Cool Britannia – Ben Dunn of Watch Brothers London


Cool Britannia – Ben Dunn of Watch Brothers London


In this instalment of Cool Britannia, we head in a new direction and talk to a UK-based watch dealer, Ben Dunn. Dunn is the founder of Watch Brothers London and a dealer with an eye for special watches with the common theme of quality, quality and quality. A collector at heart, Dunn’s first foray into the industry was through extensively researched articles on his website. Quickly realizing that he couldn’t collect all the watches he wanted to buy, he made the decision to buy and sell them to enjoy, if only briefly, wearing them. And brief these wearings were, as his stock sells as quickly as he can list them on his site or share them on his Instagram page.

Ben Dunn

I’m a curious collector at heart, with the sad and very common reality that I can’t experience and collect them all,” he explains to me. “After furiously dropping significant amounts of money into what was lovely collection at the time I just couldn’t stop the itch for the next even though my bank account had given up long before! I have a strong design interest and a passion for the details so I built my own website and began to write and publish about different variants via reference guides, the first few were on the AP 14790 and PP 3940, and from here the idea of buying and selling to fund what is really an addiction began to emerge. “

Ben Dunn’s first watch was a Mondaine, gifted to him by family for his 21st birthday: “I think total wrist time for that Mondaine has far outweighed anything I’ve worn since, it was on the wrist everyday regardless of activity!” An encounter with a watch very close to my own heart though, truly sowed the seed of horological passion for him. “It was my partner’s father’s two-tone Daytona; he rocks that thing everywhere from the beach, to the pool, fixing his car, you name it he’s wearing it! After one family holiday drooling over it daily the fever had set in and my interest in watches took off.”

Once he made the decision to become a dealer, there was no turning back. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. “You know to be honest it was scary as hell. The reality of trying to sell as a new dealer was that there was a significant lack of trust, and fairly so, from buyers. Also, the reality check that often prices you see pieces listed for are not what they sell for. This hurt even more, as I was selling off my collection piece by piece to reinvest into the business. It took me a long time to build a solid base of trust to deal from, I approached this exactly how I wanted to be treated back when I was collecting and buying for my collection; I had to be personable, transparent and responsive – the three things I push for everyday and I hope my clients feel this reflects in the service they receive.”

1985 Audemars Piguet Quantième Perpétual 25558BA

Deciding on a niche or direction as a dealer can be difficult and is a conversation I’ve had a number of times over the years with different guy. How does Dunn decide on his stock? “I only buy what I like and this links back to why I started dealing in the first place, I want to wear and experience all the watches that catch my eye. This approach has gradually positioned WBLDN with an interesting niche, somewhat based around neo-vintage complications but also off beat sports models such as the Rolex King Midas or the first generation VC Overseas. One thing to call out here is that the market, currently, for these types of pieces is significantly smaller than say your typical modern market. However, its growing rapidly as more scholarship comes to light. Connecting and providing value to collectors in this era of watches is where I spend a significant amount of time and I invest very happily in this. The friendships build and connections made are the true joy to buying and selling, it’s a community that I’m proud and humbled to be a part of.”

My experience of dealers is that they all have the one golden moment that sticks in their mind, when they found a special piece that can’t and won’t be repeated. What is Dunn’s? “It’s a bitter-sweet one, as I’ve recently sent it in for service, after enjoying it for over a year, to get it ready to list for sale. It is a Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar in yellow gold, skeletonized with a diamond bezel for that added pizzazz! It’s a reference 43532 and this watch ticks absolutely every box I personally look for in a watch. I stumbled across this gem via an ancient listing eight pages deep on Google images, whilst researching an article on these models. I messaged the dealer who was in the US, the watch wasn’t with them currently and the pictures weren’t great so I left it. Months later I came across the conversation so reached out again and luckily it was back in their shop! After some payment complications it was on my wrist and has remained my number one find, a combination of rarity, price and taste cementing the top spot!”

1994 Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar 43032 Platinum

Circa 1978 Rolex King Midas Cellini 4315

As a modern dealer, is the internet the best way to find watches, as opposed to the more traditional methods of auctions, dealer-to-dealer and local finds? “I’d actually say my preferred way isn’t so much to do with the hunting ground but more the approach. The key to me is patience, a skill I’m still learning the hard way. I have to say, however, that buying from dealers and collectors does add a second outcome to the transaction, which is relationship, often overlooked but incredibly important and for me very fulfilling.” Sticking with the collector community, what watches or style of watch are your clients most excited about at the moment? “In terms of models and types of watch, it’s very varied however the era is very much mid 80’s-2000. There is a lot to enjoy here, often undiscovered by the relative masses, and they can be found at multiple price points with some markets still very early in scholarship and discovery. This is great for both myself and clients, as the value proposition is very strong across multiple axis – history, production numbers, craft and price; especially compared to modern offerings.”

1993 Breguet Classique Perpetual Calendar 3057

1990's Breguet Chronograph 3237

What is your view of the current watch market?

One thing that is without question, is the fact that the watch market has changed significantly over the past twelve months. From the stratospheric highs of 2021, to a more reasonable position at the end of 2022, what does Dunn feel is the current state of play? “For me it’s buying season, lots of opportunity in the current leveling off. It’s vital to be calculated, not necessarily cautious, and buy intentionally with clear and consistent curation. Neo-vintage is all the rage, still grossly undervalued compared to modern offerings in both rarity, historical importance and craft. Complications such as perpetual calendars are in and sports watches are out with a strong shift to strap models at 36mm or even less. It’s a scary time to be holding modern but a wonderful time to be exploring timeless designs and comps from brands such as VC, Breguet and Blancpain. Green dial steel sub from Rolex, or a 90’s ultra thin yellow gold perpetual calendar from Vacheron? I know where my moneys at and I like to advise my clients the same. Now is the perfect time to explore models beyond your comfort zone, spend time researching, learning and connecting with others and you might just find something out there that you’ve never seen or considered that has everything you’re after.”

AS a UK-based dealer, has Brexit had an impact on you? “Yes, it has had a significant impact on both the buying and selling. It has been a steep and drawn-out learning curve figuring out how to import/export with VAT correctly, but interestingly I’ve found it can give a USP in terms of the pieces you can stock if you’re willing to learn the correct process and do the extra work as you’re then no longer limited to buying in the UK market. However, there are of course a number of cons with the most significant being the confusion for UK buyers looking at my stock, why some pieces exclude VAT and some do not. This extends further to EU buyers as previously these watches would flow seamlessly around the European Union. All of this has been a bit of a headache but now thankfully finding a good rhythm.”

1989 Blancpain Minute Repeating Perpetual Calendar 5335

Finally, I was interested in who inspires Dunn, both from a business perspective and on a personal level. “Business wise, I’m actually not going to reveal the dealers name but I will say we don’t really know each other, it’s more that I admire the way he works from the sidelines and I hope to replicate it in my own way over the years to come. This dealer appears to be a one-man band or at least a small unit, running his own operation exactly how he wants. It goes without saying he lists some of the most interesting, rare and top condition pieces I’ve seen. He is based in the UK but aside from his site, Instagram account and glowing comments from those who know him, I can’t actually tell you anymore than that! Personally, my late Grandad in the form of a printed A6 poem that has been at my side for over 10 years with the core message, ‘think that you can and you will’. The most valuable 16 lines I’ve ever read and something I think about before most big decisions and opportunities.”

Thanks to _Oxwatch for portrait images supplied for this story