Building A Collection — The Collecting Philosophies Of Watch Lovers Worldwide
We watch lovers are a varied bunch. Within this quirky watch-collecting sub-realm of ours, we have everyone from monogamous brand devotees to polyamorous proponents of brand diversity. We have both laid-back, casual toe-dippers and laser-focused hunters, forever on the prowl for the next prize. The beauty of this variety is that no matter what type of watch lover you are, there will always be a horological gem out there to set your passions ablaze.
Throughout my watch journey, I’ve found that I have developed a collecting philosophy. A set of rules, if you will, that I follow in an attempt to build my perfect collection. If you read my article on “grail watches”, to the end, you may be familiar with these. A quick glance at my Instagram feed, however, shows me that not all collectors operate the way I do. Indeed, I’d be quite arrogant to assume any differently! So today, I wanted to throw it over to you, the enthusiasts in this wonderful community of ours, and discuss the strategies you follow for building your ideal collections. To get this conversation started, I took to the “streets” of Facebook to see what insights I could gather. What I found was not only relatable but also incredibly thought-provoking.
The philosophies collectors live by
Through the wonderful answers I received, I was able to learn more about the strategies that help fellow enthusiasts get the most enjoyment out of collecting. We’ll take a look at these methods and I’ll let you know how or if I relate to each. As we go along, I invite you also to consider these and share your thoughts with us at the end. Let’s make this a really interesting discussion, shall we?
Collecting brand icons with unique twists
“Icon.” Boy, there’s a buzzword for ya! When it comes to watches, I find that this label can carry a self-important nuance that makes us forget a watch’s place in greater society. It can be worth remembering that despite our undying love for these ticking trinkets, most people outside of our community could not care any less about our wristwear. Within the context of watch brands themselves, however, I do feel that the term makes sense. A particular brand’s “icon” could indeed be the one watch that best represents its identity, design language, or public perception. We watch lovers are faced with endless choices, so valuing a brand’s most popular models is a way to build a heavy-hitting collection in an efficient manner. If you can do so with little tweaks to suit your personality, that’s even better.
Brycen Haggard of Missouri, USA writes,
“I like the popular brands and models, but I try to get the ones that are different. [For example], my Submariner is the [reference] 1680 from 1978, and it’s the first with a date complication. My Cartier Santos is the 29mm Galbee with a field aspect [that] is unusual and unique. My Speedmaster is the Reduced because I prefer the size and fit better. So my rules are, buy what you like, and find something others won’t normally have/wear. And that goes on and on with all the other watches I have.”
I know “dat feel”, bro!
I can definitely relate to Brycen’s strategy. Models that are recognizable to enthusiasts from afar, but whose subtle differences inspire awe upon inspection, also get my heart pumping. Take my Zenith El Primero Striking 10th, for example. To most collectors, it looks exactly like a standard 42mm El Primero. When you start the chronograph, however, and see the seconds hand fly around the dial six times faster than expected, you realize it’s something different. Perhaps some of this effect has now been diminished with Zenith’s recent introduction of its caliber 3600. But as the first El Primero to ever allow the full utility of its 36,000vph frequency, the Striking 10th is the epitome of the perfect, unique El Primero for me. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo I have my eye on, a special-order exclusive with a tiger’s eye reverse dial, is also symbolic of this philosophy.
For some of us, it’s hard to pinpoint the one type of watch that would make us the happiest. While some collectors love dive watches and others love chronographs, there are others who thirst for all that the world of horology has to offer! For some within this latter group, the quest for complications fuels their passion.
Ramish Azeem of New York, USA writes:
“There’s nothing insanely complicated in my collection yet, but I go by complications, for sure. I need one of each. Currently, I have two Breitlings, and my AD allocated a Datejust to me, which I should receive by the end of the year. Including the Datejust, I have small seconds, a date window, and a manual-wind, vertical clutch chronograph. One day I’ll get the expensive complications like tourbillons and perpetual [calendars]. I hope to get an Omega World Time as my next piece. The brand doesn’t matter, as long as I like the watch. My only rule is that it has to be Swiss, Japanese, or German. I feel like those three markets have a good grasp on the type of craftsmanship we watch collectors look for.”
