Watch Collector? Not It!

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Watch collector

Watch collector? Moi? Not it! In my mind, a watch collector is someone who has a particular interest in horology, actively seeks out special items and values them above normal use. I barely do any of these things . . .

Pobeda Zim on colored cuff - watch collector

At some point in college I stopped having just one watch – never to return to what I assume to be the norm for the portion of the watch owning population that has more than zero. I think I have eight or nine watches in my possession now. Oh wait, another came in the mail today. So add one to that.

But really, I’m a dilettante with a vague interest. Obviously, I read this site every day. Every now and then I fall into the watch-related Youtube rabbit hole. I read a little something elsewhere, mostly when I’m writing reviews.

But I’m not obsessed. I can’t rattle off model numbers or years or movement specs. My general reactions are akin to the stereotypical woman’s attitude toward performance or luxury vehicles.

Holy Trinity

I possess half-hearted opinions on style. A watch is “pretty” or “ugly” or the default “I don’t like this.” I have a mild interest in heritage, features, specifications or other bragging rights.

I maintain a mild disdain for excess capabilities (a.k.a., complications). I tend to focus exclusively on one or two traits, and find myself in a constant state of bewilderment and apprehension about expensive watches. If you hadn’t already noticed from my reviews, I don’t possess any high end watches, or even middlebrow pieces.

Watch collector bands

I do shop around online for watches and bands a bit, but my search is general and not specific. To continue the above analogy, I’m looking for the cute little car, not some exact elusive model.

Despite the typical rotation issues, every watch I own gets worn in a standard fashion and used for the primary purpose of telling time. Yes, style and aesthetics and general appreciation run a very close second, but I don’t wear a watch that doesn’t show the correct time.

watch collector display case

Perhaps the most disqualifying aspect for entry into the “watch collector” community is how I store my watches. No automatic winders, no display cases. My watches are randomly strewn on a dresser top, or on the ironing board (if that’s where I took it off).

Hawaii state quarter - not a watch collector

I’m egalitarian enough to admit that one can have a collection of objects that aren’t rare, costly or even particularly interesting.

When small children start collecting coins, say state quarters, that is a collection. It may resemble the swear jar, but they have a certain interest. They’re seeking specific things, and removing them from normal use.

Returning to car analogies, Jay Leno is, indisputably, a car collector. He’s obviously profoundly interested, seeks out certain vehicles (despite a broad interest) and there’s not a daily driver to be found – despite his admirable insistence on keeping everything in running condition and actually taking them to the road.

Is somebody a car collector if they have a few cars? Not necessarily. If each car was acquired for a particular purpose (truck, a nice car, and a fun car), that’s a fleet. For over a decade up till recently, that was my triumvirate of watches: beater, dress watch, fun watch.

Quantity doesn’t equal collection, nor does value or exclusivity. If some child really wanted that Burger King SpongeBob SquarePants watch, got it, and kept it unworn by his bedside, that is a collection in my book.

Some bored multi-millionaire that randomly purchases the most outrageously rare and expensive watches on luxury shopping sprees may have an array of items you’d kill for, but is it a collection, or more specifically is it his collection? I’d say no.

Interest is a certainly a component to qualify as a watch collector. I’ve heard the tales of fanatical motorcycle enthusiasts who had a special devotion to some subset of … screw it, it’s usually a Honda CX500. They love the things, know all about them, look all over for the perfect example.

When they run across somebody riding a CX500 they’re usually dismayed to find that the rider knows little of the Honda Guzzi. It’s basic transportation to him, casually picked up nearby for cheap; he treats it like a disposable old bike. Here you have the collector without the collectible, and vice versa.

my-precious-rolex

Similarly, I know a man that inherited daddy’s Rolex. It sits in a drawer. When he mentioned this to me, I asked what kind. Stop me if you know where this is going. I’ll wait while you write down what you think he said. Okay, is everybody back? Yes, he said “an old one.” Not sought out, no particular interest.

Again, I don’t consider myself a watch collector, just an amasser. We all have more shirts than we truly need, but I doubt any of us consider ourselves shirt collectors. The better question: am I an enthusiast? Yes, I’m enthused about watches and, especially, writing about watches. I’ve already admitted that I’m a dilettante, so let’s just say I’m a light enthusiast.

watch collector on parade

Of course this is me self-identifying. Others have a totally different opinion, again based on relativity. Some who’ve read my work here think I’ve become a horophile. Whether man is known better by himself or others is deeper than I can go with this. They might be right, but that means I’m right about you out there. You are a watch collector. And I doubt you object to the term.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I hear you. I’ve been collector of comic books, magazines, and books at different times in my life. I’ve been a constant reader all of my life, even when I wasn’t “collecting” books, magazines, or comic books. “Collecting” and “reading” are frequently intertwined, but definitely separate. As much as I love watches, as much as I’ve learned about watches, the one thing holding me back from really splurging on an expensive timepiece is the knowledge that the money would be better spent on something that I really know much more about, and have spent more time on: print or art.

