Diary of a Patek Philippe Collector (Sunday 8th December)

This week, I risked a trip into London. I do this every month or two.

Around late summer was the last time I visited London. On that occasion, I went down the Burlington Arcade and around. I noticed that amongst all the many different pre-owned watch dealers that inhabit the area, I could not find a single Nautilus 5711A. Nor could I find a 5712A. Nor was there a single Rolex 116500LN in either black or white dial. No Rolex Hulks. No Rolex Kermits. I found one Aquanaut 5167R that had actually arrived in the shop that day – brand new straight from the owner who had been given it by his AD the day before. I was told that if I wanted it, I would need to say so there and then as it would be sold within the day. There was a huge premium over retail. Needless to say, there were no Ref. 5980s or 5990s. I found one Rolex “Batman.”

In all my time collecting watches, I cannot say I have every seen such a broad and generalised imbalance between the availability of certain “types” of watches and the demand for those watches. These watches have come to represent something. I genuinely believe that for a sizeable number of buyers, these particular watches mean very little in comparison to what they represent. This is not horology. It is social science.

Last week, I visited London again. I keep my watches in London so when I want a change of watch, then I will visit the safe box. Regrettably, this is at the insistance of the insurance company. But still, it means the occasional breakfast treat at Claridges and the fun of picking up a watch to wear. I make it an “occasion.”

On this occasion, however, things were very different compared with my last trip in the summer. I stopped in @thewatchclub and had a chat with the guys in there. Also at @daviddugganwatches as well as @armourwinston. Their windows showed not only a selection of several Rolex Daytona, but also several Patek Philippe 5711A, 5712A as well as 5968A and numerous Aquanauts. Across the pre-owned dealers there were literally handfuls of steel Nautilus and steel Aquanaut. More Rolex Daytonas than one could shake a stick at. The hype over the Rolex 16520 now finally seems to have reversed too.

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink?

Lets be honest, Rolex made a staggering number of Rolex 16520s and for a while they started to appreciate. But actually, collectors were pushed into hunting 16520s because they could not get their 116500LN. Now the latter are more readily available, the allure of the 16520 has very quickly gone colder. There was also a very broad choice of Rolex “Batman.” Should it be “Batmen?”

I chatted with one of the dealers and they said that they were looking forward to the return of the days when they could fill their windows with more Rolex 5513s, 1665s and more classic Patek Philippe. A return to a less “hype-driven” world. I happened to be in one of the pre-owned watch shops when a man in his early 30s walked in and announced that he wanted to try the Rolex 116500LN. He announced that his boss had bought a black dial version from this particular dealer and that he had been advised to visit to see if they could help him.

When will we head back into the days when dealers would fill their windows with classics like the Ref. 1665?

For sale at a whisker under £23,000 was a white dial version. The buyer stated that he needed to have the watch as it was “important to be seen with this at work.” He also asked if there was any possibility of a discount on the asking price. He was told that there was no discount. The buyer smiled. He was almost happy to be reassured that it was still super-hot.

Do you “need to be seen” wearing this?

Have we reached “peak-hype” in these type of watches? I look at the supply now and think to myself that it is now at a turning point. But actually, maybe the summer period “watch-draught” was just a time of very rapidly increasing prices. Maybe prices are still firm, but just not rising like they were in the summer. Maybe there are still a staggering number of guys who find that it is “important to be seen” with certain type of watches on their wrist. Or maybe the craziness continues? Or maybe this is the start of the next phase where demand and supply equilibriate somewhat?

Refreshing, then, to see an IG account like @loveschronos who this week posted his Patek 5070J. A watch he wore for his wedding from 20 years ago and for who watch collecting appears to be a lot deeper than the need to be seen wearing something “hot.” Also a big shout out for @gp_chronicles who’s blog detailed a fantastic set of posts about watch collecting, watch blogging, watch forums and all that is right and wrong with the process. Click below to read this fascinating series of posts.