You probably know this situation: You are strolling down the street and suddenly something on the pavement catches your eye. You've found something! Even if it is usually just a single pound or a lucky penny, inside you feel happy about this small, unexpected discovery. But how does it feel when you actually find something very valuable, such as a Rolex watch?
Unfortunately, we haven't found any of our luxury watches just like that on the street yet, so we don't know what that must feel like. But as fate would have it, someone contacted Watchmaster who was able to tell us what it's like to be the finder of a Rolex.
Who is the lucky Rolex finder?
The 56-year-old London native Andrew Vassallo has been working as a Civil Engineer for many years and lived in various parts of the UK throughout his life. About 20 years ago, however, his path led him back to his home town London, where he settled in the southern district of Vauxhall. Having had gardens at previous homes and taking them for granted he didn't realise how much he missed his own outside space until he moved into his flat in Vauxhall without a garden. As he wanted a new direction and challenge in his life, Vassallo took the advice of a friend and started a different career at the age of 50: gardening instead of an office job.
Vassallo first started planting up a grass verge in a council estate in Camberwell and turned it into a small oasis of tropical plants, including bananas, cannas and other exotics, which eventually led him to open his own small nursery. The "Spring Gardens Nursery" is known for its unusual and exotic plants, which have become an essential part of Vauxhall's townscape. Today, the 56-year-old is still responsible for the design, planting and maintenance of the public areas in Vauxhall’s Pleasure Gardens and on Vauxhall Walk in the Greater London area. Vassallo has even received several awards for his work, including "Best Community Gardener" at the Blooming Lambeth Awards in 2019.
But now let's get to Andrew Vassallo's special discovery. While working, he came across a stainless steel Rolex Datejust (Ref. 16234) with a cream dial and jubilee bracelet, which he wanted to sell through Watchmaster. To find out more about the London-based man and his lucky find, we asked our colleague Jasper, who has been Vassallo's contact at Watchmaster since the beginning, to interview the Rolex finder and ask him a few questions. Spoiler alert: This story will definitely make you smile!
Andrew Vassallo on finding a Rolex watch
First of all, congratulations on your unexpected and remarkable discovery! You’ve found a Rolex Datejust – could you tell us exactly when and how that happened?
"I found the watch in June 2018. It was in a trough that had been used on railings by Vauxhall tube station. Transport for London (TfL) was removing the railings and stored them for almost a year before emptying the compost."
Please tell us a little more about the watch. How was the condition when you found it?
"The watch must have been in the tub for that time. It was buried in wet compost and I may have damaged the bracelet with my trowel. I was surprised how well it cleaned up and though date and time were wrong, it was still working!"
ROLEX DATEJUST 16234
What came to your mind first when you found the Rolex watch? Could you tell that it was genuine and not a cheap fake?
"Not knowing much about watches, other than Rolex watches are expensive, it was possible that this one was a fake, but my gut instinct told me that this watch feels genuine. I was thinking of various scenarios of how it ended up in the trough. From someone who lost it while having a coffee, smoking, slipping off their wrist, to a thief who buried it to collect later… then me smiling, thinking of the thief looking for it later. But then I realised that I would probably have to take a day off gardening, as queues at police stations can take several hours..."
Nevertheless, you have decided to go to the police. What was it like? It probably does not happen every day that someone turns in a lost Rolex at the police station.
"The look of the policeman at the desk when he saw me hand it over was priceless. However, Walworth Road station did take time: finding the lost property book, recording details, with the knowledge that the watch might be legally mine after 28 days. I admit I was thinking that was a slight possibility, but never expected them to give it back to me."
Why didn't you just keep it? I mean it’s a Rolex after all... one could think about that for a moment, right?
"I took the watch to a Rolex shop with the police lost property paperwork, told them how I found it and wanted to see if it was a genuine Rolex. They had no records of the owner. So now I became the legal owner of the watch. But as it needed repairs and service I left it with them for a price. The downside of a Rolex is the repair bill... and I didn’t have funds to cover such costs. So I just left it at the Rolex shop… for over two years. Rolex had tried to ring me and sent many e-mails and I had ignored them, as I did not want the watch at home. I didn't know if getting it repaired would be of benefit, and I also had no idea what the value of the watch was. And I felt a bit guilty of having something that belonged to someone else."
How did you come across Watchmaster?
"When Rolex sent another e-mail in September, I decided to look for watch sellers, came across Watchmaster and sent you details of the watch from the estimate given by Rolex. I explained to you how I came across the watch and that I wanted to sell it. Jasper was very easy to talk with and made an offer, which was more than I had expected for a watch that needed repairs."
You mentioned that you would like to use the proceeds from the sale of the watch for a good cause. Please tell us more about what you plan to use the money for!
"As I had found the watch at the nursery, I considered it a gift from the Gods. Vauxhall One has cut the maintenance budget for the planting areas on Vauxhall walk by 50%. Sales from the nursery puts food on my table and maintains the planting along Vauxhall Walk. It's important to me to garden with environmental sustainability, which means composting garden waste, collecting leaves from streets and making compost for putting back on the flower beds. The greenhouse has been built mostly from wood found around Vauxhall streets and that found on the site of a nursery. To heat the greenhouse, heat is harvested from the compost areas. So the funds from the watch sale will be very useful this Winter and Spring in paying for tools, materials and extra help to work on the planting beds."
Do you have a history with watches? Are you a collector or enthusiast yourself?
"Owning a Rolex was a bit ironic, as I never wear watches. I have several watches in a drawer at home given as presents over the years, but I have never worn them. I have an internal clock that can guesstimate time fairly accurate. Gardening is done when the sun rises and sets. Simple."
What was it like when you heard that one of our employees had been looking for a watch like yours for a long time and wanted to buy it?
"I was told that the watch has been sold to one of your employees who had been looking for this type of watch for a long time. The watch ensures that the planting in Vauxhall can be maintained which brings joy to all those who will see the planting – and that happiness will be a part of the watch."
ROLEX DATEJUST 16234
An employee of Watchmaster purchased the Rolex that was found?Yes, that's right. Sarah, one of our employees, heard about the story of the found Rolex Datejust from her colleague Jasper and was thrilled right away. But we'll just let her tell us about it herself:
"When I heard the first part of the story, how the watch was found, I was quite captivated and immediately told Jasper that I should buy this watch without having even seen it. As the story unfolded, I was more and more enthralled and therefore convinced this was the right watch for me. I love that this timepiece has a true, feel-good story and that I can somehow feel connected to such a good deed – although no thanks to me. The story of how this watch came to be is arguably more beautiful than the watch itself... and it is gorgeous!" – Sarah
At this point, we would like to apologise to you for not having had the chance to buy this special Rolex Datejust at Watchmaster. Nevertheless, we are more than happy for Sarah and would like to thank Andrew Vassallo for the trust he put in us and the time he took for the interview. This story proves that Rolex’s campaign "Every Rolex tells a story" is true – and Sarah's Rolex now has a particularly beautiful story.