The Tribes: Which Kind Of Watch Guy Are You?
Why did you choose that watch? Don’t say, “To tell the time.” Of course it does, and pretty well, too. But we know that if you’ve entered the world of luxury watches, there’s more to this game than timekeeping. A better question is: what kind of watch collector are you? Maybe the type who blanches at being considered a “collector”, but anything more than two watches is well on its way to becoming a collection, whether you mean it to be or not. And, once a man is bitten by the watch bug, it is a racing certainty that he will develop a certain collecting personality. Are you buying with the head or the heart? Or with one eye on a future return? Homing in on a certain niche or committed to a particular genre? We have profiled the five (fairly extreme) examples of watch collector known to science (OK, known to anyone who spends too long on Instagram). If you’re a watch devotee who’s managed to avoid becoming any of these, do let us know how.
Within chronometer-certified seconds of anyone noticing his watch in a social setting, the investor will have launched into a tedious spiel about the current market rate (complete with accompanying spreadsheet indicating YoY ROI) of the hype-piece on his wrist. If it even makes it to his wrist. He wouldn’t dare risk depreciating his prize assets by doing anything so unbelievably stupid as wearing them. Gloves on, a quick peek inside the box and it’s straight into the climate-controlled safe. He has the remarkable ability to rationalise a six-figure price tag paid for a time-only steel sports watch while simultaneously criticising anyone else for paying sticker price for a watch they bought because they actually like it. And while it quickly becomes clear that he’s not sure how the chronograph works or what made the watch so cool in the first place, he’s a big fan. So much so that he’s tucked another three factory-fresh examples away in the bank. Sure, he might have remortgaged the house and put the kids’ college fund on the line, but his collection is a sure thing. Just don’t burst his bubble.
The big game hunter
Getting hold of the latest stainless-steel Rolex at retail price? Not a problem. The hottest new Patek Philippe or the latest limited-edition collab? Trickier, but achievable. For the big game hunter, the thrill of watches is all in the chase. This is why his targets are a hit-list of incredibly low-production gem-set pieces and rare platinum creations from coveted independent watchmakers. How does he do it? By spending all hours of the day and night WhatsApping with personal shoppers and private dealers around the world, furiously Instagramming watch-brand CEOs and regularly buying watches from every major brand just to make sure he’s front of the queue with a credible purchase history for when the big one comes in. Some say he maintains a network of multiple identities that would make the KGB blush simply to fill out the waiting list at different brands. Others claim he’s spent thousands on the dark web trying to buy Mr Richard Mille’s private contact details. Whatever the truth, we know that at the first Instagram sight of an unannounced regional edition – maybe with a gradient dial, California numerals and Japanese date disc – he will be in a car to the airport, booking the next flight to Tokyo. And while he wears his hard-earned treasures, his real joy comes from simply owning them. He’s got to catch them all.
It isn’t just watches that make the historian tick – it’s the details and the paraphernalia that surround them. The historian has found a niche and dug in deep. He might be fascinated with mid-century Jaeger-LeCoultre or Mr Andrew Grima’s designs for Omega. Maybe it’s Grand Seiko between 1960 and 1969 or co-branded Heuer sports timers. The object of obsession doesn’t matter so much as the obsession itself. Yes, the historian has the watches, but he’s also got the boxes, papers and auction catalogues to go with them, not to mention the original velvet-lined display cabinet from the boutique, a mint-condition menu from the IWC staff canteen, dated 3 October 1991, and weirdly, four pairs of Mr Gérald Genta’s shoes. His laser-like focus on obscure horological knowledge might not make him the ideal dinner party companion, but he’s the only man in the world who knows how a co-axial escapement works and will reply within minutes if you ever need to find your way around Swedish auction sites or find a 1972 sales receipt from a long-defunct jewellery store. In Phnom Penh. Fair warning, if you ever get to that point – it’s probably time you realised that you are the historian, too.
The weekend warrior
With a case as tough – and as brawny – as the glistening bicep of a 1980s action star, it’s not hard to spot the weekend warrior’s watch, made from “ballistic” or “aerospace” materials and bristling with super-powered specs. The fact that his oversized diver is worth more than the annual salary of even the most special of forces is beside the point. It’s made to handle the rigours of Navy Seal training, man, and lines up next to the “Who Dares Wins” tattoo. He’s a bit too comfortable with the phrase “everyday carry” and subscribes to at least two magazines about knives. Never mind the fact that the most action the watch has seen is a particularly rowdy evening at the local and the closest the Weekend Warrior got to BUD/S training is Airsoft at a corporate retreat, that hasn’t stopped him from living his best John Rambo life with a custom watch strap made from genuine military surplus materials and a subscription to Mr Jocko Willink’s podcast. Just hope it’s resistant to spray tan as well as swamp water.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, for the aesthete, that’s all that matters. Brand pedigree, precision and everything else play second fiddle to how the watch looks on the wrist. And, oh boy, does the aesthete work some serious looks. One day you’ll find him in a cheap and excessively cheerful Swatch, the next, an unbelievably chic Cartier. Of course, this approach isn’t limited to his watch. He’s never knowingly attired in fewer than six visible colours and patterns and his daily driver is an oddball epitome of style over substance (and practicality) – a VW Kharman Ghia, perhaps, or an Aston Martin Cygnet. He delights in the most outré combinations made possible by Bamford Watch Department. His collection – not that he would call it that – is a Pantone board, unabashedly fun and undoubtedly fearless. And while the aesthete’s irreverent approach to watches might seem superficial, his magpie-like habits are quite pure. And that’s because the aesthete isn’t buying to impress or flex. He’s buying what he thinks looks good.
Illustration by Mr Pete Gamlen