    • There’s an old saying that if you want to find out what someone really loves, look at their checkbook register. It’s an old saying.
      But there are three things that I could say I collect, and I am as parsimonious with them as with anything else.
      But then I may be too practical to be a good collector. Collecting is inherently frivolous, and I’m bad about spending lavishly on necessities and skimping on luxuries, whereas modern people tend to do the opposite.

  2. One of the things that bothers me about watch “collectors” (or really youtube guys) is that it’s all the same brands except for the silly expensive ones, and even then they clump together. How many people tell you that x is a good watch and end up buying another Rolex, AP, Patek etc…The only guy on the youtubes that is somewhat diverse is the watchartsci guy, but even he is a bit pompous.

    I wouldn’t compare them to cars, since cars are always getting faster and improving with technology and a car can have a completely different meaning. Watches, on the other hand, haven’t improved much and as Robert always says, the smartwatches smoke the mechanical ones and are far cheaper.

    You’re a collector Oscar, but you just don’t care about getting your sunk money back. Collection is a relative term but if you buy multiple things of interest, you’re a collector. Most people aren’t as deep as Jay Leno.

    • Coincidentally, I was searching “watch lot” at the very bottom price range on Ebay last night. It seemed to be a lot of the accumulations/collections/junk drawers of the deceased: mostly non-functioning, scratched to hell, cracked crystals. I fully expect every watch I own to either be outlived by me, or treated as detritus when I’m gone. No Patek to pass on, nothing worthy of a trip to a pawn shop.

      Good grief, that one watch site that has a collector ‘show and tell’ video series that started with Mr. J.C. Mayer loses me so quickly when their guest brings out a case of nearly identical Rolex watches and a game of “Where’s the Patek hidden among them.” I guess every hobby or interest has various stages and I’m clearly at the accessible entry stage that has no appreciation for faint differences. I’m not sure I want to get to the terminal stage.

      I had to use cars as an analogy because, like watches, they are overwhelmingly utilitarian daily objects that also get collected. Faberge eggs or Hummel figurines just don’t share that. And I always default to automotive analogies.

  3. Such a great take. Really enjoyed this article.

    I’m a lot like you I think. It’s hard for me to truly be a watch collector because, while I can afford a $15k watch, I can also build a mental model of the future value of $15k, discounted to present value, and I quickly think “nah, that $15k watch will actually cost an additional $20k in lost opportunity sunk into a depreciating or non-appreciating asset.” That, I think, identifies the essence of a collector. It takes a certain willingness to not see an object as an asset (depreciating or otherwise) and value it for its intrinsic qualities. That I cannot do that is probably a failing on some level, I sense. Something about seeing the world algorithmically, or failing to sufficiently value art and beauty, or something like that. But it’s who I am. So here I sit with a small collection (ahem… assortment) of quite nice but practical watches, none of which is a grail. None of which I think about for more than a minute when I put them on. Triumph of head over heart, for better or worse.

    Again, great article. This is a “flag for later and read again” one. It’s not even really about watches, is it?

    • It’s hard to talk about the socio-economic issues of watches without wandering off topic, but I think you’ve definitely labeled me, us, correctly. I’m lacking that level of passion with abandon that focuses on something to the exclusion of all else, completely detached from other concerns. My perspective is always somewhat holistic.
      There is a sense of “true believer” that is necessary, I suspect. The claim is that the main commonality of exceptional athletes is that they can mentally, well, truly believe that they can accomplish things a bit beyond their grasp which drives them to push harder than more realistic people. They never really reach it, but their belief never wanes.

      Rainbow chasers have higher highs and lower lows. I have great appreciation for things, but it is always limited in some way, always in context. I always identified more with Scrooge than Cratchit, so I may not be the best spokesman for all this.

    • The problem with the NPV calculator is the assumed discount rate of cashflows and that the “investment” does not exceed the assumed rate of growth (especially if your borrowing rate is not fixed). This is a common financial mistake, especially among hard “asset” classes. Watches can exceed returns of 0 coupon bonds so the expensive watch is actually the better investment.

      • If you compare returns of watches to the returns of zero-coupon bonds, that is true. I would not personally make assumption that the appropriate benchmark, but that’s just moi.

  4. Yea. People on Rolex forums calling their Submariner, GMT, and DJ a collection, pretty hilarious. Right next to all the ways they tape up their bracelets so that their … “collection” doesn’t get some light scratches on it.

    Watch collectors = dudes who don’t get laid.

    • Collect them all (except Cellini, Milgauss, etc.)!
      Well, despite that definition, I’m still not a collector. Honestly you’re somewhat right and coronageddon has created an untold number of “watch collectors.”

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