A man after my own heart
I’m a huge fan of complications as well. In fact, they are a huge part of what fuels my vision for my future collection. I don’t have all the bases covered yet either, but I love to set my sights on my favorites from a variety of brands. Although I’m in the process of selling my only GMT, a Grand Seiko, my Vulcain Cricket alarm and Zenith Striking 10th aren’t going anywhere. In the future, I’d love to add a true traveler’s GMT back into the collection, along with a rattrapante, a jump hour, a world time, a foudroyante, retrograde seconds or minutes, and maybe even a world time! Like Raamish, I’m not much for brand snobbery. While I do agree that the Swiss, the Germans, and the Japanese are masters of their craft, I am open to watches from anywhere in the world, as long as they fit my personality.
Valuing simplicity, execution, and suitability
Collecting doesn’t need to be complicated, however, and neither do the watch themselves. Some collectors just like simple aesthetics, and if the initial attraction is there, they’re happy to snuggle up with a piece to find out if it’s a crush or a keeper.
Andrew Poon of Hong Kong writes,
“I start with first impressions, and if it gets my attention, I start digging deeper. The dial is where I start. I tend to gravitate towards time-only watches that are legible. I believe less is more when it comes to dial design. In my opinion, a simple hour-and-minute-only watch is the most challenging to execute well with originality. The Cartier Tank best illustrates this point. The next thing I look at are movements, specifically hand finishing and architecture. I believe the 1815 Chronograph is the best example here. One last requirement is that the watch needs to match my lifestyle and complement my wardrobe. I wear all my watches, so there’s no point owning them if I can’t wear them.”
Standards of sophistication
Although I must admit I don’t necessarily adhere to Andrew’s philosophy on aesthetics, I do understand where he’s coming from. There is definitely a beauty to be found in simplicity. There is an artistic mastery in elegant designs which do no more and no less than we need. While I have not yet owned watches on the level of Andrew’s, I do think it’s important to value hand-finishing and exceptional movement design if it’s within one’s budget. As to his last criterion of lifestyle suitability, I honestly could not agree more! I believe we should enjoy all of our watches as often as we can. If a piece fits your lifestyle, forget chucking it in the safe forever. Strap that beauty on and live it up!
Budget-conscious collecting: lying in wait for irresistible deals
Make no mistake; watch collecting can get expensive! Of course, we would all like to dream that money was no object. For many of us, however, reality dictates otherwise. That’s not to say, however, that you can’t have awesome watches that make you happy. In fact, you can, especially with one key trait: patience.
Christopher Lulic, a Canadian expat in Osaka, Japan and personal friend of mine, writes,
“I generally have brands and styles that I like and keep an eye out for. Unfortunately, money is an issue, so a big part of my collecting is getting the best deal possible. I prefer to buy new pieces rather than used ones. I’ve bought a single used piece in the past two decades, and it was a disappointment. If I can get a new piece for even less than the price of it used, all the better. This approach does have its issues. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get something you really want. Other times, models I’ve wanted have slipped through my fingers because I hesitated, hoping to get a better price. As I’m writing this, I’m carefully watching a Montblanc 1858 model which has dropped to an insane price.”
When patience pays off
While Christopher’s strategy has its risks, there are times when it certainly has its reward as well. He continues with examples from his collection:
“I had loved Citizen Campanola for a long time. I knew that the Daimaru department store in Osaka discounts all Japanese watches by 15% on New Year’s Day. So I waited till January, went in, and was persistent until they gave me 20% off on the last day of the sale. Not bad for a limited edition of 200!
I first saw the Omega TinTin at Yodobashi Camera in Osaka for near retail price. I loved the design, so I kept an eye out for a cheaper one. It seems they weren’t popular in Japan, and suddenly, they kept popping up at the members-only wholesale stores I frequent. I waited for the price to drop, and I eventually got what I believe was the last and cheapest discounted piece in Osaka for just a little over $2,500. Finally, I had always wanted a Breitling, but no specific model. Then this Galactic Worldtimer, which I hadn’t seen before, popped up in one of the wholesale shops I mentioned. It was perfect for me with its world-time function, tungsten bezel, interesting dial, and in-house movement. I started shopping around and found it on an online outlet shop on Amazon Japan. I paid about 1/3 of the retail price.”
