Capital People: Meet the Bond Street watch dealer serving Daniel Craig and the uber-rich
London watch dealer Raj Jain has an interesting backstory, having bought and sold rare, antique and luxury watches in both the UK and Mumbai since the 1980s.
An industry stalwart, he has been based in London’s fabulous and famous Bond Street area for almost three decades with a watch shop that’s “like a museum” but still retains his original showroom back home in India’s largest city that he opened 37 years ago. He sells to the world’s top watch collectors and aficionados.
He is one of the most trusted buyers for the Maharajas, the super-rich Royals of India.
Now aged 62, he sells some of the most expensive watches in the world from his shop on Bond Street.
WatchCentre is one of the UK’s premiere vintage, pre-owned and modern luxury watch retailers, boasting brands such as Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Vacheron Constantin, with a diamond-encrusted Patek Phillipe Nautilus 5719R currently the most expensive watch for sale at a jaw-dropping £650,000.
Arrival in London
Indian-born Raj arrived in London as a toddler, his father was a Forex dealer, who regularly bought art, chandeliers, clocks and antiques, and moved to the capital from India to expand his business.
“He had a certain taste and style with regards clocks and watches,” Jain told City A.M. this morning. “This influenced me quite a lot. I think of watches as intricate works of art and if well looked after, they can last for hundreds of years.”
“These tiny cases worn on the wrist have gone from time-telling to conquering seas, air and space, which is an amazing achievement and this is what I admire most about watches.”Londoner Raj Jain
Jain’s love affair with wrist watches began when his father gave him a classic Rolex Datejust after passing school exams, aged 13.
Then when Jainwas 18, whilst studying economics at University College London (UCL), he was invited to London’s Portobello Market by one of his friends who decided to follow his father into the antiques trade.
“My friend had a stall there full of antique pocket watches. I was absolutely enthralled to see them! I guess they stayed in my mind for a long time,” said Jain.
In his early 20s, his father sent him to Mumbai to sell a showroom he had purchased as a commercial investment and whilst on a trip to the Indian state of Rajasthan, Raj’s “latent passion” surfaced again.
“I was taken to an antiques shop where I spontaneously bought pocket and wrist watches,” he said. “Whilst on this trip, I was also introduced to many Maharajas, notably Jodhpur, Raipur and Udaipur, where I was shown their vast antiques collections. I was really taken aback!”
“In India, there is always a ‘broker’ who can introduce you to whoever you want to meet for a small fee or commission. I would meet the Maharajas at their palaces, which often meant a lot of travelling.”Raj Jain
“I had the sudden realisation that after being born in Rajasthan in 1960, I had completed a full circle and finally found my calling in life! I kept in touch with the Maharajas and sourced watches and jewellery for them.”
Rather than sell his father’s showroom, which was located in the heart of the antiques market in Mumbai near the famous five-star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Jain decided to hang onto the site and turn it into an antiques store, selling European antiques and collectables, with watches as the main core of his business.
“Dad was cool about me keeping the showroom and encouraged me to enter a business where I showed a lot of enthusiasm and passion. I remember that within a week of opening, I was trading quite briskly, and now with an outlet, I found that people would come in and offer me items to sell, especially wrist watches as they were the easiest items to carry,” said Jain.
He has a personal collection of around 50 luxury watches, based not on value, but rarity and style, including timepieces from the 1940s and 50s.
He said: “I remember that I began to buy several watches every day. Such was my enthusiasm and excitement that I didn’t want to miss a single opportunity. “
“What was initially a month’s trip to India extended into five consecutive years without returning back to London!”Raj Jain
After just a year of trading, he had his biggest break whilst touring the local antiques market when he stumbled across a very rare Rolex Centregraph watch from the 1930s for just £50.
“I couldn’t find any info on it, I thought it was a fake but was so intrigued by it that I bought it anyway. I sent it to Christie’s in Switzerland where to my amazement it made £25,000 at auction! After that, I never looked back! That watch now is worth about £150,000!”
Wanting a “bigger challenge”, Jain opened a showroom in Central London – one of the key centres of the world’s antiques trade – on Blenheim Street in 1996, right around the corner from his current location.
Among his current clients are some of the UK and Europe’s most recognised watch collectors, and Jain proudly says he has been profitable every year since he started his business way back in 1985.
Cartier and Tiffany & Co
His Mayfair-based showroom also sells exclusive diamond jewellery, from the likes of Cartier, Tiffany & Co, and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as valuable pocket watches and even designer handbags, all under the name Rich Diamonds, with a combined £27m turnover for both of his businesses and a team of 24.
He said: “Whilst developing the business in London, I found that many men had their wife’s or mother’s jewellery which they wanted to sell, to buy themselves a watch. Many women had their father’s or husband’s watch which they wanted to exchange to buy themselves jewellery.
“So, I started the jewellery business in 1990 to accommodate and interact with this new opportunity that nearly none of my competitors were dealing with. I realised that the watch dealers were solely focused on watches and the jewellery dealers were solely concentrating on jewellery.”
“There was no crossover. We had the ability to cater to all clients for watches and jewellery, whether they bought, sold or exchanged, under one roof which they loved as it saved time. I always stuck to my motto, which is ‘always make a client, not a sale’,” Jain concluded.