Diary of a Patek Philippe collector – social media poisons (21st aug 2020)

I spent about a year on Instagram. Prior to that, I spent a considerable period of time on a watch forum. My reasons for leaving both are actually quite similar.

Social media does many things that are positive. There is no question about that. However, it does many things that are negative too. And, when it comes to something that can be very personal, like watch-collecting, that can open a can of worms.

Let me give some examples.

I know one collector who has a Rolex/Patek watch collection. He inherited a successful business from his father. However, over time, the business became more and more unprofitable. The owner, however, kept accumulating watches. It was his way of “showing” his success.

Now, his business is bankrupt yet the collector needs to maintain an image on social media so posts watches he has sold as if he still owned them, as well as pictures of sports cars, and all the trappings of a what he thinks is a successful person. He pretends to be considering buying expensive watches. The watches never materialise. The reality is that the collector has fallen into a hole. However, because of the social pressure of having a high profile on social media, the collector is forced to live in a Walter Mitty existence and pretend to be something that he is not. It is actually extremely sad. And all because of a need to maintain a fantasy image on social media.

I know of another collector who sees watches as a competitive sport. It is very important to him that his watches are “the best” and his aim is to awe others with the nature of his collection. It is actually more important to him to awe others than it is to own watches he truly desires. This makes him quite aggressive and also consistently derogatory of the collections of others. Ego rules.

Watch forums can be amongst the worst environments. A global watch forum will mix together different nationalities of people who each have very different norms. What is polite in one culture may be downright rude in another culture. Getting the two cultures to understand that is not always easy. Maybe it is something that cannot be brokered.

I remember once posting a picture of one of my watches. Immediately, someone who saw the picture asked me “How much?” It is actually stunning how so many people on social media assume everything is for sale. In many cultures, such an overt question is a bit rude. When I mentioned that the watch was not for sale, a tirade of abuse came at me. Why? I have no idea. It was beyond his comprehension that I did not have a price. He went on to accuse me of not owning the watch.

“How much? You MUST have a price.”

I remember one time when a collector was posting on a forum and continually asking “Which of these watches is better?” In his culture, it was important to have the watch that was generally perceived by others as better. Now, in my world, the question of “better” in something as subjective as a watch is bordering absurd. Watches are very personal. One’s taste is highly subjective. What is “better” for me depends entirely on my subjective taste. My most precious watch is actually a 60 year old Jaeger LeCoultre. Value is highly subjective.

“Value” is a very subjective issue.

Which is “best”? Maybe “best” doesn’t exist unless you are in a playground?

I remember another occasion concerning a Girard Perregaux Damier that was a gift to me from a friend. Another collector who knew that I was essentially a collector of Patek Philippe sent me a message. What he said was “That watch is an absolute disgrace. You should be ashamed to wear it.” He was not jesting. And those are exactly the words he used. He told me in all sincerity that he thought I was lacking style to wear it. The fact is, I love that Damier. The disgrace here, is not the Damier.

Patek 3483A. Described by one cognoscenti as “boring.”

Imagine a collector who has saved for a considerable period of time in order to buy the watch of his dreams. On this particular occasion, it was a collector on a watch forum buying a Patek Philippe 5711A. He posts his watch proudly only to be met by another collector who describes his watch as “one of the most boring watches ever made and a waste of money.” It was stated as if it was fact. When challenged, the response was that he is “entitled to an opinion.” I guess I would argue that what differentiates intelligent people is the ability to have a difference of opinion without needing to be rude or derogatory. OK, sometimes one can be rude without intending to be rude in which case an apology usually follows. That would be a caveat to this rule.

On this occasion, it was not two people from different cultures. They were from the same country. While cultures can differentiate people quite definitively, nothing quite differentiates people as much as manners. Rudeness is something that will always exist. And behind the camouflage that is the internet, many feel happy to indulge. This also happened to me too. I posted a picture of a vintage Calatrava (above). An American guy living in the UK (lets call him Mike, because that is his name) publicly called it boring and a watch for stupid people. Only one ignoramus there.

My point here is that social media provides a fantastic arena for a liquorice allsorts of bad behaviour. And there is rarely any negative repercussion. It will always be thus. Of course, the mass of good collectors can try to police the bad behaviour. My experience is that most stay silent and just allow it to happen.

Then, we have the “Ego” brigade. Collectors who really just want to be admired and praised. This “collector” craves recognition and status. He craves respect. And here is the irony, and to quote Tony Soprano….”Those that want respect, give respect“. This type of collector can’t quite grasp that. Recently, I have been reading a few books on Buddhism. One of the things that stood out to me is the focus on ego. It is postulated that those with gigantic egos are actually using the ego as a cover for some deep-seated shame in their psyche.

So, to cap this off, I will say that I am not on some mission to put right the things that I see as wrong. What seems wrong to me may or may not actually be wrong at all. Social media allows the facilitation of both bad behaviour as well as attempts by the majority to correct bad behaviour. From my perspective, there will always be people with ego problems, rudeness, bigotry, disrespect and a lack of class as well as intelligence. And yes, I have no qualms in giving examples of what I consider to be this type of thing on this blog. And if people recognise themselves in the anecdotes described above, then too bad.

However, and this is a lesson that has come slowly to me, the cauldron of collectors is in many ways a paradox. It contains a vast array of different potions. Trying to understand it is pointless. Trying to change it, equally pointless. But participating in it…..that is something I can do something about.

I enjoy writing about watches on this blog. As a collector, the pinnacle for me is wearing watches that I love and that have great memories attached. Do I need Instagram or a watch forum for that?

Why would I?

I enjoy writing about watches because it keeps a certain discipline to my collecting process. If it didn’t do that I am not sure I would write a blog either.