate taste and undoubtedly has one of the most revered collections of our generation. He started his collection from a real love of watches, rather than from an investor’s perspective, so his curated collection has a real personal style to it. He has acquired his watches over a relatively short period of time, with almost all important references and highly coveted pieces included; from a Paul Newman Daytona, to a Patek Philippe 5970R with a Tiffany & Co stamp on the moonphase dial, a Rolex Double Red to an Audemars Piguet rose gold Royal Oak Extra Thin. He has established a reputation within the watch community that far outshines his musical fame, as a tastemaker, a discerning critic and a champion of horology.
What advice would you give to first-time watch buyers?
I would always suggest that a first-time buyer should go for something classic and timeless, rather than what is hot or the watch of the moment. If it was me, I would 100% buy a Rolex as my first watch, choosing one of the iconic styles, such as a steel Daytona or a blue/black GMT.