We each have our own reasons for buying a watch. Once upon a time, you bought that first watch, and it was “your watch”. But then you bought another… and another, amounting to a full watch collection. Each subsequent purchase is reasonably justified financially, rationally, and emotionally, right? Well, maybe you can fool yourself, at least for a while, but you can’t fool us. Because we’re all doing it. Eventually, one runs out of reasons to buy a watch. That’s usually the point when you need to ask, “Is this enough?”. Or, perhaps better, “Have I gone too far?” Because you didn’t just buy that Datejust for your infant son.

Some of you are maniacs and don’t need a reason to drop $20K on a piece. Keep being wild; this article isn’t for you. This article is the beginning of an intervention for those of you contemplating your next purchase, now an entire watch collection deep, and leaning on faulty logic to justify it. We all need to scratch that itch somehow. It’s best to just be honest about it.

Heuer Montreal 7750

Not the author’s wrist or watch, but still a good ol’ Heuer

Watches for your kids

I’m coming for the parents first. If you spend any time on watch forums, subreddits, or Instagram, you will inevitably see the proud post and pic of a shiny new watch. But this watch isn’t any old watch — it’s a special watch. Because it isn’t for the person whose wrist it’s pictured on, though they bought it and are wearing it. It’s for their child, who will one day be old enough to have it passed on to them.

Look, I’m all about heirlooms. I have a pocket watch from my great-grandfather. I don’t necessarily cherish it, but it is special to me both as a watch and as a piece of family history. More recently, my father gave me one of his watches. Did he originally buy it with the intent of eventually giving it to me? No, and thank goodness. My father has a respectably sized watch collection. I think I would’ve laughed if he had somehow tried to justify to me that he’d been wearing this watch for 10+ years because it would someday be mine. Thankfully, he was honest and said something akin to that he didn’t wear it much and thought it would fit me well. It was a watch he bought, stopped wearing, and found a new home for. That’s fair.

Is that TAG my father gave me an heirloom? No. Do I like it? Yes. And it is special to the extent that it was a watch my father gave me. But did I receive “my father’s watch”? No. I’m not sure any of the many pieces in my dad’s watch collection is that special “his watch”. My great-grandfather only owned one watch. That watch was “his watch”. My dad is like me: he has watches. I got one of them.

pulp fiction watch collection

A felicitous screenshot from the movie Pulp Fiction

Don’t lie to your kids: your watch collection is for you

You have enough watches. You want another one. That’s okay, really. Maybe you do want to give a piece or two from your watch collection to your kids one day. That’s a great gesture, and hopefully, they’ll like them. But recognize that the watch you’re drooling over and planning on wearing for the next 10-20 years is very much going to be your watch. Correction: it will be one of your watches.

Unless you have one watch that you wear every day while in the military until you’re captured in battle and sent to a POW camp where you have to keep it hidden up your butt until you’re near death and have to give it to your buddy to keep up his butt until he can escape and find your kid to pass along to him, the watches you give to your children just aren’t that special. Even if you thought of your offspring when you bought it and wore it for a decade (for them, of course). In all likelihood, your kids won’t even want one of your old, crusty watches. Plus, it was a steel model anyway, so they can’t even get the melt value on it if they sell it. In truth, the best part of giving away part of your watch collection to your kids is that it frees up space in the stable to buy more.

watch collection rolex gmt

Collecting as investment

I’m coming after everyone today. I’ve got some popcorn and soda ready for reading the comments. Next are the “financially minded” watch buyers among us. There’s a way to invest in watches that makes real money. I don’t condone it, because what I’m talking about is a cutthroat, “business is business” approach of buying as low as possible to sell as high as possible in the shortest amount of time. I’m talking about flipping.

You’re a watch collector, not a flipper. If you are a flipper and reading this, go flip yourself. But really, the game for any watch enthusiast to make money off a watch started years ago, before the bubble. If you bought a Rolex before 2010 and kept it, congratulations, you stumbled into an investment. If you’re saying you’d like to buy a Rolex soon (“soon” being the keyword) as an investment, you need a dictionary. What you are buying at market value, my good sir, is an asset at best. Worst-case scenario, you’re buying a liability.

There are better markets to invest in

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe that in this current market, any luxury watch purchase at market value (not retail value) from a reseller could be considered as “buying high”. That is, after factoring in scheduled servicing costs (which you should do if you’re planning on reselling), and the fact that the watch will be worn and not kept in mint condition, you will do quite well if you break even upon selling a watch in the future purchased today. You will have done wonderfully if you make a bit of money. If you want to use your money to make money, there are smarter and safer investments out there with better returns. By buying an expensive watch, you don’t want to invest. You want an expensive watch, which I think is a better reason anyway.

Of course, you can buy at retail value (if you can) and end up with a watch worth much more on the open market than what you paid for it right out of the gate. However, if you were to immediately turn around and sell it, you would be a flipper, and I’m not talking to you. The market is starting to shift, and even at retail value, there’s no guarantee that your watch will be worth what you paid for it 10 years down the road. So buy it because you like it, not because you fancy yourself part of some smart watch/money strategy game.

Gerard summer holiday watches

Task-specific watches

I said no one is getting out of this unscathed, and that includes myself. Being such a gear-oriented guy, I’m guilty of this next justification — “needing” a task-specific watch. I’m of the mind that everyone that owns watches should own a dive watch. That fun, clicky bezel has its uses outside of the water, and they’re just cool. Plus, did I mention they’re fun and clicky? As someone who still uses watches for work (not so much for my writing work), I used to quietly scoff to myself about “desk divers”. Watch fam, I sincerely apologize. I have grown since then, and so has my watch collection.

