Of course you can collect watches. They don’t take up much space, they are more valuable than stamps, they are beautiful to behold and at least they can tell you the time – independently from the supply of batteries. Because the only watches that are worth collecting are of course mechanical watches, not their young electronic cousins from Japan. And the real collectible ones, are almost entirely made in Switzerland – almost. There are some exceptions to the rule, but they are only exceptions. So you need to collect the ’right’ ones…
By the way: collecting watches is a passion, it’s not necessarily reasonable at all. So don’t expect too much reason and hard facts here, even if there is some. Don’t question this too hard, as it won’t withstand hard reasoning. After all it should be fun.
Collecting watches is an art. What you do depends on you, as there are no official rules. However, I advice you to find out your collecting style and be man enough to alter it, if it doesn’t fit your needs any more. It is about fun, remember!
So, first question is: what makes a great watch collection – because obviously you don’t want to have a mediocre one, as for mediocrity luxury watches are way too expensive, right?
Collecting watches is a bit like playing cards. You can make rules what you want to have. But once declared, you better stick to the rules. And don’t confuse quality with quantity: even two or three watches can be a wonderful collection. The quality, idea and identity of a collection does not depend on the number of watches it contains. More watches do not necessarily make a better collection.
Collect just what you like
If that is your plan I estimate, you won’t be able to collect expensive watches at all. Because if that is your character (and collecting says a lot about people and their character) you probably won’t have a good plan for your life either – if you haven’t one for your hobby.
Well, that’s plainly stupid, isn’t it? The most simple rule of all is at the same time the most nonsense rule, because it is none: collect what you like. If you like a watch, it belongs in your collection. This is quite simple but at the same time lacks some thought and insight into deeper ideas and structures that would offer you higher collector’s enlightenment.
You at least should know something about the watches you adore. And that knowledge makes it impossible to just do what your guts tell you right away.
Have a plan
And follow it. Don’t be afraid to adapt the plan, but never abandon it. The plan may change over time as your insights into the watch world change and as your wishes that are connected to your perception of beauty shift over time. And with more and more understanding of the factors that define style – at least in your book – your wishes as a collector will drift.
If you don’t have a plan, what would fit your collection, you’re not a collector but just a buyer. You become a collector when you have a collection in your mind that can be finished because it consists of a) a limited amount of watches and b) you know exactly which watches belong in your collection to satisfy you.
So, when you developed an overview of the market and you detected some historical landmarks that resonate with you, write a list of watches down you would like to have in your collection.
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Collect what everyone else collects
Of course you can do what everyone does. But that lacks something important: You. Individuality, the expression of you and your individual ideas.
There is even another problem with that approach: what everybody wants is expensive and sought after. The art of clever collecting on the edge of ’investing’ (and luxury watches are so much money that this might be a factor) is to buy what is sought after tomorrow.
What to Collect?
You need more than one watch. Since watches became tools, you need the right tool for every application.
Tool watches and sports watches make especially good collections, because they are so different and have a lot of interesting designs. As different as the application they are made for.
If you compare the dress watches around, from the Patek Calatrava for $20.000, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control for $8.000 to the Eterna 1948 for $1500, they basically all look quite alike. Beautiful, yes, but they don’t offer too much to look at for the collector. And that is simply, because they are made for one single purpose: to sit under a cuff and be not flashy at all. That’s it. You could say: they are tool watches for exactly one thing: being worn with a cuff and a suite.
Eterna 1948, Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control, Patek-Philippe Calatrava
And that requires them to be thin, elegant and with an extremely reduced design language. Patek-Philippe, the Rolls Royce of the watch world, not even puts a brand icon on the dial. There is just written the name of the brand in very modest letters: PATEK-PHILIPPE. And that’s it. The letters don’t even have serifes. What fancy stuff will you be able to do with that?
The game is completely different if you go to tool and sports watches. There you can have any size, as the cuff is not an issue at all. You can have features like broad bezels, fancy rugged bracelets, brutal dials and hands, everything is possible if it fits one rule (well, loosely): it must fit the watches purpose.
Some Tool Watches they can be very different depending on the purpose they serve and the functions (called ’complications’) they have. E.g. in the picture you can see a Breitling Navitimer, a pilot’s watch with a manual calculator on it. Or a ’normal’ pilot’s watch with a chronograph function, like the IWC Big Pilot Chronograph. Or just a normal chronograph, like the Omega Speedmaster, who just happened to fly with NASA into space.
