One of my pals is a REAL serious watch collector. A few years ago, when we used to work together, we were discussing the minimum acceptable standards for a “good” watch. He stated that you have to spend at least $1,000 to obtain a proper watch. Fast forward a few years and… I think he was right! At least, he was right within certain parameters.
Watch collectors often get obsessed with price. It certainly happened to me. You begin to define your goals and targets in terms of price. It’s the old Veblen goods thing — I like this watch better BECAUSE it is twice the price of that watch. However, in the past couple of years, I started to admire and collect watches that were more affordable (although still in the thousands of dollars). This begs the question — what is the minimum price for a “good” watch?
Well, how do we define “good” watch, anyway? My definition of a “good” watch would be something with a mechanical movement, better than average materials and a quality that would allow the watch to outlive me (if maintained properly). Right away, you can see that my definition of “good” watches includes things that are way below Rolex or Blancpain prices. A nice Longines Legend Diver fits the bill and could be handed down to your grandkids. A TAG Heuer Carrera could look great on your wrist and still be running beyond your retirement party.
Our friend, Michael, blogs for WatchPaper and he is going through the same phase that I went through a couple of years ago. He had been on a collecting binge and accumulated many “lower-end” watches which he is now liquidating because he got himself into Rolex and Jaeger-LeCoultre territory. Just like I did, Michael realized that his “lesser” watches could be sold to fund a new “higher end” timepiece. I understand these feelings completely because I was in the same position.
On the opposite end of things, you have my pal, Baris. He got himself into a brand new Rolex this year. However, he has been lusting after watches in the $500 range lately. Baris’ recent targets remind me more of my current self — going from higher end stuff to really affordable stuff. And Baris also shows that a Rolex owner can still enjoy an affordable watch for its style and coolness. He has been wearing a Bulova lately and really enjoying it. In fact, I have noticed this year a few guys going through this phase — they have $10,000 watches, but they start wearing $1,000 watches for kicks and variety.
So what happened? What is the path to satisfaction? If I spend all of my money on one expensive timepiece, will I end up miserable and craving variety? If I buy all of the affordable watches I can, will I end liquidating them all à la Michael in pursuit of my grail? If I cheap out, will I end up yearning for that top brand name on my wrist? If I go balls-out, will I regret committing to one single timepiece? If I want to treat myself to a really nice timepiece, how much do I need to spend?
My perspective started to change this year when I landed in a work environment that has NO watch culture whatsoever. Whereas I used to be really conscious of the brand name on my wrist, and out-doing the other guys, today nobody cares or notices what I am wearing. At first, I hated this timepiece no-man’s-land. But then I started to feel the freedom. Just as Baris found himself a cool watch for 500 bucks, I could indulge in “realistic” timepieces and enjoy them without feeling ill-equipped around the office. As much as I love real high-end timepieces, I love to be able to buy something like my Montblanc for a fraction of the price. With this mindset, I can aim for shorter term targets and get my fix quicker. As we see with, Michael, however (and myself in the past), there is always a risk of lusting, craving, and trading up in the future. And I am hyper-aware that this could happen to me again!
So back to the original question, how much do you need to spend for a good timepiece? I agree with my former colleague, I think you need to spend 1000 bucks. Let’s assume that you are buying brand-new from an authorised dealer and paying full MSRP. In fact, there are a bunch of cool mechanical timepieces that come in at, or just below, $1,000. But I think that $1,000 is the entry price for a luxury timepiece with a mechanical movement and some nice quality. A fine example would the Archimede Pilot hand wound, which you can order from Germany for about $1,000 CAD. I have recently bought a watch that cost barely $500, but I use it as a toy and wear it only a few times in the year. Once you get into the $1,000 range, you begin to find watches that can deliver a luxury experience while providing proper mechanical timekeeping.
So do you think that you can “aim lower” next time around? Are you starting to think of new targets? Will your wife be more tolerate if your next watch costs less than an economy car? As always, the fun is in the search…