Every watch collection, even that of legendary watch collector Patrick Getreide, starts with a single watch.
Who is Patrick Getreide? He’s a Brussels based businessman who started out as a young lad by acquiring an Omega watch. After making several payments by monthly instalment to the watch dealer it was eventually paid off by his father. A few years later his next dream watch was a Cartier Tank. He won it at auction and it took him 6 months to pay it off, once again in monthly instalments. The auction house was not impressed. Little did they know that after gazing at a Patek Philippe watch in a shop window Patrick would go on to build a collection of over 600 watches including some of the most highly sought after Patek Philippe watches in the long history of the much admired brand.
Today Patrick’s collection includes rare Calatravas from as early as the 1930s, hard to get Patek Philippe Nautiluses, every series of the Reference 2499, the Reference 1518, the Reference 130 and some extremely rare enamel-dialled watches including the “Lighthouse” and “Island” pieces from the 1950s. His collection, which started with that Omega watch, (now lost) is regarded as one of the top 5 collections in the world, and Mr Getreide takes pleasure in displaying his incredible timepieces around the world.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First you have to acquire that first watch. Anyone can order a watch online and add it to their collection, but building a valuable watch collection that grows in value over time takes effort, research, a slice of luck and a lot of know how. Let’s look at some of the factors you need to consider.
While most of us don’t have the means to acquire even one Patek Philippe, there is still much joy and excitement to be had from a watch collecting hobby at just about any level.
Step one: Know your budget
The first thing to know about building a watch collection is that there is no one approach to it. There’s different schools of thought, different collecting philosophies, and numerous differing tastes and preferences. Time and lots of looking online will instinctively lead you towards what you like, no one else should be the arbiter of what appeals to you. Browsing the vast hinterlands of free information on the web will educate you about what interests you most. You might like one particular brand, or genre or you might like several. But one thing you must know at the start, is how much you can afford to spend. It will come as no surprise that the choice open to you will increase in direct proportion to the size of your budget. But the actual joy of collecting can be the same at any price point.
Much to the disdain of so called serious watch collectors, some of the most avidly collected watches on the planet are quartz driven Casio G-Shocks, and they start from as little as $50. Then there are vintage Seikos. These extremely reliable automatic watches come with cool retro designs. Models such as the Seiko 6019 and the Seiko 6139 Pogue from the 70s sell for $500 to $600 and make great additions to any collection.
The 6139-6002 Pogue was the world’s first Automatic Chronograph and Flyback Chronograph. Not only that, it was the first chronograph in space. Astronaut William R. Pogue (Pillar Pogue) wore the 6139-6002 during NASA Skylab 4 on a mission which took place in 1973. Then there’s the highly collectable checkered flag bezels of the Seiko 6106 or 6119 Rally Driver. These beauties can also still be picked up for around $500 to $600 and they just keep on ticking.
If your budget can stretch to $10,000 you can start to acquire top name Swiss brands, perhaps not brand new in some cases, but comfortably a pre-owned good quality Rolex Submariner or a Rolex Perpetual Oyster 41, a Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, or an Omega Speedmaster. With this kind of budget you are on your way to a ‘serious’ watch collection.
Step 2: Deciding where to start
There’s no right or wrong answer to this, but if, for example, you decide you want to collect Swiss watches the Swiss watch industry caters to you at all price ranges starting with the ever popular entry level Swatch. Yes, some people have a collection of hundreds of Swatch watches. But there are several well regarded brands in the mid-price sector such as Tissot, Omega, Oris, Rado, Mido, Edox, Longines to name a few, offering excellent examples of automatic watches, some of which are purposely launched as limited or special editions. New ideas and designs are brought out each year and you can see what’s new simply by following watch blogs or regularly visiting the watch brand websites themselves. Many collectors acquire limited editions at this price range and then decide to sell them after a year or two. If you see a particular model you cherish, be patient, wait a while and the chances are you might find it on a pre-owned watch site such as Value Your Watch, in time to come. Dutch based auction site Catawiki has regular watch auctions of medium priced watches and there are plenty of bargains to be had. These are all curated by watch experts prior to being put up for auction so you can be sure of their authenticity.
Step 3: To Specialize or Generalize
Another decision you need to make for your collection at some point is whether you want to specialize in a specific genre, be it Divers, Fliegers, Dress watches, driving inspired chronograph watches, military watches, digital watches, or mix it up and have a selection of watches for every type of occasion. Some collectors go crazy for skeleton watches and collect ever more intricate interpretations of the art. Your own research will soon show you what is valued and what is not for each genre of timepiece. Some collectors make up their mind early on that they are going to go for the grail watch in their chosen genre. A grail watch is one which is the most sought after, the hardest to find, and subsequently usually one of the most expensive. Most high-end brands have their particular watches which are highly coveted and considered grail watches. Half the fun of watch collecting is finding out about these particular models and exploring the possibility of acquiring one – a genuine one and not a copy.
