Most watch collectors go through an evolution in how and what they collect. This is my timeline from 1979-2020.
I guess I started collecting nice watches in 1979 when I was 13 years old. The first was through inheritance. I owned what was my first high quality watch. Needless to say, I still own the watch. A Jaeger LeCoultre. It started a process.
It wasn’t until 1991 that I added to my collection. I was employed and starting to earn some money. I was paid a £10,000 bonus and the first thing I did was visit Watches of Switzerland where I purchased my first new Jaeger LeCoultre. Once again, this watch still sits in my collection.
Over the coming years, I added the occasional Jaeger LeCoultre, such as a steel Reverso (which I still have), but it was a gradual process and my “collecting” was very much in its infancy.
By 2001, I was starting to earn more money. I happened to walk past a Rolex dealership and decided to go in. When I came out, it was with a Rolex GMT 16710 on my wrist. I wanted a watch that was more casual. I wanted a great sports watch. This was it. It is still in my collection. And this started a whole new phase with me on Rolex.
Between 2001-2011, with my professional career going well, I let loose on Rolex. Almost exclusively vintage Rolex. Over this decade, some 60-70 vintage Rolex watches entered my collection. Although Rolex was the vast majority of the collection, I also added vintage and modern references from Blancpain, Breguet, Panerai, Omega, Jaeger Le Coultre, IWC, Breitling, Vacheron Constantin, Bremont, Tudor, Arnold & Sons and probably several others. In total, my watch “collection” rose in size to somewhere between 100-200 watches. I never actually counted. Definitely over 100. Definitely less than 200.
It was towards the latter end of this period that I started to buy Patek Philippe. My first ever Patek Philippe was a Ref. 5070P in 2009. This was followed by a 5970P in 2010. These two watches are still a part of my “collection”. However, it is relevant to mention that my collecting process underwent a change at this time.
I did detailed research and came to the view that vintage watches before the mid-1960s with radium on the dial represented what I considered to be a reasonably high health risk. I asked a Cambridge University physicist to undertake detailed testing and his conclusions confirmed my research. So, from about 2011 onwards, I undertook a selling phase of my vintage watches with radium dials. Within 3-4 years, they had all been sold. However, it is fair to say that my overall collection did not shrink much in size much as watches that went out were readily replaced by different watches that came in.
This process occurred until I had somewhat of a revelation. I would like to share that revelation with you. It was probably only in the last few years that I realised something quite significant. Namely, there is a difference between collecting and hoarding. As a general rule, hoarding is quite indiscriminate in its nature. It is repetitive and usually a terminal condition. It goes on and on until you don’t.
My revelation occurred during a book that I was reading. The book is called “The Philosopher and the Wolf.” It is one of the very best books I have ever read. One part of the book looked at the fate of Sisyphus. Sisyphus had offended the Gods. “His punishment was to roll a huge rock up a hill. When the task was completed, after many days, weeks or even months of exhausting labour, the rock would roll back down the hill, to the very bottom, and Sisyphus would have to begin his labour all over again. And that was it, for all eternity.”
The author, Mark Rowlands, then explores a number of different possibilities. He suggests a possibility that the Gods were not being so cruel in their punishment because they had implanted in Sisyphus an irrational yet intense compulsion to roll rocks up hills. The result being that Sisyphus is blindly happy achieving a totally pointless task. The Sisyphian does not realise that he is blind nor does he realise he is trapped within a hamster wheel of delusion.
My revelation was that I had become Sisyphian in my blind accumulation of various watches. The vast majority of my watches were just hoarding with very little purpose. And what happened to me is that I suddenly realised that blind happiness achieving nothing pales into insignificance relative to meaningful collecting.
I suddenly realised that I did not want hoards of meaningless watches. Suddenly, I got clarity of objective. The philosopher, Richard Taylor, has done detailed analysis of the myth of Sisyphus. A representation of life made meaningless because it consists of, essentially, bare repetition. No sooner had I hunted down one watch, then I would start the whole process again hunting for another.
However, thankfully, I gained clarity. For me, there is absolutely no point in pushing rocks up hills.
So, from about 2014 onwards a new phase in my collecting evolved. Gone were the days of owning a ragbag of meaningless watches. A new era dawned where I wanted my watches to have a lot more meaning. This period, which I think really is the last five years or so, coincided with my greater focus on Patek Philippe. Whereas virtually all of the ragbag collection of watches I used to own have now gone, virtually all of the Patek Philippe watches that I have bought are still in my collection.
My collection of Patek Philippe now grows slowly in size. An evolution of a kind has taken place. The question I now ask myself is where next will my journey take me?
Would I rather own one watch like the above that carries a lot of meaning to me or 50 watches that carry no meaning? Let me clarify, a meaningless watch can still be expensive, but it carries no “meaning”.
Yes, it is true to say that spending a prolonged period in “lockdown” enables a lot of thinking to take place. Watch collecting is a journey. Planning which road to take next needs clarity.