The beginning of October saw me travelling down to London to interview the enigmatic Axel Jansson, a Rock singer and also a collector of Vintage Watches.
You are what many would call a renaissance man. One foot firmly in the present with your rock band, yet rooted in the past with your hobby of collecting vintage watches. When did you become interested in old timepieces?
Around 6 years ago I was moving properties and was looking for some vintage style furniture. I decided to go to Spitalfields Market on a Thursday which is when they have the “antique” type stalls.
The first stall I saw was a seller of vintage watches. In his case I saw a Rolex watch and wanted it badly. He was asking for around £700 and I just didn’t have the money. I decided to return the following week and if it was still there I would make him an offer.
I offered £500 and he accepted it. I then took the watch to the Rolex HQ. I thought I had either got a great deal on a real Rolex, or I had wasted £500 on a fake. Thankfully I was informed it was a real Rolex and worth anywhere up to £2,ooo. I eventually sold the watch for £1200 and used the money to start buying more.Through this I built up a network of contacts in the business especially Samir, who took me under his wing and taught me so much about the buying and selling of vintage timepieces.
How many watches do you currently have in your collection?
I currently have around 20 but this fluctuates as I do buy and sell from my collection. Also although I collect them, I do also wear them. I love the look and style of vintage watches, and even though they don’t look flashy and are not studded in diamonds, they can be quite valuable.
The best thing is that unless you have some knowledge of the vintage watch market, you would not look at my wrist and think my watch was worth any money. They look utilitarian for most part, especially the military ones but they can be some of the rarer ones.
I love the fact that the watches are durable, hard wearing and were built to last. Most of mine are from the 1940’s and 50’s and although some are close to 80 years old, they will still be working in another 80 years.
Where do you source most of your watches from?
Working in Hatton Gardens with “The Watch Guys” has taught me a lot of what to look for, including the unusual makers. Everyone assumes it is all about the Rolex or Patek Phillipe, but for me it can be the small independent makers, many of whom are no longer around. I tend to find that I get quite a few in Europe, especially when I am on tour with the band.
There are Antique Shops all over the place and on days off, or before gigs I love to wander the backstreets where you can find some little hidden gems. I love talking to people too and they can be really friendly. Of course I want to pay a fair price for an item. Although I like to make a profit, I don’t want to rip anyone off.
We all have heard the stories of someone buying a vase for 50p in a junk shop and finding out it is worth £50,000 but it never really happens like that. Also the vintage watch community is quite small and we all get to know each other, and help each other out.
Germany has some amazing trade fairs too and you can find some great watches there.
Which watch is your favourite, and why?
I love to collect watches but my collection does change a lot. I may have a watch that I love, but am always on the lookout for a better or earlier version of the same watch. This means I will often sell something to finance new purchases.
Saying that, I do love them all and would rather see them go to a good home where I know they will be appreciated and enjoyed, so it is not always about the money.
As for my favourite, I actually have two. The first is a Swedish Lemania watch.
This for me is quite special as it was made for the Swedish Military, specifically for the Bomb Disposal Squad. It has the Swedish logo of three crowns engraved on the back, as well as the military number of the soldier it was issued to. These are quite rare.
Even rarer is my second choice, also made by Lemania.
This was made for the Italian Military, and most Lemania watches have a clean classic style dial with little wording on it. This Italian model however has a radium dial and has a lot of writing across the dial. This makes it really quite different.
If you could own the “holy grail” of watches, what would its be?
Oh this is a tricky one. Either a Rolex 6062. One of the most complicated Rolex to ever be made. It came in Gold or steel, I would have a steel one. In my opinion it is one of the prettiest watches ever made and also has a waterproof oyster case. One of these would cost you several hundred thousand to buy.
My second choice would be a double red sea dweller Rolex – Again quite a rare watch as at the time the patent hadn’t been approved but they went ahead with manufacture. At the time it was one of the best deep diving watches. The cost of this new would have been around £60. To buy now you would be looking at approximately £150,000.
What has been the most expensive watch you have purchased?
Again another Rolex, this time a 1962 rolex 5512 submariner. This of course is another watch that is a little rare as it has a gilt ring around the dial called a chapter. It also has an “exclamation” dot where the number 6 would be.
