Tale of A Relentless CollectorBy Wei Koh
As a consummate, habitual and unapologetic collector of things, there are two phases of any journey that I find the most enthralling. The first is the gaining of knowledge. To evolve from neophyte to some form of connoisseurship is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences anyone can achieve in life. Why? Because learning is the most democratic and merit-based process in the world. The information is all out there — sometimes right in front of you; other times lurking on the outer perimeter of the internet and embedded in the universe of social media, hundreds of posts down on the most obscure of pages. And then, almost by magic, through the osmosis that occurs as you see an infinite variety of a given object, you begin to learn. And so, you go from relative obliviousness to obtaining a deep, profound and meaningful appreciation of details and nuances that make all the difference in terms of rarity, collectability and value. But if the gathering of knowledge is meaningful, it is the second phase — the hunt, or the chase — that is the most viscerally exciting, and where eBay has changed my life.
I would go so far as to say that I’ve found eBay to be an indispensable tool as singularly game-changing as Prometheus bestowing fire to man and heralding the advent of civilization. Think I’m being hyperbolic? Let’s flashback to the mid-1990s when I had just finished a one-year stint working on a cattle ranch in Montana. Having saved my meager ranch hand pay, I was on a mission to purchase the car of my dreams, which I was going to drive together with the woman I was in love with across the many highways that bisect America like tributaries leading to the ocean, in the style of a Bon Jovi video. Cool, right?
For whatever reason, I have always loved American muscle cars. And in the context of the time, they still hadn’t exploded in value and were still relatively affordable. I had researched them all: the Oldsmobile 442, of which I was particularly enamored with the W-30 option package with its Ram Air hood; the Pontiac GTO, in particular the 1970 Judge trim; the Buick GNX; the Plymouth Barracuda (at the time these already cost significant money, especially the Hemi models). But eventually, the reality of my budget made me focus on the Camaro. At the time, first-generation Camaros had risen considerably in value, so my dream of a 1969 L79 396 four-speed car was unrealistic. However, what was interesting was that the second generation of 1970 ½ Camaros were still relatively inexpensive. Even better, the engine that I wanted — the 396-cubic-inch, 375-horsepower motor was available in the 1970 model year. And so, I launched into my search. (I would later discover that only 600 of these were made in 1970, making them very rare.) OK, let’s pause here for a second to understand how much difference a decade has made.
If I wanted to undertake the search for the Camaro 10 years later in 2006, I would know exactly where to look — eBay Motors was launched in 2000 and it rapidly grew to become the greatest, most practical marketplace for any kind of vehicle, in particular relatively obscure muscle and sports cars. By 2006, eBay Motors had sold its two millionth vehicle and that same year sold a USD168 million gigayacht on its platform. The efficiency and speed with which you could narrow down your search and rapidly scroll through available cars was simply mind-blowing. I actually use eBay Motors as a form of relaxation or entertainment. So if I want to check the market prices of air-cooled Porsche 993 Turbo S’s, 1969 Norton Commando S high-pipe bikes, or vintage Cazal 916 MC Hammer-style sunglasses, eBay is where I go. But back in the pre-eBay era, finding a vehicle was a process that could only be described as excruciatingly arduous.
I sometimes tell young people that before the advent of the internet, there was something called the Dewey Decimal System, which was the way information was stored. So, if you wanted to look up a fact on, say, vintage Camaros or existentialism, you would go to your local library and find the books or, even worse, pieces of microfiche with images of newspaper or scientific journal articles. When I explain this to young people, they often look at me with a perplexed expression, sometimes even putting a swirling index finger to their temple — a universal sign that they believe me to be “loco”. And if you are similarly pantomiming that you think I am cray-cray, I kid you not: this was the reality back in the day.
Writing a single research paper was a painful process; we had to schlep to the card catalog and then the library stacks to comb through the relevant book to find the right page and paragraph — all to check a fact that today would take a millisecond to do through an online search. I am not exaggerating when I say that I would rather have toothpicks slowly pounded beneath my fingernails with 98 Degrees’s greatest hits playing endlessly on loop, than have to go back into time and relive the terror and agony of the Dewey Decimal System.
