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The Different Types of Watch Collecting: How to Justify and Structure Your Illness

When this illness starts, it begins with you buying pieces you think are really cool. Pieces that get your heart going. Pieces that you think about at night. After a few years of buying anything that catches your eye whilst gathering knowledge and appreciation for the humble time piece, you begin to identify and subsequently focus on what it is you really like. This is a gradual process over many years experimenting and exploring but I can confidently say that any serious watch guys have “a type”. This is demonstrated when you get to know dealers: They will see a watch and immediately go “so-and-so will like this”.

In this article I am going to talk about some of the “types” of watch collecting that may inspire you to look at your collection and think about ideally what you would like to focus on.

Collecting only vintage

The first two are very broad examples but it isn’t a cop out as I know many dealers who fall into this orientation. Many collectors, especially very passionate collectors and those traditionally trained in watch making, are strictly only interested in pieces from pre 1990s. This typically based on the appreciation for the traditionally smaller case sizes, the charm of naturally aged dials and/or the more classic design. Many purists, myself included, believe that most modern timepieces are far too big and soulless. The motivation to appeal to the masses has lead to an increase in popularity of big, bold, bulky timepieces that all look the same. This is obviously a massive generalization but… I get it. A prime example is our Friend John who runs Antiques Watches UK LTD in Farringdon. As well as a trained watch maker, John is a serious enthusiast who has said to me numerous times he has no interest at all in the modern watch industry.

A Rolex explorer ref. 16550 with heavily patina dial

Collecting only modern

In stark contrast to the previous heading, many collect only modern pieces. Here, I am not just referring to rappers and celebrities gluttonously purchasing anything big, gold and popular on Instagram in order to compete on the fashion contest that is social media. There are many serious and educated collectors who only collect modern timepieces and have no interest or appreciation for the pieces of yester year. This may be because they are more attracted to modern larger case sizes, more complicated and efficient movements, more adventurous and innovative use of materials and/or more bold and contemporary designs. There is definitely an argument to be had as who can honestly say they don’t have a soft-spot for a Richard Mille Yohan Blake or an Ademars Piguet Concept?

The AP Concept watch which essentially has a gear box enabling the user to switch between winding, changing the time and changing the date (Source: Hodinkee)

Collecting only one type of complication

Now this category can fall into either only modern, only vintage or someone who can appreciate both. I would say more uncommon than other types of collecting but definitely exists. Many serious and refined collectors identify what complication they like and focus on this only. Where across many brands or one brand in particular, some collectors may focus on only Chronograph watches, on GMT watches or more complicated and exclusives complications like Perpetual Calendar Chronographs or Minute-Repeaters etc etc

A 1950s Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater. In order to collect specifically Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater's you need a lot of capital.

Collecting only one or two brands

This is where I feel most very serious and accomplished collectors fall. The likes of Jason Singer, Jeff Stein and arguably Jean-Claude Biver are arguably perfect examples of this breed of collector. These are exceptionally knowledgeable and often the international reference point for the brands they collect. Jeff Stein is obviously strictly a Heuer collector, starting the website “On The Dash” dedicated to being a database for all things Heuer. Jason Singer Started out as being one of the most celebrated Rolex Bubble-back collectors in the world but is also revered for his collection of rare and complicated Patek Philippe famously having A SET of ref.2499 made for him… Jean-Claude Biver, most famous for being the President the LVMH watch division (Tag Heuer, Hublot and Zenith), has had a long career in watches. Notably he purchased a long forgotten watch brand called Blancpain before selling them on as a successful Haute-Horology brand as well as being the CEO of AP and Omega. Although, currently the enigmatic president of LVMH watches he is well known as a serious Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. In possession of predominantly vintage complicated pieces from both houses, he owns some of the rarest and most important pieces from both brands of the last century. This style of collecting is popular as many begin to identify with and commit to one brand. Focusing on a few brands allows you to really develop your expert knowledge and appreciation for the pieces as you can see the wood from the trees as it were.

Jason singer and his vast and impressively detailed collection of Rolex Bubble-Backs and complicated Patek Philippe and Rolex (Source: Hodinkee)

Collecting only one model within one brand

As the section before, this is another popular type of collecting. Going a step further than the type of collecting above, focusing on one model within one or more brand really allows you to focus and acquire a lot the knowledge. Common collections are those specializing in Omega Speedmasters, Rolex Submariners, Rolex Daytonas or Heuer Carreras. A good example of this type of collector is Morgan King who apart from some submariners, collects predominately rare Rolex Daytonas and Heuer Monacos.

Morgan King showing Ben Clymer of Shmoshminky a Heuer Monaco and a Rolex Paulnewman (Source: Hodinkee)

Collecting only one genre

This type of collecting in my opinion is quite restrictive and prevents one from enjoying the variety of styles on offer. However, some collectors choose to specialize in one genre. Most popular, are those who collect only military watches. A good example is Crispin Jones, the CEO of the British watchmakers Mr Jones Watches. After meeting with him in his workshop, we got talking about watches, shock. He showed us a very accomplished collection of military watches consisting of pieces from English watchmakers and “The Dirty Dozen” collection.

A great example of Buren WW2 commissioned watch - One of the dirty dozen models (Source: Antique Watches UK LTD)

Another example is Roni Madhavani. A collector known for his collection focused on dress watches, he has some of the most rare and important dress watches from Patek Philippe and Cartier including a unique Cartier designed in partnership with him and a Patek Philippe ref.5004.

A final example is Grahame Fowler, who collects Rolex “Mil-subs”. Focusing all of his time on such a small selection means that he has been able to become one of the scholar and expert in that particular segment in Rolex’s acclaimed heritage.

Roni Madhasi's piece unique Cartier (Source: Hodinkee)

My Collecting Goals

I myself would argue a part of me is currently a Seiko and Omega collector for these exact reasons: I identified with Omegas no-bullshit approach to technical and mechanical excellent without all shallow and soulless marketing and brand positioning. Furthermore, I have grown to really appreciate Seiko’s value as a brand that greatly exceeded their underappreciated underdog status by just quietly and continuously making outstanding watches that far surpass their price bracket.

A beautiful example of a 1950s Omega Seamaster I used to own (Source: Me)

Another avenue to my collecting up until now is collecting pieces from each decade that I feel are archetypical of that period in an attempt to have a collection that demonstrates faithfully the evolution in watch design over the last decade. Therefore, I am focusing all my hunts currently on the best examples of a period piece, as it were, in the best condition I can find. Finding vintage pieces in a condition as close to the condition they came into this world is the goal as it acts as a time capsule, giving a true testament to watchmaking of that er. As a result, i have a near NOS condition Omega Chronostop from 1967. To me encapsulating 1970s watch design with its contemporary case and mesh bracelet design and electric orange second hand. I do possess other pieces from the 40s and 70s but these aren’t mint condition pieces that are necessarily Archetypical design from that era. This is something I shall continue to build on. It’s good to have goals and direction to justify this illness as artistic…

Calum Moore

Editor and Co-Founder

The Young Horologist

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