At the side of the watch where the winder is, to protect it you have crown guards either side. This model has more pointed guards than any other Rolex. There are a few varieties of it though, but they are all labelled as either radium swiss, tritium tswisst, or swiss-t25. This is to signify the material that was used to make it glow in the dark.
How did you end up in partnership with “The Watch Guys?”
Well I met Samir several years ago when I first started buying and selling. Many people had been in the trade and industry for many years and guarded their “little black books” of contacts feverishly. Samir had been in the business around 25 years and took me under his wing. When I was back in London and between gigs or recording, I started spending all my spare time at the shop and learnt more, which enabled me to buy and sell with more knowledge and confidence.
What are you plans for the future with “The Watch Guys”?
Although I am working hard with my band, touring, recording and releasing music, there is no reason to stop doing my hobby. With the wonders of the internet you can pretty much buy and sell from anywhere in the World, which will enable me to continue sourcing watches for people and finding the right things for their collections.
I enjoy trying to find the right watch for the right person. Taking into their personal style, tastes and dislikes it is a great feeling to find something that will fit both them and their collection.
At “The Watch Guys” we don’t restore any watches as we believe it ruins the character of the pieces. If you start replacing bits of mechanism, then it is not the watch it started out as. It can also have a severe detrimental effect on the value. A broke original watch can be worth more than a restored working one. Servicing is another thing however and we have our own watch makers that we send our watches to.
What is the oldest watch you own or have owned?
Probably a Patek Phillipe from the 1920’s It was beautiful. An oversized rectangular watch with a white gold racing bracelet. It was all original and in perfect condition. I did end up selling it to a private collector though.
Has the demand for vintage watches increased in recent years due to the rising popularity in the lifestyle?
Totally. I have seen a huge rise in demand especially over the past three years. This is for a few reasons. One is that people who dress in a certain style like to have a watch that matches that. However, even more people are attracted to watches that are vintage mainly due to them being made so well.
With today’s fast fashion and technology you can get watches of every type, in every kind of material possible. However the vintage watches are mainly handmade, not done on an assembly line. Little things like hand printed dials, hand engraving and a classic design are enticing new buyers in. Then people are realise that the vintage watches are so much better quaity.
I have no doubts in saying that in 40 years, the technological versions will be dead, and the vintage watch will still be ticking.
Have you ever regretted buying a specific watch? Or regretted not buying one?
When I first started buying I made quite a few mistakes. This was due to my lack of knowledge. However I just put it down as all part of the learning curve. It made me want to improve my knowledge and as I did I made less mistakes.
Most of my mistakes would have been things like missing parts or damage I hadn’t spotted. So nothing too bad.
One I regretted not buying was one of the Lemania Swedish Bomb Squad watches that I mentioned earlier. I had been looking for around a year and was offered one, but again I didn’t really have the money at the time. So I didn’t buy it.
It took maybe another year before Samir found me another, which was a Mark 2 version. I kept it in my collection as being Swedish is was quite special to me.
After that I was perusing some people on Instagram and came across another Lemania watch up for sale. It belonged to the Father of the Seller. I made contact with them, and found out it was a Mark 1.
I bought it and then gave my Father the Mark 2 I already owned it was actually made the year he was born.
Lemania was a small company but they made one of the best movements possible. They made watches for the UK, Italian and Swedish Military. All the watches they made had the same calibre, however the one made for the Swedish Military has a unique calibre and even now, no-one knows why the company did this.
What do your band mates think to your hobby?
Initially they didn’t understand what the fascination with watches was. After all, a watch is just a watch. However over time they are starting to understand it a bit more now. They appreciate the different clientele I try and get watches for, how I do it and where I source things from.
Although they are getting interested in what I do, They are not buying anything yet though.
What do “The Watch Guys” think to your band?
They are all really supportive even though it is a totally different style to what they are maybe used. They have come and supported us at some gigs though and said they enjoyed it, so I am quite lucky to have both hobbies and people’s support.
So what is next in the pipeline for Axel?
Well, I need to keep reaching further to build more contacts within the community. I love sourcing watches for my clients and want to keep doing that. Oh and I also want to be able to treat myself to new watches at the end of a job well done!
It was a real pleasure talking to Axel. I found him both fascinating and informative and it has made me want to start looking for my own vintage watch!
*****This article was part published in Vintage Life Magazine February 2018*****