Safe Queen Watch? Wear or Stare?

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Rolex Yachtmaster - precious but not a safe queen

I recently came across a thread on a watch forum called “learning how to enjoy your watches.” It starts by admonishing collectors who don’t actually wear their watches. Like many collectors of firearms, knives, guitars, cars or other functional art, some buyers turn a perfectly practical timepiece into what’s called a safe queen watch . . .

A safe queen watch is a watch that hardly ever sees the light of day. It’s owner keeps it locked away – along with the receipt, warranty card, box, tags and even the plastic “condoms” that protect the dial and caseback from damage.

They dare not wear their safe queen watch lest they diminish its resale value. Which is definitely a thing. Like a car, the moment you put a single “mile” on a watch it falls off the financial cliff known as depreciation.

Rolex Yachtmaster perfectly preserved

But there’s more than money in play. Horror of horrors, if a worn watch gets scratched or shows other evidence of use, it dashes the image of pristine perfection that greeted the owner during the initial unboxing.

Some collectors are half-in, half-out of safe queen watch mania. While they enjoy ogling and fondling their “special” watches in their darkened closet or study, they also run”beaters” – watches that they wear every day.

And then there are those of us who wave our watches in the air like we just don’t care.

It doesn't get a lot less safe queen than this

I’ve worn my Rolex Yachtmaster daily for nearly 20 years, since my wife got it for our 2nd anniversary. Until recently, when it quit on me. It won’t wind. The crown doesn’t engage the winder. It’s dead.

Rolex Yachtmaster no safe queen

I took these photos to post on the watch forum. I’d show them what happens when a real watch is worn by a real man! And then I changed my mind. Honestly, the photos shocked even me.

OK, it doesn’t look THAT bad. Just needs a good cleaning, eh?
Zooming out… Starting to cringe… what is going on with the band? Let’s flip it over and take a look around back…

Rolex Yachtmaster been through the warsNo, I don’t work construction. Nor am I a desert nomad. But I do live by the ocean and have what’s called an “active lifestyle.”

Now that I’m writing for TTAW, I’m going to finally send the Rolex in for service so that it runs again – so I can scratch it some more? Well, yes. And as much as I love my Casio collection – I admit that I miss wearing the crown.

Should I let them polish my Rolex beater? Or keep it au naturel? I hear tell that Rolex insists on polishing it. I think I want to keep it the way it is, if possible. If I scratch it more now, it won’t bother me in the least.

If the watch comes back pristine, I’ll have to experience the agony of “that first scratch” all over again. I might even be tempted to put it away and carry on Casio-ing. A safe queen watch guy? Me? Don’t laugh. It could be you.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Lost to the internet is a great article I read in some Bay Area motorcycle e-zine that spoke of this preservation mania as the “virgin cult.” It went on beautifully about the joy of some thing that had fulfilled its purpose, been part of a life and bore the marks of time, as opposed to the sad existence of something withering away hidden from sight, purposeless and disconnected to the world.

    There is a freedom to breaking the seal. The initial diminishment is done, and subsequent ones will be progressively less important. Greg Hughes talked off deliberately dinging his new cars to be done with it. Any time I have a new unblemished item, I cherish it but do so because of the ephemeral nature of the condition. Entropy is life.

  2. I’m with you. I buy things to be used. I’ve taught myself to embrace the scratches, although I generally replace my bracelets with leather or rubber straps because they get chewed up by keyboard work and it’s depressing beyond belief to scrape up a tool watch doing powerpoint on my Macbook.

    I would say that I generally subscribe to the belief – whether it’s cars or watches or bikes – if you fret about hurting something from use, you probably can’t afford it in the first place.

    • “[i]f you fret about hurting something from use, you probably can’t afford it in the first place.”

      You beat me to the same comment.

      • Same. I’ve always said that. For anything. If it’s too precious to you, you can’t afford it. If you can’t afford it, you can’t truly enjoy it.

        Reminds me of being a kid. My mom got these couches she loved. But they were expensive. To this day, decades later, They’re only for looking and “company”. The couch we use is still the worn-down one in the other room. It’s preposterous.

  3. I took the Rolex in yesterday…. Along with my broken (for years) Breitling. Funny how I’ve come full circle. I got the first Casio as a way to delay getting the Rolex serviced. I got one Casio. Then two. Then three. Rinse and repeat. My interest in the Casios rekindled my interest in watches in general, which led me to conclude…. “I gotta get my Rolex AND my Breitling fixed!” While at Hamilton Jewelers, I had to go look at the new Breitlings. The Avenger model looks nice! Alas…. There ARE NO ROLEXES to even look at. No kidding.

    Waiting to hear the diagnoses (and perhaps a scolding?) from the watchmaker.

    I apply the same philosophy of how to treat cars to watches… “Drive it like you stole it!”

  4. Worth going to a non-Rolex servicer to preserve originality? No polishing, no replacement of dial, hands, Crystal, etc?

    • Radioscilence… that could be a whole other debate, eh? I did ponder that question. But, I thought… While I am not considering selling my Yachtmaster… IF I wanted to, having all genuine parts and a history of “proper” service would be a benefit, eh? Helps preserve the value?

      Plus, there’s knowing that they pressure-tested it and certified it to be “all good.” I also believe there is a 2-year warranty that comes with service from Rolex. It is stupid-expensive, though.

      So, what is the consensus among Rolex (or other brands) owners? Do you pay up for the “real deal?” Or do you believe it doesn’t matter if you take to an “unauthorized” service?

  5. Several years ago, I was at a gun shop (another hobby of mine) with my wife. The salesman wanted to show me a new commemorative / anniversary edition of a Smith & Wesson revolver. It was beautifully engraved, nestled in a satin-lined wooden presentation box. Gorgeous! He warned us, “This is a collector piece, not for the range.”

    Before I could say anything, my wife interjected, “He’s gonna want to shoot it!”

    LOL! She was right. I didn’t buy it.

  6. I am completely in the wear camp. I wear my most expensive watches the most. However, I have a current generation Rolex I bought from an AD before things became completely crazy, and my experience with it, along with your pictures, make two things clear:

    1) 904L steel has pros AND cons compared to 316L. In my experience 904L has a silkier, warmer feeling great for the office, but it scratches looking at it. That’s also reflected in the relative hardness of the materials (e.g., Rockwell, Brinell).
    2) The model I have also has polished center links, and they are a big scratch liability (although they look great new).

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