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The values that make David Linley love watches — “that wonderful combination of precision, craftsmanship, design and detail” — are also important to his career as a furniture maker.
“I was trying to tell the designers this morning that when you are making a desk handle it’s the tactile nature on your thumb, or the way [the thumb] presses in to start the stopwatch, that is the signifying difference between all these different designs,” he says.
Viscount Linley, 55, is the Queen’s nephew — he is the son of her late sister, Princess Margaret, and the photographer Lord Snowdon — and he founded his eponymous luxury design and homeware business in 1985. But he became interested in watches at an early age; his father was “fascinated” and “obviously what he did, I was always going to follow as his number-one fan”.
Viscount Linley admits that he gets “envious” when meeting fellow collectors through his role as honorary chairman of Christie’s in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and India, and says his own “eccentric” collection, which includes both fine watches and fun plastic pieces, is “tiny” compared to those of the clients of Linley, which has made watch chests for people with as many as 200.
“I have bought and sold and bought and sold things that have given me great pleasure over the years, and I find I go through phases of what I’m passionate about,” he says. “And then the next thing comes along, and so the only way of being able to collect the next one is to sell a few of the other ones.”
Montine automatic (1970s)
One watch Viscount Linley would not sell, because of his emotional attachment to it, is his first. He received the Montine as a birthday present from a friend of his parents when he was 11 or 12.
His parents put away the watch, which he thinks is made of steel with gold plating, for safekeeping until they felt he was old enough to use it. He first took it to school when he was 14, the age of his daughter, Margarita, who he says also loves watches. “I was so young I had it named by Harrods so that no one could nick it at school,” he says. It has “Linley” engraved on the caseback.
Omega Speedmaster (1982)
When he was young, Viscount Linley remembers his father wearing a Speedmaster, the first watch on the moon. After Lord Snowdon gave him his own stainless steel Speedmaster as a 21st birthday present, Viscount Linley used the piece for “30 years pretty much nonstop,” he says. “I wore it every single day I was in the workshop. So it’s been subjected to bashing and dust and it still works.”
Bamford Watch Department Rolex Milgauss SE “Stealth” GV Green (2011)
The watch Viscount Linley now wears most often is his customised Rolex Milgauss. It was a 50th birthday present from his friend George Bamford, founder of Bamford Watch Department, the London-based company that personalises luxury timepieces.
The watch — Viscount Linley’s first Rolex — is stainless steel but finished with a black military-grade titanium coating. The distinctive lightning bolt-shaped second hand of the Milgauss, a model originally created in the 1950s for scientists exposed to strong magnetic fields, is green, as is the crystal.
Viscount Linley co-curated an exhibition celebrating British design, craftsmanship, engineering and innovation, which included Mr Bamford’s customised timepieces, at the Linley flagship store in London in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the friends “talk a lot about watches”.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso (1950s)
The Reverso was originally created in 1931 for polo players — the dial flips over to protect it from damage — but Viscount Linley, who has never played the sport, finds his makes a nice evening watch. “I like this for the obvious reason that it moves and my [paternal] aunt’s husband used to have one with his crest on it,” he says.
He admires the “classic design” of the chrome watch, which was a 40th birthday present from his wife, Serena. “And also it’s quite fun in meetings, if people are trying to see what time it is, just to turn it over so they can’t!”
Patek Philippe Nautilus (2007)
Viscount Linley sold a couple of other Jaeger-LeCoultre pieces to buy his white-gold Nautilus in 2012. He knew and made furniture for the late Gérald Genta, the watch designer who created the original Nautilus (40 years old this year), and is still friends with his widow, Evelyne Genta, Monaco’s ambassador to the UK.
He wanted to buy the piece because he admired Genta, who also designed Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, and loved the design, which was based on the shape of a porthole. He had childhood memories of the watch too: his father’s friend, the late publisher Jocelyn Stevens, had a Nautilus “when it was brand spanking new”.
“I remember seeing people with it and always admired the men who wore the watch so I was probably trying to emulate their greatness,” he says of his purchase. “It’s like why do people buy 1960s Ferraris now for a lot of money? Because they had it on their wall as a child and it’s your heroes and your dreams and aspirations coming true. So that’s my sort-of Ferrari.”
The Nautilus was Viscount Linley’s ideal watch, but he admits: “It’s lovely, but then when you have it, you’ve got it, and your naughty mind goes, ‘Now what shall I get?’”