I now have a chronograph with a slide-rule bezel that I have no use for and a dive watch that has never been underwater. But the hardest-working watch in my stable is an unassuming Seiko Alpinist SARB017. The problem with that watch is, sure, it has a water resistance of 200 meters and shock resistance that lets it take a beating — I should know — but it isn’t much of a “tool watch”. I mean, it can’t logarithmically calculate conversions on the fly or measure elapsed time. And it isn’t a dress watch either. So I need to buy watches that can do more, or at least appear as though they can.

Ed White wearing two Speedmaster 105.003 watches

But I might need it

I’m not the only one doing this either. I know there’s a whole group of watch shoppers out there playing the same mental games as me, imagining themselves in certain situations that would require the specific functions only a handful of watches could provide. I mean, god forbid I have to go to the Moon — I don’t have a Speedmaster! And yet, as much as I wear the same few watches doing mostly the same few things day in and day out, I dream about scenarios I may never find myself in and shop for watches with specifications and functions I have no use for. At this point, I console myself with the thought that I’m just getting started. The period of my life when I begin ice-diving in highly magnetic waters in outer space wearing a tuxedo is just around the corner. And when that moment comes, you can bet I’ll be ready. Or at least my watch will be.

Rolex Daytona 116506

Watches for status (shhh…)

This is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. I’m hesitant myself. Luxury watches are part of a family of goods that impart an image of “luxury”. Luxury equates to social and economic status more directly and clearly than any unseen bank statement or holdings portfolio. As much as it hurts to admit, a lot of you are looking at watches with thoughts — sometimes subconscious — of how that watch might affect how society perceives you.

Watches can be elegant. Watches can be luxurious. There’s nothing like seeing, handling, and even owning some of the more special representatives of high horology out there. To an extent, the watches we wear say as much about ourselves as our clothes, cars, and homes. But there is a distinct line that I think needs to be drawn for the sake of those who would try to take that non-verbal communication to the next level.

A watch can say a lot about a person and where they are in life, that’s true. But there’s a trap in thinking that you can elevate your status or station in life by buying a watch. We all are who we are, no fatalism about it. Making significant changes within ourselves and our lives takes a significant amount of work. No purchase is going to do that work for you.

At best, trying to appear a certain way that we aren’t with the help of luxury goods will only temporarily fool those simple enough to use those cues to judge a person. It might work in a short game of getting something or somewhere not usually available. But long term? Refer to point: “we are who we are”. Not many people can successfully maintain an entire charade about themselves for the long term. And at that point, it might’ve been more worthwhile to have put in the work to actually change things from the get-go.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600

Save your money (really)

In using watches too aggressively as social tools, the personal risk is primarily financial. Too many horror stories exist on Reddit and other communities where someone (usually young) shows off a new, not-cheap watch bought on credit. Don’t do it! If you can’t afford it with the assets and liabilities you’re operating within, don’t get it. At that point, you don’t own that Rolex, that Rolex owns you. You’re still in the cubicle, not the corner office. You’re not fooling anybody.

Grail watch, exit watch

A lot of us have grail watches we want. Not long ago, we at Fratello spent a couple of months showcasing our different grails. “Exit watch” — the watch that would be sufficient for us to exit the watch-collecting game — is a term that pops up often enough as well.

Well, thankfully, most of the grail or exit watches that people assign themselves are so lofty that they will never attain them, allowing them to muddle about in the watch-collecting game forever. I’m a bit more pragmatic and set a more attainable grail watch, much to my demise. You see, the truth is that once a grail is attained, there will be more watches. There is no exit, at least for this watch enthusiast.

Maybe the rest of you have stronger nerves than I do. It’s hard to say because we aren’t going out and attaining our grails regularly. If we were, the strong would separate from the weak. Maybe we’d see our forums and subreddits diminishing as players got out of the game. But my theory is that the grail is just a point on the horizon we set for ourselves so that we have a direction to move across the terrain. It’s not completely arbitrary — we each choose a grail or exit watch based on our individual tastes. But it’s as good as arbitrary in that the specific watch can be switched at any time to suit our needs. All the while, we’re buying, selling, and trading our watch collections toward the ever-elusive grail. In truth, we’re having a blast tromping around the watch landscape. We have no intention of leaving.

watch collection

This is a safe space

Look, I know I’ve ruffled some feathers. I want you to express how you’re feeling in the comments. Take a deep breath. Feel better? You should. There’s no reason to feel like we need to lie to ourselves about why we want watches. You don’t need to feel ashamed (unless you bought your Rolex on credit). In fact, feel free to embrace these fallacies we tell ourselves about the watches we buy and why we buy them. It’s the stories and sentiments that make this hobby and experience so gratifying. But maybe don’t let your significant other read this article… Next time you “need” to add a piece to your watch collection, you may have a harder time relishing that story.

I know there are more ways in which watch shoppers lie to themselves. How have you deceived yourself to justify a watch purchase? Are you part of the wild crew that buys whatever watch they want when they want it without needing a reason? Hello, my name is Thomas, and I’ve been a watch collector for some time. I’m on the road to recovery. How about you?

You can find more of me on Instagram @WatchingThomas.