Are you a vertical or horizontal collector?

This is the last in the series of “what type of collector are you?” articles. This one looks at whether you prefer “vertical” collecting or “horizontal” collecting. Or whether it is a mixture between the two.

When I describe a collector as a “vertical collector” I am referring to their style of approach. A vertical collector, for example, will focus their attention on one specific area and delve very deep into that particular area. Perhaps it might be quite narrow, like dive watches. Or even narrower like JLC dive watches. Or narrower still, JLC dive watches from the 1960s. The narrowness of the definition is one aspect. However, the defining trait of the vertical collector is just how deep they go. I know of some “vertical” collectors who will aim to collect every single variant of a theme even if that means owning multiples of (essentially) the same watch. Each watch will have subtle variations that make it interesting to that collector. It is not unusual for this type of collector to accumulate dozens of a particular reference.

Is it crazy? Absolutely. But it is also fun. At one point in my collecting “career” I owned seven Rolex Sea-Dwellers. If I had wanted to delve deeper, I could have got to 15-20 and still not have exhausted all the vertical possibilities. The vertical collector knows exactly what they want. It is highly specific and very focused. Vertical collectors often twitch a lot and can often be heard mumbling to themselves.

In many ways, the vertical collector can use their imagination in creating themes to pursue. For example, I know one collector who is making “Amagnetics” a theme to collect. Rolex 1019. Patek Philippe 3417. IWC 666. Omega 2777. And so on…..these early Amagnetics were pioneers that have been moulded into a theme. Bravo! Anyone for seven JLC Polaris?

The horizontal collector is an altogether different animal. “Variety is the spice of life” is the mentality of this type of collector. Within a manufacturer, the horizontal collector will tend to have 1 (or maybe 2 or 3 at a push) of a particular type of watch. I would describe myself, generally, as a horizontal collector. Within my collection of Patek Philippe, I have no more than 1-2 of any specific complication (other than Calatravas). Having said that, I do enjoy having a wide range of different styles and complications within my collection. Hence, there is a broad horizontal choice of watches, with each bringing something different to the table.

Take the Ref. 3483A…a superb steel Calatrava…for a “horizontal” collector this could lead to…..

…an exquistite and rare Ref. 1503A….which could lead to….

….an amagnetic Ref. 3417A

All the above are steel. All are vintage. All are Calatravas. All are rare and hard to find. Yet all would qualify as horizontal collecting as they are all quite distinct from each other. At the same time, it would be plausible for a horizontal collector to tick the Calatrava box with just one of these. If put in this position, which would one choose? The Ref. 1503A is probably the rarest. Yet, the 3417A has that “Amagnetic” appeal. So hard….

One could also make a case that someone collecting just steel Calatravas could also be seen as a vertical collector! There are clearly shades of grey.

For me, I need a watch collection to deliver something fresh every time I swap watches. If I was to own a Calatrava Reference 570G, I just would not get enough of a thrill from owning an additional 570A or 570P. Arguably, the steel would deliver the single biggest joy, so an argument could be made for owning just a 570A rather than a 570G. But for me, it would make no sense to own more than one. A vertical collector, on the other hand, would want many different types of 570, be they gold, platinum or steel, along with as many dial variations as possible. Where the horizontal collector gets joy from broad variation across a collection, the vertical collector gets joy from narrow variation within a theme.

Ref. 570G

I know many examples of each type of collector. I know Patek Philippe collectors who own all four metals of the Ref 5131 enamel world time. I know collectors who make perpetual calendar chronographs their object of desire, owning not only the same reference in all the different metals but also several references. I know collectors who focus on specific types of movement and aim to collect as many of that genre as possible. This is all a nuance on vertical collecting.

Horizontal collectors tend to be far less focused on specifics but that does not mean that they are not focused on what they buy. In fact, I would argue that the level of focus may need to be every bit as much as the vertical collector. Whereas a vertical collector is almost forced to buy a watch that is not in his collection that fills a hole in a theme, the horizontal collector is not forced to buy anything unless it adds to the diversity and eclecticism of their specific collection. For example, with respect to my own collection, my decision process on whether I buy a watch is quite simple. Does it bring something to the table that my existing collection misses that also brings me joy? In order to do that, a watch must deliver on many issues. A number of varied boxes need to be ticked.

Would I consider adding another chronograph? Only if something adds more than my Ref. 5070P.

As a collection matures and tastes become more set, it becomes increasingly difficult to find watches that bring that extra marginal utility. Having said that, this is a happy position to be in as it implies a collection is bringing plenty of joy.

Of course, you can get vertical collectors who are also horizontal too. He is called Blomman and can be found at https://blommanwatchreport.com/