On My Watch Vol 03: Tales From Three Seasoned Watch Collectors
Welcome back to On My Watch, the series where we get watch collectors to give us the unvarnished truth about their pursuit of all things horological. We’ve heard from vintage dealers, authors and industry experts in volume one and volume two, which are well worth going back to if you missed them. Now, for the third instalment, we are joined by three more men with a huge amount of collecting experience between them. Mr Roni Madhvani is perhaps the best example I know of someone who follows entirely his own path, and has an incredible collection of watches that you just don’t see elsewhere as a result. Mr Eric Ku recently launched auction platform Loupe This, showcasing a terrific eye for connoisseur-grade watches, and last but not least we have Mr Justin Hast, who is rapidly becoming one of the most eclectic young collectors out there.
What was your first watch? Do you still have it?
Mr Justin Hast: My first watch was the one I inherited from my dad, a late 1960s gold Omega Constellation Day-Date. It belonged to his father, who I never had the opportunity to meet – this watch is the only link I have. By all accounts, when he brought it in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was a huge investment for him and he wore it all his life.
Mr Roni Madhvani: It was a Baume & Mercier chrono bought while I was at university. It cost £500 and I must have visited the showroom more than a dozen times before deciding to buy it. Saving up for it took another eight months.
Mr Eric Ku: My first watch was a black Swatch Scuba that my mother bought me when I was 10 or 11. I still have it, complete with the original clamshell box. My first “nice watch” was an Omega Speedmaster Automatic, which I bought new when I was in college for around $1,000.
What was the last watch you bought?
Madhvani: A very rare mid-century Patek Philippe I came across after someone on Instagram sent me a message that he saw it in his small town somewhere in Europe.
Ku: A Cartier Cloche, the asymmetric shape that was re-released in 2021.
Hast: It was a Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 in yellow gold. I’d long been hooked on the design and knew one day I’d be able to jump on one. And that time came in the build-up to my wedding. If there was ever an opportunity it was now, I told/sold myself. The more I’ve learnt about it, the more I’ve loved it.
“At the cost of sounding like a weirdo, the watches I’ve collected are more than just watches for me; I have a close bond with many of them”
What’s your holy grail?
Hast: It changes every day. Right now it’s a dual grail combo: a Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain in white gold and a Ressence Type 5.
Madhvani: There are just too many. I could narrow it down to half a dozen, perhaps. A Patek Philippe reference 3974 with black dial and Breguet numbers, a two-hand Patek 2597, the missing reference 3413 Patek Gilbert Albert, the rare lume dial Patek 3417… The list goes on.
Ku: Top of my list would be another Cartier – the Cartier “Cheich”. This is an exceptionally rare watch, made for two-time winners of the Paris-Dakar rally. It’s an ornate design with a sort of woven-gold case around a shield-shaped dial. Only two were ever given out.
What’s the one watch you’d save from a fire?
Hast: My IWC Top Gun Chronograph with green fabric strap – there are just so many great memories attached to it.
Ku: If I could only choose one, that would be my first Rolex: an Air-King with blue explorer-style dial I bought brand new in 1999.
Madhvani: Again, I’d have to have a few dozen. At the cost of sounding like a bit of a weirdo, the watches I’ve collected are more than just watches for me; I have a close bond with many of them.
Do you have a “one that got away”? Or a watch you regret selling?
Ku: I don’t regret much, but once I was negotiating to buy a unique Rolex Daytona with a rainbow gem-set bezel (it was a Zenith movement that was not well-known, from around 25 years ago). We were $10k away on the price and I lost the watch. About seven years later, I finally bought it, but it cost me nearly eight times more.
Madhvani: There was a lovely 1950s Vacheron Constantin enamel dial of Melusine – a mythological spirit creature that looks a bit like the Starbucks logo – that a dealer offered. I declined and he consigned it to auction where it went for crazy money. It’s unlikely to ever appear again and if it did, it would be beyond my reach. I regret selling this lovely 1930s Rolex Prince Brancard Jump Hour in stainless steel that was even featured in a Rolex coffee-table book. It went on to be sold for three times what I sold it for – but more than that, I regret I sold it at all. There are many others; unfortunately I can’t afford to hold on to everything.
Hast: I do. It was a Rolex Asprey-signed pocket watch in 9ct gold, with an outrageously sexy sector dial. I needed the cash and sold it to a friend. Now the bugger won’t sell it back to me! You know who you are…
Have you ever paid too much for a watch, or snapped up a total bargain?
Madhvani: It’s a dilemma we all face. Fortunately, in hindsight, it isn’t an issue as the value of vintage watches has appreciated. I’ve been blessed with a few bargains, too. I think when you buy where your heart takes you and not the trendy, in-demand watches where the sheep are all grazing, you can find lovely watches at fair prices.
Hast: I have paid too much and I’m OK with it because watches speak to the heart, not the head. I still have it and wear the hell out of it. When it comes to bargains, I have a particular passion for pocket watches and travel clocks. To me, paying a couple of hundred quid for a beautiful Jaeger-LeCoultre travel clock in a leather case, still smelling of the jet-set era, is wild value.
Ku: Paying too much for something only hurts that moment you send the wire or swipe your credit card. If it’s something good the value will always catch up. On the flip side, I wasn’t the guy who got the deal, but you may recall a story where someone bought a vintage JLC Deep-Sea Alarm for $5.99 at a Goodwill store in the US. I ended up with the watch, but paid a lot more than $5.99.
Have you ever lost a watch? Did you get it back?
Hast: I have. It was horrible. I had a bag stolen from a rental car, and I’ve tracked the marketplace ever since to find it – with no luck.
Madhvani: I had one stolen from a hotel room. Fortunately, it wasn’t one that had a deep meaning and it was insured.
Ku: I’ve lost a few watches in my day, but they inevitably show up when you least expect them to.
“When Shackleton and his crew shed all of their excess kit, he threw away his gold watch. I’d wear that beauty every day if I could”
Do you collect anything other than watches?
Madhvani: Too many things. These include Art Deco bronzes by Maurice Prost and Raymond Delamerre, and works by Edgar Brandt. French car mascots or hood ornaments from the 1920s and 1930s. Indian Maharaja items such as photo frames and pocket watches with their enamel portraits. Indian and African contemporary art and so much more.
Hast: I used to collect Roman coins, with the ambition of owning each emperor. But these days I love collecting coffee-table books and mid-century furniture. I love minimalism and interior design (John Pawson is an inspiration). I’m hunting down a few Hans J Wegner designs as we speak.
Ku: During Covid, I started collecting sports cards again, something that was a big part of my childhood.
If you could own any watch with legendary provenance, what would it be?
Madhvani: One owned by Gandhi would be cool.
Ku: In terms of historical watches, I would lust for James Bond’s Rolex 6538 Big Crown Submariner.
Hast: I’ve recently been reading about [Ernest] Shackleton and his Endurance expedition. When he and his crew shed all of their excess kit ahead of their epic journey to Elephant Island, he threw away his gold watch. I’d wear that beauty every day if I could.