Diary of a Patek Philippe Collector (12th January 2020)

I found myself facing an unusual dilemma this week. What matters more to me; rarity or condition?

This week I was offered the opportunity to purchase (at retail price) a brand new Patek Philippe that commands a very substantial premium in the secondary market. The waiting list is many years. I was also offered the opportunity to purchase the very first reference of this particular watch – a vintage piece. The latter is very rare and difficult to find. It is also in beaten-up condition. And at 35mm somewhat smaller than I would normally consider.

The financials for this decision are easy. The brand new watch will effectively see me buy a dollar for 50 cents. The vintage piece will see me pay a dollar for something that sells for a dollar.

And when I look at the two watches in question, I see one that is all shiny and new and another which looks like it saw service at the Somme. From an aesthetic perspective, the decision is easy. In fact, the vintage piece is so battered that it would easily be the watch in worst condition in my collection. Having said that, it is the case rather than the dial that is battered. The dial is actually charming and in great condition.

This is a dilemma and the answer is not immediately obvious.

Collectors will vary on a spectrum regarding how important they view rarity versus condition. I know some collectors who place a watch’s condition at the very top end of their criteria to evaluate. I know others who place rarity to the fore. Indeed, I know some collectors who have regard only to the supply rarity of a watch regardless of the demand for it. For such collectors, they want to go into a room knowing that nobody will have the same watch on their wrist. And then there are collectors who will be quite happy to replace integral parts of a watch from other watches in order for a watch to look perfect. It will look perfect but it will be far from original.

Of course, in an ideal world, rarity AND condition can go merrily hand-in-hand. However, sometimes one needs to come down on one side of the fence or the other. That was the situation I found myself in this week. Which one matters most?

The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that the answer reveals something much more. Ultimately, I think the answer to this question reveals very much what type of collector we are. Of course, as previously stated, someone who is driven by rarity will also likely want to find that rarity in as good as condition as possible. Yet, if push comes to shove, there will be an answer to the question of which of the two, rarity versus condition, is the driving force in the decision.

I will buy both as the new watch had been on order for some time and the vintage piece is one I want for my collection. But if I was forced to buy just one….it would have been the vintage piece. Ultimately, that is where I am as a collector. Rarity adds more for me than anything else. As I have described it before, there is a frisson of energy that comes with wearing a rare watch that is, for me, the pinnacle of the watch collecting experience. And when that can be combined with a specific personal connection with a watch, well then that is what I would define as my holy grail. Having said that, I don’t accept rarity at any cost. I can live with a somewhat battered case but I do need the dial to be in great condition. I also place total originality above aestetic perfection. I will not own a watch that has been “made” to look original. I want originality even if that means some imperfection.

When I look at my entire watch collection, I find that the watches that continue to deliver the greatest joy to me are the ones that have this combination of rarity and personal connection. And the watches that have the greatest impact are the ones that have lived with me through their entire “condition evolution.”

Picture courtesy of @Horologyhouse