How to build a watch collection

TimeCaptain's latest trophy, IWC Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII (Ref.  IW327002)

TimeCaptain’s latest trophy, IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII (Ref. IW327002)

Learn from my mistakes, I always tell my friends. And by reading this blog, you can do the same.

You see, after nearly 10 years of watch collecting, I have made every mistake in the book — buying on impulse, buying too cheap, buying too often, buying too many, NOT buying when I should have, etc.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to luxury watches. One strategy is to put all of your money into ONE really high-end timepiece that you wear almost all the time. This is your classic Rolex Submariner guy. The other strategy is to allocate your money across several lesser timepieces of different styles and types. Which strategy is better? Variety wins, I say. I have owned all sorts of high-end watches and not one of them could ever prevent me from craving something different. So I decided to be a collector and maintain 5 to 10 different pieces in my collection so that I could alternate based on mood, activity and outfit.

Now, if you would like to be a collector, where do you begin? And how do you build a collection from there?

Step 1 involves passion. Forget logic, common sense, practicality and budget. Find a timepiece that keeps you awake at night. Find the piece that has you drooling over its pictures on your laptop. No matter what you do for a living and what type of watch you “need,” go for a watch that you find gorgeous and appealing. These days, you can pull off any watch with any attire — you can totally wear a huge diver on a rubber strap with a business suit and you can easily wear an ultra slim piece with a t-shirt. So forget stereotypes and the “proper” piece for your lifestyle. Just find a watch that speaks to you — no matter what type of watch it is. Follow your heart (or your boner) and go for something that would love to strap on your wrist. You should pay a little attention to the brand, as well, because brand image etc. can affect the way you feel about a piece down the road. Find that awesome piece, but make sure you like the brand and what it stands for. And don’t cheap out — more on this later.

TimeCaptain's Panerai Luminor PAM00540

TimeCaptain’s Panerai Luminor PAM00540

Once you have accomplished Step 1, Step 2 becomes pretty obvious, doesn’t it? You set out to build a collection and you started by buying a mechanical timepiece that just looks cool and awesome. And now, three weeks later, you are craving another luxury timepiece. Now you can start to use logic and diversify — go for something totally different. If you have the big diver, find a dressier watch that you like. If you bought an ultra-slim formal piece, then look for a sporty chrono. And so on. Brand can be important at Step 2 because, after Step 1, you have inevitably become infatuated with different brands. Step 2 allows you to add a second luxury brand to your portfolio. I love Step 2 because it is the foundation of your collection, and it probably goes upmarket from Step 1. By Step 2, you have two different luxury timepieces to choose from each morning: you can go dressy or sporty and you can choose between two nice brands.

TAG Heuer Carrera (39 mm) Calibre 6

TAG Heuer Carrera (39 mm) Calibre 6

After Step 2 comes the Iron Man Effect. You see, in one of the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark was getting dressed for a gala event or something when his lovely assistant enters the room carrying a box of high-end timepieces. Tony Stark says, “I’ll choose the Jaeger,” and my life was never the same again. The idea of 5, 10 or 12 luxury high-end mechanical timepieces to choose from became an obsession for me. I wanted to be Iron Man. And I became Iron Man. In fact, I never put on my watch until after I have buttoned my shirt and tied my tie — like Tony Stark. Although I have not yet gotten into the JLC price ranges, I built a collection of nearly 10 pretty respectable timepieces. But I have not yet asked my wife to hand me the box after dressing! Nevertheless, I went Iron Man instead of saving and buying one Lange or one AP.

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim

So then what are Step 3 and Step 4? Well, after Step 2, you have two opposite ends of the spectrum covered. Your next targets become strategic. You have a piece on black leather? You need one on brown leather! You have two automatics? You need a hand-wound piece! You have a piece on leather and one on steel? You need a racing piece on rubber! You have a Panerai and a Rolex? You need an IWC! From here onwards, you try to expand the selection in your (growing) watch box. As you learn about brands and movements, you set new targets. You begin to crave different features and this leads you to different watches. For me, the goal of all this diversifying is to have every possible situation covered: weddings, BBQ’s, business meetings, conferences, presentations, galas…. and so on. I want to have the perfect timepiece for each occasion and outfit. I even have watches for rugged weekend activities and sports. When you get to about 5 watches, you start to have all of your bases covered. You can even alternate watches every single day. This gets fun. I always like to have a versatile watch on a steel bracelet, watches on both brown and black leather, something on rubber and at least one chronograph for timing steaks on the BBQ. Oh, and I love to have at least one basic manually wound watch.

The goal is to build up to 5 or 6 great timepieces and not a dozen watches that you get tired of.

The worst mistake I have made as a collector is a mistake I keep repeating. I buy on impulse. We’re talking about collecting quantity rather than one grail, but it is important to maintain a certain level of quality and price. What I often did was buy a watch that added something to my collection because it was the next thing that I could afford. I would find an affordable watch that ticked all of the boxes except that it was way below the standard of my other timepieces. I would always end up dumping 3 or 4 of these lesser watches at horrendous losses in order to fund the watch that I really wanted. The lesson here is to maintain some discipline and patience even while building up a small collection. Otherwise, you will end up with watches that don’t satisfy you and you will sell them off at a loss to get what you really wanted. The goal is to build up to 5 or 6 great timepieces and not a dozen watches that you get tired of. It’s a tricky balance, for sure, and you’re always walking a tight line. Learn from my mistakes!

TAG Heuer Carrera Caliber Heuer 01

TAG Heuer Carrera Caliber Heuer 01

Building a collection is a process that should take a few years. I could never wait that long and tried to do it all within a few months. The results were never optimal. If you start today and buy yourself one nice timepiece every one to two years, you can have a superb collection within five to six years. This is the best way. Occasionally, you will even find amazing deals on forums for pre-owned watches that will magnify your buying power. The forums can really help you boost your collection.

It is highly likely that, if you are reading WatchPaper, you already have a nice watch. And you are probably craving the next one. Be patient. Be strategic. Be ready to spend. And enjoy. As always, the fun is in the search…

Yours truly,

TimeCaptain is a self-confessed timepiece junkie.  He spends nearly all of his spare time buying,  selling,  trading,  researching, admiring and trying different timepieces. He's also a fanatic Formula 1 fan, having followed every single Grand Prix since 1991.  He switches to NFL football in the fall and roots for the Green Bay Packers. A child of the 1980's, TimeCaptain is mad about 80's music,  TV, cinema and pop culture.  Another interest of TimeCaptain is space exploration and the study of distant planets and galaxies. When asked about his favorite watch,  TimeCaptain remembers Enzo Ferrari's answer as to his favorite car- "the one I haven't built yet."