Paul-Edouard Tastet, a native of France living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, lives by a similar philosophy. He writes,
“I have been collecting for about 20 years, with a special focus for vintage Eternas, complicated quartz Citizens, and lately, unappreciated Rolex. I have a few rules. 1) Have a list of affordable goals. 2) Be patient until one arises at a very good price. 3) Friends are the best sellers. 4) Do not buy to please others.”
I can certainly relate to both Christopher and Paul’s philosophies. Half of my watches are the result of years-long quests to find them at the right price. As I roadmap my collection, I realize that much of my journey is simply a waiting game, and I must be ready to pounce when the opportunity arises. To Paul’s third point, dealing with friends, as both a buyer and a seller, has saved me countless headaches through the years. Although it’s not always possible to take this route, it is always the one I will choose when I can. Paul’s final rule is one that I couldn’t agree with more. Yes, it can be tempting to build a collection for more likes on Instagram or to gain the seal of approval from your favorite YouTube watch “guru.” When it’s all said and done, however, no one else has to live with your collection except you.
To thine own self be true: collecting what you love
A vast majority of the collectors I talked to also agree with Paul’s final point. Mic Corrales, a Filipino ex-pat living in Ontario, Canada, writes,
“I used to have rules and themes [for collecting], but over the years, [I’ve found that] what matters most is to buy what you like and what makes you happy. The “hype” comes and goes, but at the end of the day, you have to make yourself happy. Never compromise.”
Not compromising is another interesting aspect of the”buy what you like,” collecting philosophy that I identify with. Whether or not a model is popular or hyped is, ultimately, of no consequence in my own purchasing decisions. While there are popular watches that I like and own, such as the Rolex Submariner, popularity alone will never be the determining factor behind a purchase. If a popular watch does not tick all of the boxes I want it to, it will simply not find a place in my collection. I’ve also applied the “never compromise” philosophy to hard-to-find models, like my Vulcain. While the waiting game can be a hard one to play, settling for a watch that is just “good enough, I guess” can only lead to regret.
A watch for every purpose
Some collectors appreciate the fact that not all watches are equally suited to every situation. Krishnabh Medhi, a native of India now living in Michigan, USA, writes:
“I like to collect watches to use them as intended. I like to take my diver in the water, use dress watches for dressing up, and so on. The only exception is, I haven’t taken a Moonwatch to the moon. But I internally feel like I’m failing a watch’s destiny if, say, I’m wearing a diver for deskwork or a sports watch for a dressy occasion.”
“Failing a watch’s destiny.” I just love how Krishnabh put that! I think there’s something to be said for this approach. How many of us are guilty of using our divers strictly for “desk diving”? Seeing as after five years of ownership, I just swam with my Submariner for the first time two weeks ago, I think I might be part of that group. Additionally, my Stowa Flieger has yet to see the cockpit of an airplane. Does this make me a poser? Perhaps! Therefore, I applaud Krishnabh’s function-specific approach. Stepping back a bit, though, I think the most important thing to remember is that watches were meant to be worn. Whether or not they are worn in the specific situations they were designed for years ago, the most important thing is simply giving them the wrist time they deserve.
Balancing form, function, value, and the one-watch ideal
There are plenty of watch hoarders out there. As you can see, however, most of the collectors I’ve talked to buy watches with the intent to actually wear them. While some like Krishnabh enjoy using specific watches for specific purposes, others collect with the ultimate goal of the one-watch collection. They seek the one watch that is not only supremely versatile and best-suited to their lives, but that also has aesthetics to die for, and that will be as desirable tomorrow as it is today.
My good friend Austin Daniels, an American living in Tokyo, Japan, and YouTube personality, writes,
“I believe in pieces that are wearable pretty much all the time. That’s why I love Rolexes. You can shower with them, hit the pool or the beach, you don’t have to take them off at all if you travel, and you never have to be without them. I view these as mechanical companions/tools, and finding that all-around best watch for the most situations, I think, is the ideal. I like the idealism of ‘one man and his one trusty watch,’ going through life, making memories together, and the watch being able to keep up. I’d say I’m a ‘one-watch guy’ at heart.”
