The shift from watch enthusiast to watch collector is a slippery slope. Even the terminology poses problems since some people with many watches don’t consider themselves collectors. Also, in some cases, arriving at owning just one watch takes years of collecting — and then de-collecting. For many playing the game, though, there’s an ideal collection in the back of the mind. Of course, that includes certain watches on a constantly shifting wishlist. But the ideal size of a watch collection is also an important consideration. How many watches you own — or aspire to own — can say a lot about your habits and even your personality.

I’m not a psychoanalyst. Freud and Jung could do a lot better job at sussing out the subtle meanings behind our propensity to collect watches in ways that are very particular to our individual tastes. But I think there are over-arching tendencies in collecting towards either maximalism or minimalism. Within that spectrum is a sense of curation; we organize our collections and desired acquisitions in ways that make sense to each of us individually. I know what sort of collector I am — a minimalist. But I’m interested in exploring different desires for ideal watch-collection sizes, if not for anything else than for fun. Perhaps I’ll gain more insight into my own brand of neuroticism.

The “all of them” crew

In my last article about the lies we watch collectors tell ourselves to justify purchases, I let a certain demographic off the hook. Those who have no methodological approach to watch collecting or qualms about purchasing what they want when they want it are largely exempt from the self-examination and tribulations that more pragmatic (or neurotic) collectors put themselves through. In this article, those wild and carefree collectors are largely off the hook again. More than anything, individuals that buy, sell, and trade watches without regard to collection size (or theme) are an alien breed to me. I very much need “rules” to my collecting, or at least goals. Otherwise, I’d very quickly end up broke or — worse yet — not as obsessed about the watches I’d own.

That’s just me, though. I have no doubt that many a “maximalist” watch collector gains joy, appreciation, and even obsession from the many, many watches they own. Whether it’s buying whatever one fancies or collecting all the watches within a style or series, large watch collections offer the owner choice more than anything. As sneakers are for sneakerheads, a particular watch from a large collection can be meticulously matched with a specific outfit. And there must also be a sense of completion in just looking at, for example, every MoonSwatch from the series lined up on a shelf. At some point, it becomes less about wearing and using the watches and more about truly building a collection — watch collecting in its most abstract form.

No rhyme or reason

Of course, there are some with a more laissez-faire approach. For them, there’s no series from which to collect every piece. There is no rhyme, reason, or outfit behind choosing the watches they do. They like watches, and the watches that they like, they get. This approach takes a certain amount of financial security and a sense of calm that I have not achieved yet. I, like many others, still feel the need to agonize over every aspect of the watches I want, the watches I have, and what my watch collection now and in the future says about me. Sure, it’s exhausting, but it’s fun too. It certainly passes the time.

A specific list or number of watches

The list, I believe, is where most people operate from regarding their watch collections. It’s the ever-present list of watches you’d like to own. It’s substantial, but not infinite. Most importantly, it makes sense, at least to you, even if it is constantly shifting. You have the obligatory dive watch, perhaps, the dress watch, the chronograph, and all those others. And once you’ve attained every watch on this list, your watch collection will be complete. Of course, we know this isn’t true. See my previous mention of the article about the lies we tell ourselves. But it’s fun, at least, to pretend that these few watches will fulfill the craving.

Now, throw a watch box into the equation and you’ve increased your variables exponentially. Not only are you trying to achieve your ideal “watch list”, but you also now have a finite number of slots to fill. The agony! Of course, for some (like me), a finite number is just the constraint and challenge we need. For others, a gifted watch box might open Pandora’s box. I have a friend that was gifted a watch box with a capacity much larger than his current watch collection that he’s been dutifully trying to downsize. Now what? Time to buy some watches, I guess.

Speedmaster collection

Six watches for the reasonable person

In US law, there is a concept of the “reasonable person”. This “reasonable person” is a fictional entity whose actions within a given scenario can be measured against a defendant in deciding if the defendant’s actions are negligent. In our case, the “reasonable person” owns six watches. Why? Six watches can encompass a whole range of styles and prices. Six watches can be rotated so that each watch gets adequate wrist time. Plus, six watches is a solid halfway point in watch-collection sizes between one watch and “all of them”. I don’t have the stats on average or mean sizes of watch collections, but six seems reasonable, right?

I currently have seven watches in my collection. I know. Unreasonable. In a sense, it is, though. There is one watch that I wear twice as much as any other, three watches that I wear occasionally, and another three that I almost never wear. In effect, I could shave my collection down to four watches and not miss much. Or I could aspire to a six-watch collection with watches from my wish list. The possibilities are nearly endless yet still tastefully reasonable. The only unreasonable thing about a six-watch collection is my endless debating about which six should occupy it.