- Automatic movement
- Blue chronograph dial
- Blue Leather
- Water resistant to 99 feet (30 M): withstands rain and splashes of water, but not showering or submersion
It can be a massive oversized diving watch like the Audemars-Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. Or a GMT time watch like the Rolex GMT Master II. Or finally a very classic diving watch like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
They come in all forms and sizes, so every collector can find, what he likes best.
Don’t have too many watches
A collection of some dozen watches becomes ridiculous. Unless you have to store unearthly amounts of money in watches nobody needs more than say 10 luxury watches in his collection. A watch is a tool to tell time and it becomes utterly useless if you don’t wear them – at least from time to time.
Slow Down – Don’t Hurry
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And so your collection doesn’t need to be built in a year or two.
Having a collection is not as entertaining as building one up. So don’t hurry. And don’t be frustrated if you don’t seem to be able to purchase one or the other of your darlings. Time will tell. And perhaps you will purchase them in 10 or 20 or even 40 years from now. That doesn’t matter as long as you are on your way.
Don’t forget: watches are all about time. And they are not only to be timeless to be a good collectors item, they also might take some time to collect them. That’s ok, it’s the name of the game.
Collecting: What are my Rules?
For me, one of the most important rules is: which watches would I – personally – want to wear? Which watches would I therefore want to collect? These two questions are in my case interwoven, as I would never buy a watch into my collection I would not also want to wear. So I am not an investor but a aficionado with the tendency to not only rationally invest, but also emotionally want to posses and collect.
A collector is not a investor. While the investor just looks at the earnings he will make, the collector has a more complex set of reasons for what he does. He looks at aestetics, irrational and real value beyond the solely monetary aspects. He does not primarily look out for the buck to make, but for beauty and perfection.
Personally I am looking for the overlap of these reasons, when I think about buying a collector level watch:
I never buy a watch that I don’t like. And that is put too mildly. I never buy a watch that I don’t adore. It must be absolutely 100%, not 90% not 93% never at 70%. 100%. Otherwise the watch will not enter my collection. The piece has to flash me, it has to keep me stunned by its beauty anew everytime I look at it. And I try to figure that out in advance. If you don’t do that you become a flipper (someone who buys and sells regularly due to discontent.)
This felt perfection is closely connected to style. Style is mainly the absence of unnecessary things. Unnecessary things, design elements nobody knows why they are there are meaningless and ugly. Ugly things don’t appeal to nobody. Style is simplicity, reducedness, decency. Style is focus on the things that matter, while consequently ignoring and eliminating the things that don’t matter. Style is balance and harmony in design and function. Style is form following the necessity of function. If you look closely you can find style in the midst of all that noise of the market. Style stands still, style abides, style can finally lead to timelessness. If a watch then has a history of 50 or more years of nearly unchanged appearence, this is probably due to timeless style. And style due to that style has a lot to do with the colors black and white.
I am not the king of style. But I want to wear things that suit me and fit my overall idea of style and what I usually wear. And all this sums up to how I want to be perceived. And that let’s me keep a natural distance to green watches with green dials, to 44 mm white watches on zebra straps, to black watches with orange straps and mostly any color other than black, gray or blue (little accents that can be the salt in the soup excluded). Style is decency, the absence of everything that is unnecessary or obnoxious. So naturally, I would only purchase a watch that I find stylish but also wearable for me as a specific person. A watch that fits my individual understanding of taste.
There are a lot of different models, but there is only one original. Being the reference for a whole class of watches makes a watch special and of course more collectible. There are diving watches from Tag Heuer, Breitling, Longines, Seiko, Sinn and Junghans and all the many others. But the real icons of the diving scene are the Rolex Submariner, the Omega Seamaster and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. These are the icons, because they are the best, they were the first and for that in some respect they are the only ones – that really matter. And that applies to the Rolex Daytona and the Omega Speedmaster and the Breitling Chronomat for Chronographs and in the same way to all the other genres. There are the icons and the other ones that often just copy their design and looks – and parts of their functionality. If you collect, you obviously want to posses the icons, not the copycats. At least to start with. Because you will want to start in the center, the heart, the middle, not on some strange and extreme edge.
Special abilites give a watch character. Of course, a lot of watches can measure time. And some can measure distinct timeframes or can tell you when you started something – being it a dive down to a wreck or a coral seabed or just cooking something for lunch. But there are some watches that are really special. There are the ones made to work under extreme conditions, like in space, keep exact time even at dramatic accelerations like in a jet or a race car or dive down into the dark abyss of the ocean where finally 3 tons of water bear down on that small watch of 44 mm diameter. And then they come back up and still work properly. Of course you don’t need these abilities. But it’s cool to have them on your wrist. It makes a watch something special if it can do more than you could. And you can admire all that technical abilities on your own wrist.
