When we collect something, we go through several stages as we better understand the subject of our collection and that we meet people who are into the same type of collecting. This article is about my personal journey collecting watches, where I started, where I am now, and where I hope to be in the not-so-distant future. More than talking about which watches I’ve acquired—I do stick to affordable ones—it is more about the evolution of the way I see watches and my relationship to them and how it has affected which ones I buy.
As many people have, I started collecting watches unknowingly when I was young. My parents had gifted me a digital Casio F91W and then a Swatch of some sort. I don’t remember which one it was exactly, but what is important is that I have been wearing watches for the better part of my life. Wearing a watch has always been synonymous with daily routine: I take a shower, put my clothes on, and strap a watch on my wrist; whether I was 10 or 38 years old. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I started caring about watches, or should I say, to be curious about them. I didn’t buy my first watch until I was 24 years old; a Skagen which I paid $150 for at New York City’s iconic Macy’s store.
The Skagen was a cool watch: it was thin, it had a quartz movement (I felt indifferent about quartz movements), and it had three sub-registers: one for the day, one for the date, and one for the month. I felt fancy wearing that watch working my first job in a warehouse. This Skagen was the only watch I had and wore until I inherited my father’s Breathing Navitimer when he passed away several years later. I didn’t know anything about mechanical watches back then; I only knew Breitling was a good brand, alongside Rolex. So I basically only knew of two brands.
Getting the Breitling prompted me to read up about this model and mechanical watches. Although I didn’t know it back then, the watch collecting bug had started the moment I inherited the watch. The more I read about watches the more I wanted to find the right one for me. I felt that wearing a Navitimer at age 26 was too fancy, especially for a student (I went back to grad school after my first job.) So I set the watch aside for a while until I could find a watch that better fit my personality and budget: a Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical.
The rest is history.
Watches Then and Now
When I bought the Skagen in New York City, I was looking for a souvenir to bring back from my trip rather than wanting to buy a specific watch. Although I did care about watches, I used to see them more as the tool that helped me be on time for work or to meet friends (I did have a cell phone but didn’t use it for timekeeping.) I liked the aesthetic of the Skagen and felt it looked good on my wrist. It wasn’t until I inherited the Navitimer that I started to see watches as tools that have history and a soul. It is by reading about the Navitimer and then the Submariner and Explorer 1, that I started to get drawn to specific watches because of who they were made for.
I think it’s fair to say that many of us got into watch collecting because watches mean something to us. We read up about the history of a brand, its accomplishments, and we start connecting with the watches and the brand, to their history. The best example I can think of is the Rolex Explorer 1 and the ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzig Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. It’s one of these stories that made me think “I want to be an explorer” and then followed that sentiment with “I need the appropriate watch for that.” That’s when watches became more than an accessory or jewelry.
That’s basically when I started to be more deliberate about buying watches so that each one I would buy means something special to me. In a previous article, I discussed the meaning of watches for watch collectors. Watches are to me a talisman that help me become a different and better version of myself. So I buy watches that help me achieve this goal. For example, buying the Hamilton Khaki was a way to say “I’m an explorer” to the world since I wore this watch while working a museum job in Washington, D.C. (a city that is the antonym of adventure.)
Further down the line, I started buying divers because I have always had an affinity for the ocean. I imagined myself becoming a diver and needed a dive watch. I eventually became a certified recreational diver and therefore bought myself a couple of dive watches. It signaled to anyone who cares about watches that I enjoy underwater exploration—in addition to desk diving. Now I'm at a different stage of my professional life (I run my own watch magazine) and I gravitate more toward everyday watches.
That’s how watch collecting has been evolving for me.
In the introduction I mentioned the fact that I own affordable watches. The most I’ve spent on a watch thus far is $1,300. That was a lot of money for me. And that’s all I have ever spent on a watch because it’s all I can afford. I have become a specialist of independent brands because I believe they offer great value. However, my grail watch has always been any version of the Rolex Explorer 1 like this one. To me, the Explorer 1 is the epitome of debonair explorers who I identify with. My next step, therefore, is to save up and one day buy my grail watch and make it my everyday wear. Another element of my watch collecting which is very personal is that I have always been looking for that one-watch collection timepiece.
Owning only one watch is a very romantic idea. It makes me think of Ian Fleming sitting down in front of his typewriter, imagining the adventures of one James Bond. This idea of owning only one watch—but a good one—keeps coming back to me each time I meet an older gentleman who has been wearing the same timepiece for several decades. For example, one day I met a retired Army Colonel in Tucson, Arizona, who was wearing a 1970s GMT Master. A quick look at the watch and I could tell the two have gone on a lot of adventures together: it was heavily scratched, the bracelet needed some deep cleaning. But he wore it with pride and joy.
That’s the kind of collector I want to be in the future: owning one very good watch and wearing it all the time, everywhere.
Watch collecting is a very personal experience and our journeys are equally unique. We each go through this process in different ways, at different times of our lives, and we have different goals. Some of you may be collecting Rolexes only, or only own one watch while enjoying reading articles about other brands. You may be wearing your watches for special occasions only or everyday. I would love to hear your story!
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