Watch collecting, whether modern watches or antique watches, is a passion like no other. Some are motivated to purchase extremely rare antique pieces. Others are focused on collecting modern watches – the most unique and rare. Either way, it is the details of how each watch is made; each component’s intricate details bring a new level of intrigue for the watch collector.
What is a Watch Collector?
Watch collectors are a rare breed. It is important to distinguish between being a “collector of watches” and a “watch collector.” I am a self-confessed collector of watches. I have too many watches, but I want to own it without any thought of selling it in the future when I see a watch I like. A watch collector, on the other hand, may have hundreds of watches. Many of them will be extremely expensive and rare, but most importantly, there is always an eye to the next transaction – purchase or sale.
Understanding the watches of the watch collector, those that are most collectible is a whole new aspect. Daniel and I revel in watches, but are we watch collectors? Definitively Not! This requires a completely different approach to watches, buying them and crucially also selling them. Watch collectors enjoy the history, revel in the stories of each watch and its rarity. This is not an area you want to jump into without doing your homework.
Daniel and I look on longingly at those who own the rarest of watches. Those who can afford to enter this market and curate a beautiful collection. This is the rarefied dwelling of the watch collector. A diverse group, who are bonded by their love of watches, to the degree that amazes those on the outside.
Our Ticket To The Inside
I am very fortunate to know one of this rare breed. A gentleman with over 35 years of experience buying, collecting and selling watches from every conceivable corner of this earth. He has agreed to speak with us candidly so that we can all enjoy his world vicariously. We will talk about all manner of watches, the ethos of watch collecting, buying watches, the ones that got away, the successes, the mistakes, and selling too. He has curated a collection of hundreds of watches, has bought and sold thousands of watches, and is seen at auctions globally, but he is very discreet. That is why we will call him The Watch Whisperer.
What started your epic journey with watches?
The Watch Whisperer:
What got me into watches? It was a natural progression of my interest in cars, racing cars, and sports cars. These were a particular influence on me growing up in the seventies and eighties. All the sports cars were plastered with watch advertisements, among other things. To me, there is a mechanical synergy between cars and watches that caught my imagination. So for me, the two always went together.
I had my first mechanical watch when I was 16. I have never been asked a question like this before; I cannot think of a specific moment of epiphany. I think it just caught my curiosity, and then it turned into a passion.
Was there a point where you suddenly realized that you really liked watches and you needed to buy more and more watches?
The Watch Whisperer:
Watches and cars just went hand in hand for a young man in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Initially, for me, these were objects of desire. When I was earning money and doing a day job, whatever I had leftover from paying the bills was available for my hobbies. The two hobbies that I really liked were watches and sports cars. At that stage, it was just a fascination for these objects of desire. There was no inclination to treat them as assets or consider them as an investment at all.
It is Not Just The Watches
And then there is the fun aspect. The fun result of going out to work and having the ability to purchase something I could have only desired previously. I have met a lot of people through watch collecting too. There is a huge social aspect as well, and that continues today.
Bizarrely that has continued more in the watch world over the last 20 years than with the car market. I think it is a more global market than the car market in many ways because many people in the collectors world participate online through Instagram and many specialist websites. This results in a great deal of personal communication. Sharing of images of watches is more prevalent than with cars. The social aspect of cars tends to be focused on events, and you do meet people at events, but that is not always easy to do – especially now.
Watches seem to transcend distance more easily – I don’t know why. And honestly, from my point of view, because I have always collected watches as a fun hobby, I found that the people met through watches and cars – I lump them together actually – are some of the nicest people. Some of the most interesting people too. What I like the most, and I think this is specific to watch collectors, when you find you have a common interest in watches, it does not matter whether they are a billionaire or whether they are a regular person that has to go and earn a salary, all the rest does not matter. I found that to be a fascinating human side of being a watch collector.
It is All About The Passion – For History
When you are with people who really have a passion, it also attracts people that are maybe fascinated but not passionate about it. These people are more interested in having the latest thing or want to show off. That is perhaps part of the reason why the watch market is where it is. There are an awful lot of people that just need to be seen to have the best thing. They do not really understand it, but they just want to own it. I think there is an equal number of people who are really passionate about the watches and the craft behind them as well – the history, I suppose.
I actually think that is a good thing about watches and is a fascinating facet for me. It is also the reason I have been attracted to vintage watches more than modern watches. They are all a piece of history; it is very similar to classic cars as well. If you buy an old watch that is 20, 30, 40 years old, you can spend time looking at its provenance. Researching where it came from, maybe why the original person had it, what sort of life they lived, where it has been, how it has traveled. These classic watches are like a little time capsule that makes them more than just a piece you have on your wrist that tells the time.
When did you transition from being a hobby watch collector – from your day job paying for the hobby to your hobby being your day job?
The Watch Whisperer:
I think that changed when I stopped doing the traditional day job!
Always an Eye to The Bottom Line
I stopped doing the traditional day job with the intent to improve my quality of life. Simultaneously, I realized, almost fortuitously, that the markets for assets like watches and cars were becoming interesting to a much wider audience. That was probably about 20 years ago. So not only were these classic watches beautiful things that you could own could covet and enjoy owning, but they were also sensible investments as well. If you do not have a bottomless pit of money, but you really enjoy something like collecting watches, it is quite reassuring to know that you can buy and enjoy them. But the comfort comes from the fact that if you need to release the equity from them, they will hopefully not cost you any money. That is my point. I do not like hobbies that cost me money because it is hard enough making money anyway.
If you can have something gratifying and possibly make some money, it suddenly makes more sense. I think the problem is that you have to be careful about your approach. If you are not careful, you become very cynical about the process and merely try to exploit the market, trading watches like stocks. This is the key for me. I believe that it is a balance.
The Golden Rule
It is quite difficult to strike a balance because it is a lovely hobby to have, it is a real passion for me, and I love the watches themselves. But it is hard when you see something that you think you can make money out of, not to buy it and merely trade it on. Even though it appears to make sense financially, I have one golden rule for investing in anything. I only buy things that I really like. The reason is I am very aware of the fact that no matter how good the markets are for these beautiful, rare collectibles, things can turn around at a moment’s notice. Having been involved in the financial markets for years, I know that prices do not keep going up forever.
So I think you have to be ready for that. There would be nothing worse than owning a collection of watches that you did not really like, that you only bought because you thought you were going to make money out of them. For me, if I have a beautiful collection of watches that then halves in value, of course, it would not make me happy, but at least I would still have beautiful assets that I am happy to hold. With inflation in 20 or 30 years, I am sure they will creep back up again.
Knowledge Is The Key
Whether it is a historic watch from Heuer or the most recent Audemars Piguet, when we are talking watches, there are a number of basics you need to have under your belt. Whether it is understanding the mechanics of mechanical timekeeping or understanding the risks of luminous watches that were manufactured earlier than 1960, it is the knowledge that will keep you out of trouble.
We are here to help you navigate the details, just sign up for our newsletter below. We have done a series on Swiss Super-LumiNova, which illuminates this incredible material that transforms night into day on your watch face. Or a detailed walk through the technical specifications that make particular stainless steel appropriate for making a watch and how to understand the difference between the most popular stainless steel used for watchmaking,
And finally, if you are looking for more guidance on how to purchase a beautiful and coveted classic watch, this is the place. The Watch Whisperer will regularly update us on the market and how he goes about creating and managing his collection. Don’t miss out.