"Just Five watches" and what I learnt from the process

This week, on my Instagram account @ClubPatek, I did a series of posts looking at what I would pick if I decided to narrow my collection to just five watches. It was an interesting exercise. However, it was interesting for reasons that were not obvious to me at the start of the exercise.

I have a lot of friends who are watch collectors. On closed forums, we often discuss our varying philosophies to collecting watches. In one such conversation this week, I mentioned that I was going to do a “Just Five watches” theme from within my Patek collection. One collector said he couldn’t do that process because he would find it difficult to select between two watches that do very different things. Another friend also said they would have trouble with the exercise as they own watches that mark special occasions and it would be emotionally hard to relegate some experiences relative to others. A third friend said that they could easily go through the exercise.

What occurred to me is that the very essence of “why” we collect determines to a very large extent “how” we collect and also “what” we collect.

I know a gentleman who collects vintage sewing machines. He doesn’t specialise at all but rather likes to accumulate as many examples as possible. The sewing machines are in a very broad range of conditions. He now owns so many that he has needed to buy a building in which to house the machines. He is an accumulation collector. I know a Patek Philippe collector who, essentially, has their own museum of Patek Philippe watches. 99% of the watches are unworn and sit in special cabinets, exhibited for his private enjoyment. I know another Patek Philippe collector who owns just one watch, but it is worn every day. The watch is cared for lovingly. The collector looks at his watch not to tell the time but to see the time. There is a difference.

So, what has any of this got to do with my “Just Five watches” theme? It turns out quite a lot. The process of selecting just five made me think very hard about why I collect. Picking the first two watches on my list was incredibly easy. I chose the Aquanaut 5650G and the Perpetual Calendar 3448J. I have always loved these two watches. When I put them on, they give off an energy which is very hard to put into words. I said this week that I see the Ref. 3448 as possibly the finest perpetual calendar ever made. One collector threw the 2438/2497 and the 1591 into the hat. I thought about it and I still err towards the 3448.

Rarity wins out for the latter references. They all have an absolutely wonderful purity and clarity of dial. They all have tremendous balance. Yet, the disco volante case of the 3448 wins out for me. And one other factor….for a perpetual calendar wristwatch that has the very first automatic movement of any manufacturer, there is a wonderful circularity. A perpetual calendar that is self-winding. A different type of perpetuity emerges that wins me over. As for the Ref. 5650G, I have written on this blogsite at length on why I love this watch so much. I won’t delve deeper now. Suffice to say, it was really very easy to pick these two watches for my “Just Five” exercise.

For me, what is most important about watch collecting is having a connection with a watch

When I first saw the 3448, I knew it was going to be central to my collection

It was fairly easy to pick my Ref. 5070P “EC” dial for my third choice. Very easy, in fact. The Ref. 5070P was the very first Patek Philippe that I bought. It represented the start of my journey in Patek Philippe. To own the “EC” variant of the reference gives off such a frisson of energy when I wear it, I could not envisage not owning this watch now.

This watch has an an energy that is hard to describe. Maybe its rarity. Maybe a Factor X.

Picking the Ref. 5970P as my fourth slot became harder. And deciding between my 3417A, 5131P, 5131R and 5575G was close-to-impossible as the fifth pick. It got harder and harder to create an order of merit, the further I went down my list of watches.

The 5970P was the first brand new Patek Philippe that I owned – almost 10 years ago now

In the end, I selected the Ref. 5131R as the fifth pick. It is actually a watch that belongs to my son rather than me. So I cheated a bit. But, most probably, it was this connection that led me to the choice. Patek Philippe dominate world time complications. They also dominate enamel dials. And the 5131R has the connection with my son. Choice was made….although technically its not really a part of my collection. Yes…i cheated.

It was at this juncture that I had somewhat of a revelation. I would like to share this revelation. I didn’t really care too much about the watches in spot 12 on my list. Or in spot 7. Or that much even about spot No.6. What I really cared about were watches 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. The other watches in the collection add to the diversity that I enjoy, but 80% of the pleasure that I get comes from a very small percentage of the watches that I own.

Lets imagine that one can actually quantify units of watch pleasure. First of all, I get essentially no units of pleasure from the watches that are sitting in various safeboxes around the world. The actual process of owning is not a “why” for me. The pleasure I get comes from wearing. And, what matters to me from a watch is the units of pleasure that I get when a watch is on my wrist. I am clearly not an accumulation collector.

But I do love diversity and having a broad enough range of diversity also takes me out of the single focus collector club. However, from my days studying economics, the law of diminishing marginal utility tells me that there is a number beyond which a collector of my nature will begin to lose interest. When I go far enough down my list, the units of pleasure fall at a rapidly increasing rate.

What determines those units of pleasure? Now that is a question. For me, there needs to be a definitive connection between a watch and my experience of wearing it. Just to throw a curve ball into the equation, my most precious watch is actually a family watch belonging to my father – a JLC. When I wear that watch, there is a personal connection that actually can never be eclipsed. The watch means something that provides me so much pleasure that it sits at the top of my horological table. Within Patek Philippe, there is a definitive order of connection for me.

And what I learnt this week is that the law of diminishing marginal utility kicks in much quicker than I had thought.