Starting a watch collection

The magic three-watch collection

A lot of you are reading this and imagining the impossibility of trying to get your collections down to six watches. Just as many of you are reading this and thinking, “Huh, six… That’s more than I have now.”. That’s the reasonableness of six averaged out. What is a totally unreasonable exercise in self-discipline is the three-watch collection.

A little while ago, we here at Fratello played with the concept of a three-watch collection. The rule was (unofficially) to pick three watches for no more than €5,000. It’s a game that I enjoy playing myself, and you know what? I really do think three watches are ideal, for me at least.

The three-watch collection, when done right, is a distillation of the rainbow that is your watch tastes and requirements into a primary color palette of functionality and style.

A three-watch collection requires shaving off the fat. It’s the GADA (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) of watch collections. Because this ideal three-watch collection is supposed to be able to accomplish everything you need it to. Busting rocks and pouring cement? Going on vacation to the ocean? Have a date at a fancy dinner? The three-watch collection is as much an exercise in efficiency and capability as it is in style.

Starting A Watch Collection With $5000

It simply works

The best part about the three-watch collection is the simplicity. No “packing” for a trip. All of your watches are in the watch roll already. No agonizing over whether this color or that color G-Shock matches your outfit. The three-watch collection, when done right, is a distillation of the rainbow that is your watch tastes and requirements into a primary color palette of functionality and style. A three-watch collection is all about doing the work upfront to choose very carefully and correctly so that one doesn’t have to worry about which watch to choose to wear every day.

As much as I like it, will I actually be able to achieve the three-watch collection? Realistically, no. As modest as I find my own watch collection, there are already too many significant keepsakes and “fun” watches for me to get rid of. Plus, my ideal three-watch collection is comprised of watches that I don’t even own yet. Therefore, as ideals are meant to be, the three-watch collection may forever remain out of my grasp. This makes me completely ineligible for the next potentially ideal collection size — one.


One watch to rule them all

I regard people who buy watches flippantly without pause or any constraints as wild, that’s true. But, in my eyes, people who own and wear just one watch are either very mature (in either sense of the word) or psychopaths. I think of Andy Warhol and his Cartier Tank that he famously never wound. It was right twice a day. To be able to choose one watch to wear day in and day out requires a certain amount of uncompromising self-awareness and solidity typically only afforded to artists, Buddhist monks, and serial killers. Even the Dalai Lama has more than one watch in his collection. Conversely, if you don’t think much of watches and just need one to do what it’s meant to do — tell the time — owning one watch might not seem like a big deal. But who wears watches just for telling the time?

The New Greubel Forsey GMT Balancier Convexe

Exits and GADAs

Of course, many of us set “exit watches” for ourselves — watches that, if we could attain them, would be enough for us to be done with watch collecting for good. But even with the grail-est of exit watches, could you seriously consider wearing only that watch for the rest of your life? No more “daily beaters”, no more “fun” watches… Of course, a one-watch collection doesn’t necessarily mean the same watch forever. But one watch at a time is still quite an imposition.

…if one watch can go anywhere and do anything, three watches that can go anywhere and do anything can go further and do more together.

The solution that humankind has been trying to come up with is the ever-elusive, indefinitely unsatisfying, and perpetually argued-over GADA watch. The right “go anywhere, do anything” watch is supposed to cure all ills of the one-watch collection. On paper, it’s genius. Why have a watch collection with watches for every occasion and task when you could have one watch that’s able to do it all? Turns out that the reality of it is more complicated. For me, the problem is that I like GADAs so much that I want a few different ones. In my mind, if one watch can go anywhere and do anything, three watches that can go anywhere and do anything can go further and do more together. Right? Rationality is once again thwarted by the exhaustive mental games of the enthusiastic watch collector. And good riddance.

The no-watch collection

I’m kidding. If you can call yourself a watch enthusiast and not own one watch, I have to shake your hand. You’re operating on a level that I can’t even comprehend. You can probably just look at food and get sustenance too.

What’s the ideal?

The sizes of watch collections are as much a matter of personal taste as any other aspect of watch collecting. And, like our tastes, our collections tend to change and adjust over time as we acquire and let go of watches on our collecting journey. Even if you’re not a “collector”, you can appreciate the intricacies of what goes into choosing not only one watch but all the watches in one’s possession. It’s thought experiments like examining how many watches are ideal that spice up the game even more. Like we needed any help.

But I want to know from our readership. How do you collect watches? Is there any rhyme or reason? What is the ideal size for your watch collection? Is it “reasonable”? Let us know in the comments. What’s most important is that your collection, no matter the size, brings you joy. And, as I said at the beginning, I’m not a psychoanalyst. If you have a one-watch collection, you’re probably okay. Probably.

You can find more of me on Instagram @WatchingThomas.