The “revised” rules of watch collecting

Having rules to guide the collecting process is a good thing. Of course, rules can be added to and also amended. These are my thoughts on the process…..

I don’t know how many watches I have bought since I started. Too many, for sure. The vast majority of the watches that I bought in the first half of my horological journey have been subsequently sold. A few remain, but the vast majority have gone. I still have my Dad’s Jaeger Le Coultre (from 1957) that I inherited in 1979. I still have the first Rolex I ever bought from the early 2000s. But, as a general rule, watches I bought when I was younger have tended to go, while watches I have bought in the last decade have tended to stay. 80+% or more of the Patek Philippe that I have bought since I started with the manufacturer in 2008 are still in my collection.

What I have realised is that I have become more discerning as a collector. In fact, having realised just how random my purchases had been I decided to define for myself some rules that would govern my collecting process. These rules have certainly helped me reduce the “mistakes” and I also think it has led me to buy some watches that have really delivered on pleasure. So, without much more ado, I will elaborate on my “rules”. I will also add and revise these rules periodically.

  1. Use a “wear rule” to determine a watch’s place in your collection. If you find you have a watch that you never wear or maybe never even think about, then question seriously its place in the collection. Of course, it is natural that one makes mistakes in buying watches. Any serious collector that tells you that they have never made a mistake in buying a watch is either delusional or lying! If you make a mistake and find you are never wearing a watch in your collection, then question its place in the collection.
  2. Always trust the initial reaction. This is quite simple. If you look at a watch and don’t immediately feel an attraction, then let it go. There can be exceptions, but it is rare.
  3. Have an understanding about what size of watch works well for you. Never listen to people who tell you a watch looks too small or too big. It is only your taste that matters. For me, I feel comfortable within a 35-42mm range, with the sweet spot at 38-39mm. Much depends on how complicated the watch is and also, crucially, the height, shape and design of the case. But have an idea of what your range is and the ideal sweet spot. If a watch comes into focus that is outside that range, be circumspect about buying it.
  4. A watch needs a purpose in a collection. For my collection, I am looking to build a broad and diverse range of watches that cover the complications that I like. For example, I have one perpetual calendar, one split second chronograph, one simple chronograph, one Aquanaut, one Nautilus, one perpetual calendar chronograph etc etc. (OK, I have more than one Calatrava, but hey…). With each of these watches, I am aiming to have the specific complication represented by my favourite watch of the genre. So, for example, within simple chronograph I find the 5070P the nicest of the genre. Within perpetual calendar, I find the 3448J as one of the nicest of the genre. This is the process that determines my selection. If another chronograph was released that I preferred more than the 5070P, then in all likelihood I would evolve my collection in that direction.
  5. In having a watch in my collection, rules 1 – 4 obviously need to be fulfilled. However, there also needs to be a “wow” factor that is above and beyond the initial gut reaction. I like my watches to have a frisson of energy about them that comes from their rarity. I want the watch to have something about it that is special. Take the Aquanaut 5650G, for example. It is not a standard Aquanaut. Limited to just 500 watches – an Advanced Research special. It brings something extra to the table. Same with the Calatrava Amagnetic 3417A. These watches have a Factor X effect for me. When you put them on, there is a “something” that gets created. So often, watches that I have sold were ones that I would almost forget I was wearing. The ones I keep have me staring at them all day.
  6. Have a broad view as to the shape of the whole collection. I love white metal cases with dark blue or black dials. I just love the contrast created by this mix. However, I also love diversity and if all my watches were white metal cased blue dials, the overall feel to the collection would be more mundane. For me, it is important to keep the overall feel of the collection fresh and diverse. Hence, although there are a fair few that fit my favourite combination, there are also several that offer a very different feel. My 3448J, for example, comes in yellow gold with an off-cream dial. The 3417A comes in steel and light grey dial. The 5131 (which to be fair I borrow from my son) comes in rose gold and an enamel dial. Diversity is a big factor for me, so assessing a watch with that in mind is important.
  7. Have an overall view on the diversity within a manufacturer as well as across manufacturers. A knowledgable collector friend of mine once spoke these words of wisdom to me. He said…”There are wow watches and there are beaters. There should be nothing in between.” Now, we all have our own definition of “wow” and “beater”, but for me the distinction is straightforward. I see Patek Philippe as my “wow” watches and Rolex as my “beaters.” That makes a lot of difference when it comes to building the collection. I guess I will need to write a similar article for how I determine my Rolex watches……
  8. A collection needs a “beater” in it. However, the “beater” must be special. It is going to get a lot of wrist time so it is important that even the “beater” adheres to many of the rules above.

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