In this installment of Back To Basics, I’ll go into typical mistakes that beginner watch collectors often make. These are the common pitfalls that newcomers might find themselves running into. After reading this, you, as a new watch enthusiast, will hopefully be able to steer clear of them! And that might just save you some frustration and even money.

As always with Back To Basics articles, I would like to invite our more experienced readers to add their tips in the comments section at the end. Let’s help each other out in avoiding some of these common mistakes!

TAG Heuer and Omega Boutiques

Mistake #1: Thinking it is all about buying watches

Let’s face it: watches are products. So what are we into when we are into watches? Are we into buying products? Is it a purely materialistic endeavor that is all about going out to spend money? No, of course, it isn’t. Watches are a means to an end. Watches offer the opportunity to study and appreciate technology, history, craftsmanship, and art.

This means that the watch hobby doesn’t have to include a buying component at all. Granted, most of us like to collect a few, but do not be tempted to only consider it a buying hobby. Going from one watch chase to the next is a surefire way to keep you poor and wanting forever. In short, learn to appreciate watches without the need to own them. Don’t fall for the mistake of “to like is to buy.”

mistakes to avoid buying watches cheaply

It’s not cheap, but it will keep you in love

Mistake #2: Buying cheaply

Now, when you decide that you do want to buy after all, don’t fall for the second mistake — buying cheaply. It is quite tempting to scour the internet for bargains. And you will find bargains. The problem is that bargain-hunting for watches is a game for very well-informed aficionados. Finding a dirt-cheap watch from a well-known brand is a guaranteed way to get burned.

I am not saying that great deals aren’t out there. Our very own Nacho has a remarkable knack for fishing up amazing watches from secondhand fashion websites at ridiculously good prices. But it takes a trained eye and, even then, still involves a lot of risk. When you take your first steps and don’t want to get burned, stick with reliable sources and offers that don’t seem too good to be true.

The future of Audemars Piguet mistakes to avoid

Mistake #3: Feeling the need to “graduate” upmarket

Here is one that we all probably fell for at some point. We start our “serious watches” journey with something accessible. In my case, that was a Seiko SKX009J1. After that, we feel we have to “graduate” to progressively more expensive segments. You may get an Oris next, then a Rolex, then a Patek.

This is fine. In a way, it is a clever path to take. Your taste is very likely to change quite radically in your first few years of being into watches. Consequently, you are quite likely to buy and sell some watches before landing on the ones that truly suit your unique, now-developed taste. Starting slowly and making your way up can be the safe way to do it.

The potential mistake is to think you have to move upmarket. A Blancpain owner is in no way a better watch enthusiast than a Seiko owner. Find the niche(s) you enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you to get “something nicer”.

Cartier Santos Large Blue mistakes to avoid

Mistake #4: Following trends

Mistake #4 is very much a product of our times. Many watch enthusiasts find each other online through forums and social media. This is so prevalent that these platforms are now seriously influencing behavior. It seems that every single watch collector on Instagram now owns a Cartier Santos and a Tudor diver. Oh, and a Rolex 16570 “Polar.”

That is all well and good, but when you are new to the hobby, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is in any way normal. These are ridiculously expensive toys that — if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford them — should only ever be bought for your enjoyment. I see new, particularly young enthusiasts succumb to the pressure of needing to buy those specific watches that happen to be in vogue. Rest assured, your watch impresses nobody, so don’t buy it for any reason other than that you like it! And feel free to go off the beaten path if that is where your taste brings you.

Mistake #5: Taking the “experts'” word for it

Here is another one that is a sign of our times. There are tons of influencers on social media and YouTube who don’t have access to primary sources of information. That does not keep them from presenting themselves as experts, though.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good YouTube channels on watches out there. Some are definitely worth following, and I follow some myself. But there is also a ton of misinformation on YouTube and other social media because many are content creators who like watches but have no real experience beyond being consumers themselves. Knowledge and follower count don’t go hand in hand, unfortunately.

