What does your watch say about you? About a week ago, @Patekdaily asked this question on his Instagram account. It got me thinking.
First of all, I do enjoy Instagram accounts that do more than just post pictures of watches. Of course, it is always nice to see interesting watches posted in different ways. But when a post also puts forward some interesting thinking, it works well. And from @Patekdaily, the issue of “image” opens a veritable Pandora’s box of thoughts.
One can classify watch owners into a wide range of categories. However, for the purpose of this article and also taking the essence of @Patekdaily’s question into account, I am going to look at just two types of collector.
I have been both.
Of course, the original Instagram post was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Not everyone who owns a 5711A drives a Mercedes G Class. Nor do I necessarily associate 5711 owners as guys who only drink Cristal or Dom at nightclubs. The question, however, stands as do we as watch owners have an interest in what image our watch portrays of us?
Clearly, some collectors own watches predominantly because of how they want to be perceived. Other collectors own watches and have no interest at all in what impression a watch gives. It will give an impression, but the owner doesn’t own the watch for that reason. These are the two collector variants I will prod.
Let me further classify these two types of collectors.
The guy who buys watches without any interest at all in how others perceive the watches will tend to know exactly what he likes. There will almost certainly be a process through which a watch is evaluated. This evaluation process will have evolved over time and is likely to be quite specific. It will often result in their ownership of watches that are both highly popular as well as totally out of fashion. You see, what matters to these collectors is that the watch on their wrist makes them happy. What others think is none of his business. I believe I now collect watches in this manner. I also know that this style of collecting evolved over years and that before this I was a different collector beast.
Once upon a time, the Aquanaut was seen as the Boxter to the Nautilus’s 911 (but that is another story)
This brings me to the second type of collector. This other type of collector will also buy watches that they like. However, their reasons for liking them will be different to the former. This collector cares passionately about how others perceive him. This collector wants others to admire him because of the watch on his wrist. He wants the watch to be very visible and overt. He will go so far as to post pictures of watches he doesn’t even own in an attempt to create the desired perception. This type of collector derives their watch passion from the image a watch portrays rather than from the watch itself.
For example, owning a very rare and historic Submariner would not work because it would not be obvious to others that the watch was very special. Rolex Submariners, by and large, look fairly similar. One with a rare dial configuration and in excellent condition may be worth $500k, but on the wrist it looks fairly similar to the 1000s of other Rolex Submariners that are worth $10k. It does not declare itself as a rockstar watch. That would not work at all for this type of collector. This type of collector needs to be admired.
I know it looks just like every other Submariner, but honestly this one is SO rare….just doesn’t cut it
Now, the Patek Philippe 5711A may retail at around $30k – towards the very lower end of the Patek price range, but on the wrist it is an overt rockstar. Anyone who knows watches will know it is a rockstar watch and its owner will be that rockstar. It creates the right image for the guy for who image is everything. This type of collector cares more about what they perceive as their image than whether they actually like the watch on their wrist. Their happiness comes from being admired.
With this one on the wrist, everyone knows I am a Boss
I don’t go on watch forums anymore. However, there used to be a time when I did. And, without question, possibly once per month or maybe more, someone would ask the question… “Should I buy this watch?” When pushed further, the question would develop in one of two ways. First, whether the watch was likely to appreciate in value over time. Alternatively, the discussion would focus on whether the watch would be perceived well by others.
Once upon a time, I would have taken into consideration whether others liked a watch. It would have mattered to me. Once upon a time, I owned so many Rolexes that I lost count. I wanted my watches to give the impression of who I wanted to be perceived as. However, as Lao Tse stated, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” I didn’t actually really appreciate my Rolex collection that much. No specific Rolex meant that much to me. I would wear one and quickly get bored with it. Then add another. Forever in search of something, but never really quite knowing what. It became my hamster wheel of delusion.
I like to think that as I grew up, I started to wise up. A watch is a very personal thing. Today, I actually couldn’t give a stuff whether others like my watches or not so long as I like them. Yet for many, it is central that the watch on their wrist and in their collection creates a shock & awe effect. The impact on others dominates the collecting ethos.
Now, I am not going to look down my nose at that approach. Well, maybe a little bit. But…..once upon a time, it mattered to me too. But let me be clear, in the evolution of watch collecting, to get to a point where one only truly owns and wears a watch because, intrinsically, it makes one happy is an endpoint that delivers a more meaningful level of joy than the alternative approach. Wear a watch that gives intense pleasure to you or have watches where the prime object is to impress others? Both deliver a type of pleasure. To my mind, one is far deeper than the other.
During this period of enforced lockdown, I have stared down at the same watch for several weeks now. I bought the watch on my wrist because it ticked every box in my buying process. If nobody ever saw the watch other than me, I would not care. In terms of watch nirvana, owning a watch purely because it gives you intrinsic pleasure is very much an endgame in itself. I still own the vast majority of the Patek Philippe watches that I have ever bought. Around 80% of the Patek Philippe watches that I have bought are still in my collection. Possibly 5% of the Rolex that I have bought are still with me. Probably less.
Some may say there is a meaning in this article. Am I being pompous and biased in my appraisal? Pompous? No. Biased? Yes. Because this is what works for me. And that is the ultimate endgame.