Collecting Dilemmas

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer

Time Captain has weighed in on how to build a collection and offered sound advice to those of you who have fallen in love with watches. Above all, buy what inspires you. Get that foundation piece. Purchase another, but in a different genre. Now you have at least two watches you are proud to call your own and can cover a variety of contexts and situations. Important business meeting or formal event? Strap on that dress watch you saved for. Vacation at the beach? Snap that diver’s bracelet shut and you are good to go. Add a few more pieces over time to your collection and soon you’ll have five to ten impressive watches to suit any mood, wardrobe, or activity. Done. Or are you?

Time Captain listed the mistakes he’s made over his years as a collector and the advice he gave is a product of the hard-won lessons he’s learned. I’m still making them and want to explore a few in the hope that I can prevent some of you from making the same errors in your watch-collecting journey. And, more selfishly, I hope that by writing about them I can talk myself out of continuing to make them.

Wanting is more powerful than having

Michael's IW377701

Michael’s IW377701

“Building” a collection implies a plan and self-discipline I mostly lack. My experience of collecting so far is less like constructing a house than like riding a roller coaster. The anticipation, excitement, and adrenaline of the ride are more powerful than the satisfaction of having conquered it. In watch-collecting terms, hunting for and finding that piece you want next are the main attraction. Putting it on your wrist or in you watch box is secondary. Apart from the primal hunter-gatherer appeal of this process, its modern incarnation – shopping – is almost impossible to escape in the online world. If you are into watches, Amazon knows. Google knows. EBay certainly knows. And so do the dozen or so online stores you frequent. What’s worse is that even if you decide to take a break and read about current events, the banner ads will keep showing you the watches you were (and are) interested in. Not window shopping becomes a triumph of the will. Not buying that ever so slightly different diver’s watch is almost heroic. So, even if you do have the patience and wisdom to stay put and enjoy what you have, your interest in watches will be reflected back at you every time you open your browser. Short of unplugging altogether, the only advice I have to remedy this is to mindfully turn your attention back to what you have in your collection. Look at those watches with fresh eyes and appreciate them. That, or go live on a mountain off-grid.

Be patient and accept no substitutes

Sinn 903

Sinn 903

You’ve done your homework and found the watch you love, Prestigious, horologically significant, attractive, this watch is your grail. The problem? It costs much much more that you can afford right now. Resourceful, you go back to the drawing board and do some more homework. Despite their rich variety, watches can be grouped into functional and thematic groups, so without too much searching you should be able to find a close cousin of your grail that costs significantly less. I’m not discussing fakes, or even faithful homage watches, but close aesthetic or functional equivalents to your grail. Outside of specialty one-off pieces, there’s not that many watches that are singular in the watch world. Unless you love the new watch on its own terms, buying it is probably a mistake. For starters, whatever you chose and no matter how much research you’ve done, you’ve just settled for second place. The watch may be perfectly fine, but it starts its time with you at a disadvantage because you’ll always look at it on your wrist and be reminded of the compromise you made. To make this more concrete, I lusted after a Rolex Explorer 1 but it was beyond my budget. I discovered the Seiko SARG011 was a 39mm field watch that looked the part and cost thousands of dollars less. I bought it. That watch, well-built and handsome, never really stood a chance in my collection. The font was wrong; the materials were inferior to those used in the Rolex etc. I soon traded it away.

There are at least two problems with this collecting pitfall. First, by getting a substitute, you’ve only satisfied the impulse to buy a watch; second, you’ve just spent money that could have gone towards your grail. Worse, because money was the problem in the first place, you probably bought a watch from a budget or lesser brand. These brands are, in part, lower on the watch-world hierarchy because of their resale value. There’s nothing wrong with that Citizen or Seiko that looks like the watch you really wanted but you will be lucky if you can recover half of your outlay (there are exceptions, of course). If resale is at all a possibility, don’t throw money at a watch that won’t move you closer to your collecting goals.

Climbing the mountain too fast

Patek Philippe exhibition at Kaufmann de Suisse in Montreal

Patek Philippe exhibition at Kaufmann de Suisse in Montreal

The flip side of collecting “near miss” watches is spending more than you can afford on a prize piece. In terms of collectibility, there’s a clear brand hierarchy. Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet are considered the holy trinity of watchmaking and are priced accordingly. Even an entry-level (whatever that means when you are shopping in this bracket) Patek comes at an eye-watering cost that most of us can’t afford. If prestige is a motivation in your collecting hobby, you may succumb to the urge to get the showcase piece that will impress both you and your watch-collecting friends. It’s not just greed that drives this impulse. There are palpable qualitative differences once you get a taste of one of the higher-end watches. Owning an IWC, Rolex, or Panerai may make it hard to settle for the standards of the next level down, no matter how great a price/quality proposition that other watch may be. If you submit to this urge too frequently, you may soon find yourself in financial difficulty or in a position where you have to trade away pieces you really love for that one prestige watch, sacrificing variety for quality or status (or both). The only antidote for this is to exercise rigid budgetary discipline and patience. Have faith that you’ll get there eventually and avoid debt in the meantime.

Time Captain and I have soul-searching email exchanges about these very problems and sometimes even manage to talk each other down from the ledge. If you experience any or all (or even different) of these problems as a collector, know that you are not alone.

By day, Michael works in IT for a large Canadian company. By night, he tries to absorb all the information he can about watches from as many sources as possible. He is fascinated by horology because, at their best, watches represent functional art that lives with you; a small, personal, delight that surprises you many times through the day.