Picture this; you’re clutching four aces in a game of Texas hold ‘em poker. It’s down to you and a single opponent with all other players either folding or busting out. The only possible hand that could trump you at this point is a straight flush. Your chips are low, and it’s all on the table, but your opponent has just pushed. It is not with more chips, but their wristwatch, which they remove from their wrist and gently slide to the middle. It just so happens this is your grail watch, the “unicorn,” the one that’s hard to find, let alone purchase.

Your eyes flicker from your hand to the table. You don’t have enough chips to match the bet, but you also don’t want to split the pot. It’s too late to buy extra chips, but as it happens, you also have your entire watch collection close by. Instead of money, you ponder if your watch collection is worth the gamble for the grail watch. Some of these watches you curated or inherited and maybe experienced some of the most special moments in your life while wearing. Is the potential loss of sentimental value worth the risk for monetary value? Then again, this is the hand of a lifetime. You study the opponent and ascertain that they’re trying to buy themselves out of a bluff. Is it time to match the bet or fold while you still can?

Wolf 1834 Travel Box Grail Watch Collection

The chips fall where they may

This hypothetical situation sets up my question for today. Would you gamble your collection for a single grail watch? A grail is personal to all of us, and I’ll reveal what mine is later on. But the reason I’m asking stems from a previous conversation I had with another collector. We were chatting about the watches we covet that may have been out of our reach at that point. This collector was lusting for a gold A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1. Not just any Lange 1, but one from the early batch of the then newly revived ALS in the mid-’90s. The watch was verified and at a reasonable price but only on offer for a short time.

The collector’s most logical solution to procuring the watch, without impacting the basic needs for shelter, food, and warmth, was to sell up every watch they had to afford the grail — with a bit of dipping into the savings too. And their collection already had some tasty pieces that had appreciated, making it costly if they were to repurchase them later. My immediate reaction was to advise against it. I mean, think of the days when you want to wear a low-key piece or a watch with more of an emotional attachment. Then, there’s the notion of the Lange 1 not living up to expectations, or even worse, you start to resent it as a mistake. But even a few years after this conversation, it still lingers in my mind, and I contemplate myself in this situation.

What is a grail watch?

Yes, you could begin again by buying new with your earnings. But is it worth the risk? I suppose I should clarify that I am not too fond of the term “grail”. Well, not so much the term but more so how watch collectors use or misuse it. A grail is subjective to everyone’s taste and budget. So one person’s grail could be a Hamilton Khaki Field Watch, while another could be a Patek Philippe 5270. And that’s fine, but I’m often seeing the same collectors exclaiming that they just bought their grail at least once a month or once a week, in some cases. To me, the idea that a desirable watch could be obtained so frequently does not constitute a grail watch. That’s just buying what you want when you want to.

A grail needs to be a journey. There must be an element of challenge, and, just like a game of poker, you need luck on your side. I’ve been thinking about what my grail watch would be for a while, and it’s been relatively unwavering. I was first blown away by the beauty of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon during my “honeymoon” period of entering watch enthusiasm in 2014. Later I was enraptured by Paul Newman Daytonas.

More recently, I viewed Jean-Claude Biver’s collection at Phillips London. Mr. Biver amassed a drool-worthy collection over his tenure in the watch business, and it shows. There were several watches to fawn over in my photo report, but it came down to either the Patek Philippe Ref. 5004 in steel or the rainbow gem-set Everose Rolex Daytona. Neither of which were up for auction at Phillips, just on display from his private collection.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon Grail

My grail watch

I still come back to the JLC Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon despite flirting with other potential grail watches. This Haute Horlogerie piece has a dual-axis tourbillon visible through the aperture that resembles a grand staircase at an opera house. The moon phase has a lapis lazuli blue sky with gold moon and stars that pair beautifully with the egg-shell dial. There’s even a secret sapphire window on the platinum case-band to light up the tourbillon. I was able to see one and try it on as well. Perhaps it would quell my desire, like meeting a hero and being disappointed. But no, it even fit very nicely and felt good on the wrist — all for £235,000, so well beyond my means. Coming back to the point, though, would I swap my collection for it?

Any financial investor outside of our watch enthusiast community would think I was mad even to hesitate to switch my collection with a combined value of under £30,000 for a £235,000 watch. As Steve Martin would say, “it’s a profit deal!” Even so, I would still decline and keep my collection. No amount of object desire can replace the connections I have established with my watches. Whether that be my father handing down his Breitling Aerospace, getting married with an Oris Big Crown 1917, or the fiasco that was bringing the Rolex Daytona home from the Caribbean. Those experiences are irreplaceable. Yes, I may sell watches iteratively to fund future purchases, but losing my whole collection in one fell swoop may be too much of a loss to bear.

Conclusion and have your say

To answer my question, no, I will fold, lose whatever chips I had on the table and continue to enjoy what took me years to curate, especially as my collection looks so good in the 10-piece watch box and travel box in British Racing Green on loan from Wolf 1834. As a bonus, I posted the top image to my Instagram to pose what people would suggest I add. Some great suggestions came in for a vintage Breitling Top Time or world-timer, which are now on my wishlist.

Now it’s time for you to have your say and vote if you’d go all-in for a grail, or fold and hold on to your collection. 

Would you gamble a watch collection for a grail?

    Would you gamble a watch collection for a grail?