Let’s admit it, building your watch collection is an intimidating task. You walk into the major watch retailer shops to find hot brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe or others and soon find out that these are for ‘exhibition only’. You can touch them but can’t buy them! In addition, the supply and demand deficit makes watches being bought way before they hit the retailers’ shelves.
Many collectors thus flock to the secondary market. Whether you are shopping online or from an auction there are a plethora of varieties to leave you in a conundrum for the rest of your life.
— Do you want it pre-owned?
— Vintage or Classic?
— Casual or Luxury?
— What’s the difference?
— Why does the same watch come with a thousand different prices?
— Which store/source to trust for authenticity?
To shed all this confusion, let’s resort to some of the tips provided by renowned minds in the watch industry. There is plenty of good wisdom here to build your watch collection seamlessly.
Start with a small step
With the advent of smartphones, wearing a timepiece became kind of obsolete (think about the years 2007–2016). However, just like any other cyclical phenomenon, wristwatches are making a huge comeback. The pandemic years were the hot times for the watch industry with record-breaking sales and revenue for many luxury brands. Going with the flow, if you are gunning for a Nautilus make sure you have ‘six figures’ to spare. Even a vintage pre-owned Rolex Datejust can cost you a month’s rent. Watch collection is an expensive hobby.
But worry not! You can start with something small, something that you can afford. “It’s easy to believe that you have to have heavy hitters in order to be a watch collector, but that isn’t the case. My initial advice would be to start someplace practical, a watch that’s an everyday piece.” says Perri Dash, founder of Wrist Check Podcast.
This could be your £60 Swatch watch, a £600 Hamilton Khaki or the unnamed yet sentimental timepiece you owned from your family member. Once you have your everyday pieces ready look for other categories — something for the party night, something sporty or that dive watch you have been dreaming of for years.
Don’t break the bank, at least initially. As Lorenzo Maillard, a vintage watch expert rightly said, “Avoid succumbing to the culture of watch snobbery”. “Resist the temptation to mimic the actions of other watch collectors,” added Maillard.
Master your research game
Zoe Abelson, luxury watch dealer and adviser, suggests talking it out. “Ask for advice,” she says. “Watch collecting is more fun (and easier to navigate) when you look to experts and the watch collecting community.”
The good news for you is, this community is very friendly and they love to talk. So, chances are you will meet a co-worker, a colleague, a relative or a neighbor who knows watches more than you do. You will be surprised by the volume of information you get from such a community. Always keep in mind listening is learning and there are so many things to learn for watch collectors.
Another thing: “Get your hands on as many watches as possible,” Abelson continues. “Try them on. See what fits, see what speaks to you. Pictures typically won’t tell you how you’ll feel about it in the flesh.”
Stop following the trend blindly
Instead, listen to your heart and buy what you love. There are so many brands with thousands of varieties available in the market. Not everything will fit your taste or budget.
Leigh Safar, VP and Global Head of Important Collections at Sotheby’s Watches is careful to point out the difference between buying a hoodie versus a high-end timepiece. “Buying a $10K watch is obviously different from buying a $200 shirt or a $500 pair of sneakers,” says Leigh. “You might not feel bad about ditching those shoes after a year of wear, but you definitely want to be more intentional with your watch purchase, so pick something that you love and don’t settle for something because it’s in style now.”
Watch collection is ‘love’ not an ‘investment’
Many amateurs see watch collections as a way to make money in the future. Well, that’s far from the truth. You buy a watch and keep it in good shape just because you will love to wear it for years. There is no ‘antique value’ for watches. Your wristwatch will be worth its value alone.
“The most common mistake in collecting watches is viewing them solely as investment opportunities,” says Lorenzo Maillard. To quote the great David Byrne (who wore a Casio in the ‘80s): “never for money, always for love.”
When you are a fan of vintage watches, focus on quality above all. Many watch collectors wrongly prioritize ‘box and papers’ that may come with the watches. These papers don’t hold any value. They are just evidence of a 1-year warranty from the manufacturer. Once the period has passed the papers are valueless.
“It is rare to find watches from 20–30 years ago with papers,” says Alan Bedwell, aka Foundwell, a vintage watch and antiques dealer. “The retaining of papers back then was not something that most people were concerned with.”
Obviously, you don’t want to buy a watch with aftermarket parts or something that falls apart within a week of usage. At the same time, you need to have a considerate mindset because a lot of these watches are maybe 30–50 years old. So, an open mindset with a loving maintenance attitude helps you a lot as a watch collector.
“You’ll make mistakes throughout your collecting journey, and that’s perfectly normal and part of the learning experience,” says Maillard.