Diary of a Patek Philippe collector – Is there such a thing as a grail watch? (6th june 2020)

Is the entire concept of “the grail watch” completely rubbish?

I have a friend who lives in Monaco. His apartment overlooks the harbour. I visited him once and noticed a stunning boat that was moored in the harbour. About an hour later, an even bigger and more lavish boat moored up about 50 metres away from the first boat. I mentioned it to my friend. He replied that within a few hours another even bigger boat would arrive and moor close by. Sure enough, an absolutely enormous boat did arrive. It was like an ocean liner. It belonged to the wife of an oil magnate. This type of pattern was, apparently, very common in the harbour. Where billionaires amass, the mega-yacht competition to outdo the next billionaire is a known feature. Yet, it highlights an important lesson. Namely, there is ALWAYS a bigger fish.

In the past, I spent a lot of time on various watch forums. One gets to see a similar dance occur on watch forums as one does at the Monaco harbour. In particular, the Rolex and Patek Philippe forums are particularly prone to the “bigger fish” dance. Some guys simply have to be the biggest fish. Once it has been shown that they are not the biggest fish, they usually slink off and become less prominent on the forum. Tempers often get frayed as humble-bragging and outright showing-off take to the fore and watches are unveiled as a means of besting others. The thing is, there is ALWAYS a bigger fish. This type of behaviour never ends well.

Yet, I wonder if this type of process is at work when a collector starts to think of an “exit” watch. The “exit” watch is one that is often described amongst watch collectors. It is a watch that can end the whole process of collecting. A watch that is so perfect for that collector that it acts as a catalyst to end the entire collecting process. A grail watch. A pinnacle that can never be eclipsed.

I think that, just like the Monaco harbour example, it is an illusion. Or, more accurately a delusion. What I think is happening here is that the biggest boat game is being played but with just ourselves and our own collection. We are looking for something that becomes our “biggest boat”. We believe that it will deliver a type of satisfaction that will lead us to collecting nirvana.

Have I done this before? I think when I collected Rolex, I inadvertently went in search of my grail. I thought I had it with a Ref. 6239 Paul Newman. Then I went on to find a perfect Mk1 Patent Pending 1665 that was clearly the grail. Then I graduated to a 1665 Omani, which was overtly the grail. And then I found a Submariner 6200. Surely it cannot get better than that?

I call it the hamster wheel of delusion. Chasing the “grail.”

What I discovered in this Rolex dance was that there is no grail. There is no pinnacle. The only thing that exists if you entertain the idea of a “grail watch” is the fact that there will always be a bigger fish that you will need to catch. And no matter how hard you try, you never arrive. There is ALWAYS a bigger fish.

Ever-rarer. Ever more expensive. Always hard to find. The “grail” is an elusive animal.

A revelation set me free. The very moment I stopped believing in the idea that there is a grail watch for me or that some exit watch could deliver me from the perpetual motion of the collector’s hamster wheel, that was the moment that I started to enjoy my watches in a way that I never had done before. Once I realised that “grail” is an illusion I started to develop an entirely different philosophy as a collector.

Until a watch comes along that fits the title “grail” perfectly.

And then you realise its not…

What sparked this type of thinking in me for this week’s blog? A good friend of mine who goes by the name “Patekova” asked me this week whether I had ever entertained the idea of buying a Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 as a type of exit watch. I will state now that I consider the Ref. 2499 as one of the finest watches ever made. It is, to all intents, at the very top of the Patek Philippe food chain. Yet, my answer to my friend was that I will not buy a Ref. 2499 because, for me, it cannot represent a grail watch that will end my collecting.

Every watch in my collection gets a lot of wrist time. Some watches get more than others, but they all get wrist time. Would a Ref. 2499 find itself on my wrist? I would love to wear one for a day, but I am not sure that I would want to have one on my wrist regularly. Nor am I sure that I want something of that historical importance on my wrist. I can understand how owners must feel without having to feel it myself. That last sentence evolved as a direct result of my revelation that a grail watch cannot exist for me. Is it possible to end the collecting process without having a grail?

In my view, it is impossible not to. Nowadays, I look at it quite simplistically. I am not chasing any dream with my collecting. My aim is simple. I want a collection of watches that allows me to choose from within that collection something that will deliver joy when I wear it. It doesn’t have to be rare. It doesn’t have to do much more than make me smile when I look at it. That is my nirvana.