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Collectors shop for world's finest watches at London event
 By Tom Wildhern
LONDON, June 29, 2009 – Enthusiasts visited London luxury boutique William & Son from around the world to shop for some of the world's most unique watches in an event organised by a group of blogging collectors.
 
  William Asprey, owner of William & Son, shows watches from his own collection to enthusiasts

Watches aficionados gathered at William & Son, on Mount Street in the heart of London’s elegant Mayfair Village, to admire the world's most exclusive timepieces, with some retailing at well over 100,000 pounds ($165,000) each.

The typical ultra-wealthy buyer of exclusive brands such as De Bethune, F.P. Journe, Romain Gauthier and Moser, has moved on from mainstream watch brands like Rolex and Omega and now seeks something rarer, collectors attending the event said.

"This gathering is for watches aficionados who are looking to get away from the major brands but want something of high quality," said David Witkover, North American agent for Swiss-based top-end brand De Bethune.

"The collector wants something unique on his wrist – a work of art."

BEST OF THE BEST

Witkover showed off the platinum-cased De Bethune Dream Watch 1, featured as "Best of the Best" in the June 2009 edition of luxury magazine the Robb Report.

The DW1's balance wheel is made of silicon ringed with platinum, an innovation delivering high performance.

The DW1 has a retail price of 95,000 pounds.

Witkover also demonstrated De Bethune’s “Tourbillon 360”, the first “silicon tourbillon,” with a platinum case and a mechanism with at least 60 jewels and an eight-day power reserve, on offer for 119,000 pounds.

“It is very rare to have a collection like this in one place, because everything is usually pre-sold before it leaves the factory,” he said of the small cluster of De Bethune watches on show in the store.

De Bethune manufactures under 500 watches a year, underscoring its exclusivity. William & Son has sole rights to sell De Bethune watches in the UK.

Nicolas Fondaneche of PuristSPro.com, which showcases blogs on top watches and helped to organise the event, said collecting superb watches is similar to connoisseurship of fine wines.

"When you begin to try wine, you may love it, but you can't tell the difference between a 50-euro wine and a 5,000-euro wine," he said.

GLOBAL RECESSION

The global recession has hit demand for exclusive timepieces, but serious collectors will never lose interest, and it is up to manufacturers to price watches competitively, said Daniel Zimmermann, sales director of H. Moser & Cie.

"The market place has become more difficult," he said.

"The previous two years (of boom) were crazy," he added, in a reference to the spending spree led by financial services professionals before the banking crisis hit hard.

Zimmermann demonstrated the “Henry Double Hairspring”, an elegant palladium watch with a smoked dial, giving it a slightly vintage 1960s look. It is hand-wound with a power reserve of at least four days, retailing at around 10,000 pounds.

One of Moser’s most sought-after watches is the “Moser Perpetual 1”, which comes with a rose gold case, and a see-through back, and is hand-wound with a power reserve of at least seven days. It is available for 19,000 pounds.

William Asprey, owner of William & Son, which has emerged in the decade since luxury group Aspreys was sold, demonstrated watches owned by him and his forebears, including a gold Patek Philippe pocket watch, a 1920s Reverso that belonged to his grandfather, and a 1960s Audemars Piguet skeleton watch.

These were not for sale, but caught the collectors' eye.

Collectors are looking for distinctive design and feel.

"I am looking for mind-blowing design backed by great technology," said Mo Coppoletta, a collector from Italy.

Serious addicts can buy an Object of Time, a large cabinet revealing revolving watches, with a cigars compartment, drinks cabinet and temperature gauge -- and a hand-wound central clock with eight days' power reserve.

www.williamandson.com