The list of things that people will collect is seemingly endless, and takes in objects ranging from the worthless to the priceless. It is a human trait to want to accumulate certain items, but as far as why people collect watches, there are many different reasons. We are currently in a golden age of watch collecting, with prices only going up for vintage pieces as more and more people are discovering a love of horology.
But what is it about watches in particular that so appeals and makes them so collectible? Since every one of us is never more than arm’s length away from a cell phone, which all have clocks far more accurate than any mechanical caliber can ever hope to be, no one actually needs a watch, let alone a great horde of them.
But whether it is coins, stamps, autographs, all the way through to great works of art, the act of tracking down and securing them is nearly all about emotion rather than logic, and none more so than with watches.
Below, we’ll take a look at just what it is that motivates us to amass our ever growing collections.
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With the huge variety in style, value and heritage, the types of watches someone chooses to collect and wear are the most obvious outward indicators of their personality. Nothing says more about a person’s character than what they put on their wrist.
The only other thing that even comes close is the make of car someone drives, but a watch has the clear advantage of always being visible rather than parked away out of sight somewhere.
It is one of the reasons the vast majority of collectors tend to be men. For women, a watch is mostly just one more piece of jewelry; part of an ensemble that together speaks volumes. For men, the watch is most likely to be his only piece, and it has an effect completely disproportionate to its size.
Whether someone is wearing a vintage diver or a gemstone enhanced dress piece, they remain a uniquely portable expression of identity.
The other factor about watches that seems to attract more men than women is the nature of the technology itself. Not very far below the surface of every grown man is the little boy fascinated by gears and springs and the perfect blending of form and function. Mechanical calibers at their finest are miniature works of art, with a sort of microengineering prowess that has been constantly honed and refined over centuries.
We are living in an age of unprecedented technological progress, with new wonders emerging almost every day. But despite that, or possibly because of it, we are becoming more fascinated by the antiquated methods of traditional watchmaking. While we can all appreciate what a smart watch is able to do, all we can be aware of is the end result. With a mechanical movement, we are able to actually watch the hundreds of components working together and marvel at the dedication and level of craftsmanship that has gone into its creation. It is primal, involving and extremely satisfying for a person who like to collect watches.
The Thrill of the Chase
Talk to any hardcore watch collector and mention the word ‘obsessive’ and, rather than take offense, they are far more likely to just nod in agreement.
Most collectors share a compulsion that borders on the fanatical, forever hunting out that next elusive reference. Some psychologists suggest it’s a throwback to our caveman days and the fight for survival, or it may just be the adrenalin rush of finding something that has confounded them for months or years.
For many enthusiasts, the chase is far more fulfilling than the acquiring. It is why they can spend significant amounts of time and even more significant amounts of money securing their own personal grail watch, only to keep it for a relatively short length of time before selling it on to fund the search for the next piece.
With the true diehard aficionado, there is always one more to find.
The People Who Collect Watches
There is an enormous community of likeminded and passionate people that has grownup around the activity of watch collecting. Hailing from every corner of the globe and from every walk of life, joining them is like joining an exclusive club, one that is incredibly tight-knit and very well-educated.
With the all-pervasive internet, this society congregates 24/7 on the countless dedicated forums, blogs and social media platforms, ready to share their extensive brand knowledge and connect with others, brought together by the mutual appreciation of horology.
Offline as well, the number of related events and meet up groups has exploded in recent years, welcoming new members who desire to collect watches.
For some, it is the people they meet along the way that remains watch collecting’s biggest draw.
While watches can be a great investment (if you choose very wisely), it is a rare collector who selects their pieces based purely on financial terms.
Even at the very top end, there is always at least some emotion at play. The history or the aesthetics of the model will often inform the collector’s decision as much as its potential growth on the market.
That being said, there are makes that perform better than others. Rolex watches especially have the reputation for at least holding their value over time, with many going on to accumulate nicely. Certain models from Patek Philippe are the only others that most experts agree qualify as being ‘sure things’, or as close as you can get in such an unpredictable business.
However, there is such a huge number of variables with watches—the tiniest discrepancies on dials, text, fonts, logos, that successfully collecting for investment takes an encyclopedic knowledge of the brand.
Much better to accumulate the pieces that you love rather than the ones you hope will make money.
Brand new and mint condition, all watches start out as a blank slate. What charms most collectors, however, are the hints of a story on a classic piece. Scratches on cases, patina on dials or an elegantly faded bezel all point towards a full life, and no two are the same.
Every pre-owned watch has a unique character, and it is that aura of exclusivity that acts as the ultimate fascination.
There are also watches that have played vital roles in some of the most important moments in history. The Rolex Explorer was born of the summit of Everest. The venerable Speedy was the first to see the surface of the moon. Collecting these models and others, with such an irreplaceable pedigree, instills the sort of connection that cannot be achieved in any other way.
So, there are a bunch of reasons why people accrue watches. It is a hugely varied occupation and each collector has his or her own motives, but one shared by all is passion. There is no such thing as stoic indifference in the watch collecting community—for some it has gone beyond a fixation and become a way of life.
Perhaps the biggest certainty is, with the burgeoning community and the amount of information available at your fingertips, there has never been a better time to join the ranks.