The perfect all-arounder
“I think the ‘one watch’ is one that both that turns you on and makes you feel like you accomplished something by getting it. Often, that means an expensive watch with gravitas, a heritage, or a persona that you’re after. A watch that’s subtle enough to wear in all situations, but impressive enough that it always makes you buzz whenever you look at it.
For me, that would be a steel, pre-ceramic Rolex GMT-Master II. I love the fourth hand, and the persona of it being a traveler’s watch, an adventurer’s watch, and a watch for crossing time zones. It’s very useful, very desirable, and it holds value. But it doesn’t look like it. There’s nothing glittery or ‘glammy’ about it. But if you know what it is, you know it’s an incredibly desirable watch that not only holds value, but that will be much more valuable in the future. That’s the value of having a wearable piece that you know is special but that others may not. That makes for a great ‘one watch.'”
Rolex: the only watch you need?
Sharing Austin’s appreciation for Rolex, Lee Perry of Wisconsin, USA writes,
“Outside of rare occasions when I’ll wear my grandfather’s [watch], I wear one of two watches: a 16570 black Explorer II or a white Datejust 41. That’s it. That’s my two-watch collection. It’s all I need and honestly, it’s all I want. I wear them everywhere, and there is no babying. The Explorer II is my daily watch and has seen rain, snow, baking heat, bitter cold, and everything else Wisconsin has to offer. The Datejust 41 is for everything else, from being a dad to going to the pool, to dancing at a wedding reception. I like having “my watch.” I like being identified with “my watch”, and I like that you can look back at pictures of me through the years and see me wearing it.
I have my grandfather’s and my father’s watches, and they are among my most prized possessions because they were intimately theirs. My granddad wore that one watch his entire life, from the time his service ended in World War II until his death decades later. That’s what I want too. I like knowing that when my sons inherit my watches, they will be filled with the memories we made together. My sons are the fourth generation to live in the home my grandfather built in Wisconsin. Heritage and legacy are extremely important to me. I love that I’ve found the two-watch collection I can enjoy, be proud of, do anything with, and leave to my family when my own time comes. Many years from now, as an old man in bed, [I’ll have] a smile on my face, seeing “my watch” there on the wrists of my beloved sons, now grown into their own adulthood.”
Are Austin and Lee on to something?
It’s no secret that I’m a proponent of diversity in watch collecting. While I can’t see my collection ballooning to dozens of pieces ever again as it did in the past, I don’t know if I could satisfy my horological hunger with just one watch. As I said in my article on “grail watches”, I’m just not sure an “exit watch” actually exists for someone like me. Maybe, however, that is only because I’ve never been forced to choose. No one has ever given me the ultimatum, “Choose one watch for the rest of your life, OR ELSE!” Maybe I’m the type of person who needs that outside force to tame the beast inside. The idea that one watch, intrinsically mine, could be passed down from generation to generation as an embodiment of my departed spirit is incredibly romantic indeed! But will any of us reach this level of enlightenment?
While I truly admire Austin and Lee’s ideal, I’ll take this opportunity to lightheartedly point out that neither of them maintains a true one-watch “collection.” Lee has two Rolex watches, and Austin has four. I can’t say I blame them, though! While any one of their watches would make for a versatile single piece, they are all fantastic watches in their own ways, with different aspects to appreciate and admire. I simply wish that no enthusiast in this hobby ever has to make that ultimate one-watch choice unless he or she absolutely wants to!
What is your collecting strategy?
The answers I’ve highlighted today are just a tiny sampling of the many awesome ones I received while researching for this article. While I want to thank everyone who assisted me in assembling this “guide” to watch collecting philosophies, this is by no means a complete reference on the topic. We want to hear from you! Let us know if you agree with any of these collecting strategies, or if you have a completely unique method of your own. “Tocking” about what makes each one of us “tick” is always a thought-provoking exercise. Thank you, as always, for reading, and we look forward to continuing this discussion with you in the comments below!