Step 4: Quality over Quantity
There are enough watches out there, both new and pre-owned to build a vast collection. Patrick Getreide has well over 600 of them and they are all grail watches, but most of us are not blessed with a Patrick Getreide budget so we have to be much more selective. If in doubt always go for quality over quantity. Better to have half a dozen quality pieces you wear regularly than several dozen low cost bargains you never even get around to wearing. A passionate watch collector once confessed in writing: “I used to be a quantity over quality guy. Within two years of collecting I realized I was never content regardless of the amount of watches I owned at that time. I decided to sell everything and start over. Now I own three solid watches and couldn’t be happier since they all receive my attention and I get to enjoy them properly.”
Step 5: Buy for love, not an investment
The key rule of thumb in collecting is always to buy what you really like and would enjoy wearing. It can often be a mistake to buy just because you think or someone told you it will serve you well purely as an investment. To buy a watch as an investment piece you really have to know what you are doing, and be sure of its provenance. Unless you are lucky enough to have recently won your national lottery it’s certainly not an advisable collecting path for the beginner.
If you want to build a collection that at least holds it value, few hold value better than certain models of Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin or Patek Philippe. Which models? Well, that’s where your research comes in. The investment watch is the high price tag end of watch collecting and it usually takes time and education to get to the point where you are ready to make such an investment. But before you buy you literally have to research and research again to be sure of what you are getting. Frankenstein watches – watches which have had non original after sale parts fitted are more common than you can ever imagine and they have a disastrous effect on the value of your investment watch. Just visit any old school watch repairer and listen to the horror stories of what they have found behind the caseback of many a highly collectable piece . If you are buying online request for more photographs if you are not completely convinced. And of course, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. You literally cannot be too careful. Always remember, part of the art of building a valuable watch collection is building one that is valuable as a source of constant joy to you personally.
Step 6: Do your research
We mentioned research above, and this is truly the oldest and wisest chestnut in the watch collecting book of advice. Everyone will tell you to do your research, and anyone who knows anything about collecting watches will tell you it’s true and invaluable. You can’t escape it, you need to do your homework. Whether you are just starting out on your watch collecting odyssey, or you’ve been collecting for years, it always pays to do plenty of research. As watch collecting increasingly becomes your passion this will become a more pleasurable task. There are watch forums such as Watchuseek, even sites such as Reddit for example, where you can simply lurk and learn the intricacies and eccentricities of your particular watch genre as you read the numerous posts by collectors in the know. You don’t always have to agree with what’s being said, you may even be unable to resist commenting, but you will pick up valuable information that can save you the heartache of a bad investment or a costly mistake. The possession of a quiet, well admired Swiss high end classic acquired at a good price with its provenance soundly proven is a satisfying sight on your wrist each day. It’s worth all the hard work and seeking of knowledge to get to that moment where even non collectors say, ‘wow, that’s a beautiful watch’.
If, as is likely, your passion graduates towards mechanical or automatic watches, it will pay you in spades to learn how they work. The difference between an entirely mechanical watch and an automatic is that a mechanical is manually wound and an automatic is purpose-built to harness kinetic energy. So every time you move your wrist, the movement stays powered. Just as a watch keeps ticking, you need to keep learning.
Step 7: Invest in a watch collecting case
If you’re going to start a watch collection, start as you mean to go on and invest in a good quality watch collecting case. Be as picky about your watch box as you are about the watches you want to add to your collection.
A collection case will house your watches properly and securely on plush velvet lined watch pillows. Bear in mind, pillow types vary in size. Some pillows can be too small in size to hold a watch securely. You should choose a watch box with pillows capable of holding the watch by the straps or bracelets. Ideally, the average size is 45 mm thick by 75 mm long.
Watch box linings are another important consideration. Linings in watch boxes should protect your watch from damage and keep it in place. A bad lining can actually harm your watch over time. A high-quality fleece or microfleece lining is a good option as it’s a soft material that won’t harm the crystal lens.
The risk of theft can be reduced when your watch is properly stored in a watch box kept in a safe place. Watches, like other pieces of jewelry, are more likely to get stolen when simply stored loose in a drawer or on top a bedside unit.
Watch boxes also give you the chance to admire your watches as your collection grows, and the case itself becomes something to treasure. Alternatively, you could decide to repurpose a cigar case, in either case it’s important to make sure your watches are stored away from sunlight and moisture. Also keep in mind you need to have your watches serviced and cleaned every once in a while, and keeping them housed in a watch collection case means you don’t have to go searching through drawers to find the particular watch you’re after.
Every day is a good day to get started on your own watch collection.
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