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It always helps if the watch has some kind of heritage. This not only adds a story to the watch, giving it gravity and importance of some sort. That way it stands for something greater than itself is, like men on the Moon, men climbing the Mount Everest, a woman crossing the channel swimming, Thomas Magnum driving his Ferrari or James Bond killing somebody. Such a watch will be remembered for its perfection, its style its timelessness, but also for the things and events it is connected to. More often than not this connection is entirely not by chance, but because this watch was selected by its special abilities to take part in this event – or by the maker to have some great heritage it would sell on much better. Serious, even more groundbreaking heritage might help even more, like being the first and greatest diving watch of the world and other technical achievements that changed the whole industry.
If I like the watch that much, if it has some heritage to tell you about, if it truly has style and timelessness, I see a chance that it will eventually become a classic and will enter that exclusive club of watches that go up in price with time instead of just loosing value with age. These are all the mostly irrational factors that must interweave to make a watch a true classic and enter my personal list of wanted pieces.
And if all that is the case and the watch thus goes steadily up in price it is then also a good investment, i.e. a reasonable place to store your capital in. That the watch is a good investment is actually a result of all the other values before. If it goes up without style, it’s just fashion and over and done in a year. If I don’t like it, probably other people who think like me won’t like it that much also. If it has no heritage it will eventually be forgotten. But if all this comes together it will form a lasting legend and thus keep value as there will always be someone who wants it dearly.
The Daily watch
Collecting or not, you need a watch for everyday. A so called ’daily rocker’. This watch of course needs to have special properties:
- Not too valuable. If you are a watch aficionado and collector you of course would not want to wear a Seiko on a daily basis. However, for daily use, your most precious 1610 is probably not the right choise. The risk to damage the star of your collection is just too high.
- Comfortable to wear.
- All complications you need. (probably not so many besides a date)
The Final One
Sometimes a collector needs a so called ’exit watch’. This is for the guys who really played it hard. They are not only aficionados, they are addicted. And like every addict they need a way to get out.
And the idea of the Exit-Watch is their idea to get out. A watch that satisfies them so much, that they don’t need another one. Of course this is bogus. As you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
A simple Rolex Collection
The special gimmic of every Rolex collection is that it probably won’t loose its value while you are having fun. And this is a phenomenon you won’t find with a lot of other watch brands. And that is why Rolex is especially beloved as collectors’ items.
This collection proposed here is kind of a young-timer Rolex collection. It has three 5-digit reference models: the Explorer Ref. 114270, the Submariner Ref. 14060M and the GMT Master II Ref. 16710 Pepsi. And as a reference to modern days it has also three 6-digit reference models: the Yacht-Master Ref. 116622, the Sea-Dweller 4000 Ref. 116600 and the Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 116520 with the black dial.
All models have mainly steel cases. The only precious metal is the platinum the Yacht-Master dial and bezel is made from.
All watches are maximum 40 mm in diameter and for that reason wear beautifully on any wrist.
The collection is balanced in a lot of aspects. In each section is a versatile watch you can wear as a dress watch (Explorer and Yacht-Master), a real classic diver (Sub) – being the heart and soul of the luxury watch world – and a modern hardcore diver (Sea-Dweller 4000), a GMT and a chronograph complication. Each section has at least a diving bezel and a special bezel (Daytona, GMT). Each section has two date complications and one watch without the date. There are even two date windows with a cyclops lens and one without. Every type of (sports) watch is represented: a versatile sports/dess-watch (Explorer), a luxury version of a sports watch (Yacht-Master), a pilots watch (GMT) and a drivers watch (Daytona) and two classy divers. The three 5-digit reference watches are easily the most highly recognized watches in watch history (Submariner, Explorer and GMT Master) and the Daytona with the 6-digit reference completes that lineup of legends.
And it is balanced even in another way: the Explorer is basically the most original Rolex design from the 1940s. Then the Sub and the GMT Pepsi are models that first surfaced in this design language in the 1950s. The Seadweller is a typical late 1960s model in the tradition of the original Submariner, the black-dial-black-bezel kind of thing. The Daytona in the design with the steel bezel is clearly from the 1980s. Finally the Yachtmaster was first presented in the 1990s. Please don’t mention that there is a gap in this beautiful list in the 1970s.
This collection is not quite cheap at all: when this post was written (2018) these watches cost at least: Explorer 114270 (preloved) $4000, Submariner 14060M (preloved) $5000, GMT Master II (preloved) $8000, Yacht-Master 116622 (new) $10000, Sea-Dweller 116600 (new) $9000, Daytona 116520 (new) $12000, adds up altogether to about $48000. But these are 48000 bucks to last.