Okay, okay. Fratello once started as a hobbyist’s blog as well, of course. I am not hating on hobbyists going pro; I did that myself too. At the very least, though, be careful where you get your information. Not every guy or gal with a YouTube channel or 20K Insta followers is a watch expert. And there is a lot of echoing each other’s opinions going on. I guess it comes down to point #4 again: just follow your compass and yours alone.

mistakes to avoid watch servicing

Image: Tempus

Mistake #6: Overlooking maintenance costs

This is a pretty self-explanatory one; a mechanical watch requires servicing. As a rule of thumb, consider that interval to be about five years without taking exemptions into account. You may want to check with your local watchmaker or the brand itself how much a service will set you back. Don’t be surprised to find that it is hundreds of euros/dollars/pounds every time. It could even cost thousands for high-end, complicated watches.

Take this into account before amassing tons of mechanical watches. I acquired many watches back in the day because they would be fun to wear on occasion or even just to have them in my collection. I have come back from that, striving to own only a handful of watches that I truly appreciate and wear a lot. Service costs are one of the reasons for that change in approach. Don’t be like me. Consider yourself warned!

Mistake #7: Being vocally anti-Rolex

Here is another that I keep hearing from so many people. Rolex being Rolex, it is a bit of a benchmark in the watch world, no matter how you put it. So you have to position yourself in relation to it somehow. It is very common — I repeat, very common — for new watch enthusiasts to be quite vocally anti-Rolex. Why? Because there are two sides to Rolex. One is the side that is one of the best manufacturers of everyday high-end watches. The other is its less appealing side as a shiny status symbol.

As a new watch enthusiast, it is tempting to malign the brand. “Yeah, I am into watches but certainly not into the ostentatious Rolex world.” But, like most of us, after a while, you will come to peace with it. You will discover that Rolex is indeed a remarkable brand with an amazing community of enthusiasts behind it. So, if you are new to watches and harbor strong anti-Rolex sentiments, keep quiet for a year or two. If you still feel the same way then, be my guest and spread the word. But, trust me, I may be sparing you some mild embarrassment here.

watch market update

Mistake #8: Buying watches as investments

This has, fortunately, been much less of a hot topic since the market went into decline in 2022. In the period leading up to the correction, suddenly everyone and their mothers wanted to buy luxury watches. “Resale value” and “flipping” were the buzzwords.

Don’t get me wrong; it is fun to see a watch that you own go up in value. It is also pleasant that some of those expensive objects don’t instantly lose 90% of their value after you buy them. However, once you take risk and servicing into account, this really isn’t much of an asset class. You may get lucky sometimes, but do not fool yourself into thinking that buying that shiny new thing is the smart move. It is fine to just want one, you know.

measuring success

Mistake #9: Not being willing to pay “tuition”

This common mistake ties into the point above. If you are new to the watch world and intend to own a few watches, you will pay “tuition.” That tuition will come in the shape of buying the wrong watches. Maybe you end up buying a “Frankenwatch” (composed of incorrect but authentic parts). Or maybe you just buy a bunch of watches that you don’t end up liking once you are a little deeper into it.

The truth is, we all paid this tuition. It is a hobby, and a hobby is allowed to cost a little money. I have never met a collector who went out and bought the perfect collection on day one. Some watches come, and some watches go, sometimes at a loss. And that seasoned aficionado bragging about how he/she always makes money on every watch sold? That’s probably not true and most certainly not relevant.

Mistake #10: Skipping the research

The final entry in this list goes to the research that goes into acquiring a watch. I do not mean finding out which watch you want. I mean studying the watch you are into and its history, variations, potential issues, and things to look for. Trust me when I say that this research is more fun than owning the watch. Skipping the research will deprive you of that more meaningful and fun element of the chase. It will also dramatically increase the chance of you buying the wrong watch. Embrace the chase!

Closing thoughts

There you have it — my top 10 mistakes to avoid for newcomers to the watch hobby, in no particular order! Trust me when I say that I have fallen prey to many of these myself. And, as always, maybe I still would have even if I had read this article. Sometimes you just have to bump your head before you take advice. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Don’t take this overly seriously, though. We are not talking about life-or-death mistakes here. Still, I hope to have helped you avoid one or two pitfalls.

If you have any other mistakes that you would care to share, please do so in the comments section below!