Natural Born Kessler: Watch Collecting

As would be the norm, any writing that appears in watch magazines or on watch sites would come from those who lust after new pieces for their own collections. Such interest is all-consuming, and the way to express it, unless blessed with the skills of a watchmaker, is to own, wear and enjoy as many watches as seems fit.

It’s a natural extension of our innate acquisitiveness, and easier to satisfy than, say, a burning urge to own multiple Bugattis, verticals of Romanée Conti or a wall full of Picassos. Watches take up little space (save for those farcically huge boxes that are a mandatory part of the experience) and you can, if on a budget, focus on affordable pieces from Swatch, Seiko or Tissot or anything else within your means.

Conversely, how often do you hear from a watch enthusiast who is either 1) happy with his or her lot and wants no more, or 2) is actually reducing his or her collection? Food for thought, eh?Trust me: you will one day experience either condition, when you find yourself looking at a multitude of watches that you never wear, or, worse, realise that the end is nigh. The best definition of an optimist, to me, is a nonagenarian buying either a case of young Bordeaux or a new wristwatch.

Recently, a friend of mine sold off around 20 watches, from Zeniths to Omegas, to buy his “bucket list” watch, a grand complication that the sale of those watches subsidised. A collector for over 30 years, he has kept around a half-dozen favourites, and I’ve never seen him happier. Then again, not one of his remaining timepieces is a pup, and I haven’t heard him issue even the smallest sigh of desire to acquire any other watches.

Conversely, I hear from time to time of collectors, primarily in Asia, with anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 watches. As one who’s LP and book collections long ago passed the point where I will live long enough to read every title or enjoy every album, I understand the drive to own in excess of what one can use. But books and records, if stored properly, can sit for decades. Watches need to be worn.

Let’s skip all those platitudes about “Stop and smell the roses/coffee” or “Live within your means.” Let’s put a lid, too, on the notion of “watches as investments”, as those days are long over unless you don’t mind buying Paul Newmans for £500,000 and selling them for £500,001. Instead, follow this adage if you have watch lust of an incurable nature.

If you don’t absolutely love a watch, if you have no intention of wearing it – and often – and if you even let the word “depreciation” enter your consciousness, don’t buy it. On the other hand, if a watch grabs you so much that you lie awake thinking about it, and you can afford it, go for it. But always exercise restraint. Here’s why:

This is a true story, about a friend from Singapore who collects on an epic scale. He was one of the first to buy the reissued Panerai Egiziano PAM 341, the 60mm beastie. Like many others who succumbed to the lure, he quickly found it unwearable because he does not have Stallone-sized wrists. Within six months, he was so furious with it that he sold it. To this day, he won’t tell me how much he lost on the deal.

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