Similarly, searching for the muscle car of your dreams in the pre-internet era was a long, arduous process. First, you would have had to buy newspapers and periodicals related to cars, which for me entailed a five-hour round trip drive to the nearest city from the ranch. Then you would have had to scrutinize the tiny font of said newspapers and periodicals in an effort to find what you were looking for, which was essentially like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Invariably, you would need to compromise as I did, because the likelihood of you stumbling across the precise model you were looking for, was all but impossible. Then you would have to telephone the person selling said vehicle to learn more about it, and if you were lucky, you would have a grainy image the size of a postage stamp for visual reference. The search for my car took months. And even then, I ended up with a lime-green Camaro SS-350 instead of a murdered-out black-on-black SS-396 L78. However, I have promised to treat myself to this exact car one day, and when I finally begin the search for that car, it will be eBay motors I turn to.
eBay has also been instrumental in feeding the obsession that has occupied every waking —and many sleeping — moments of the last two decades of my life: the incredible world where science meets magic, known as mechanical watches. In fact, it was eBay that allowed me to purchase my very first significant timepiece in my new career as a watch journalist in the early part of the millennium. When I was headed to my first Basel Watch Fair, I wanted to demonstrate the sincerity of my love for horology by wearing a real watch and had my heart set on acquiring a Panerai for the purpose — specifically, the PAM 61 titanium manual-winding model with a brown alligator strap. By that time, eBay was on fire, having become, in my opinion, the single greatest aggregator for timepieces of every kind in the world. In the context of 2003, just a few years after having to scour obscure newspapers and go cross-eyed trying to read minute text, in contrast now all I had to do was type “Panerai PAM 61” into the eBay search bar, and boom: I’m immediately shown a list of relevant watches sold by both dealers and private individuals, and there was a fair and democratic rating system applied to both. So relatively quickly, I found a watch in excellent condition sold by someone located in Zurich who had super positive reviews. So, I paid for the watch and, since my flight landed in Zurich, picked it up en route to Basel.
Even after 20 years, eBay is still one of my primary tools for sourcing watches. One thing that it has over other platforms is that you can genuinely find pretty amazing watches at appealing prices if you know what you are looking for. Also, because of the auction format that sellers can select, you can often get good deals if you are alert and quick enough. Of the various timepieces I’ve purchased off the ’Bay, one of my favorites is the two-tone Ebel 1911 BTR on a “wave” bracelet. What am I talking about? OK, in order to understand the appeal of this watch, we need to go back to 1984, when one of the most seminal influences on my 14-year-old mind exploded off my television screen in iridescent multicolored glory: the television program Miami Vice. Its ultra-louche ironically-’80s style set the trend for every young man in the world to want to dress like the linen-suited, rolled-sleeved, pastel T-shirt- and huarache-sandal-wearing, Ferrari-driving panjandrum of style known as Sonny Crockett. Played by Don Johnson in the defining role of his life, the undercover vice cop completed his incomparably dégagé style with two watches. The first was a Rolex Day-Date, which turned out to be fake, but the second was an inspired choice: an Ebel Sport Classic chronograph complete with a 5Hz Zenith El Primero movement on a “wave” bracelet. This magnificent timepiece, like Crockett’s white Ferrari Testarossa, was seared indelibly into my teenage consciousness and became a life-long obsession. But this watch proved to be an elusive beast. Most of the El Primero-driven Ebel chronographs are fitted with a chunkier bracelet, but for me, the incredible beauty of this obscure watch was only truly fulfilled with the distinct curves of the “wave” bracelet. The harder the Sonny Crockett Ebel was to find, the more I uncontrollably desired it. I checked eBay religiously, spending my hour winding down from work every Friday evening with a Negroni in hand, on the cyber prowl for the object of my unrequited love — until one day, there it was in full yellow gold staring back at me from my laptop screen. It was, of all places, in Miami, Florida. I stabbed the “Buy it Now” option, and one week later, the watch was sitting on my wrist as I blasted Phil Collins through my headphones and reveled in the fulfillment of my childhood glory.
But as good as eBay Watches has been to me in the past, the service it offers today is light years ahead of where it started. The biggest evolution relates to eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee, which is a free service for all watches over $2,000. How it works is that when you buy a watch, it is sent from the seller to a well-known third-party service center where the watch is checked inside and out for function and authenticity, while your payment is kept in a form of protected escrow. Should there be any issue with the watch, you will immediately be refunded. This is huge for eBay, which has sold over 200,000 luxury watches in 2020.
eBay’s General Manager of luxury, Tirath Kamdar, explains: “As more consumers diversify their investment opportunities by leveraging deep personal passions in high value collectibles, eBay continues to expand its platform offerings to streamline the user experience. eBay’s offerings accommodate our buying and selling communities by addressing a variety of expected assurances when it comes to high value purchases like watches. Authenticity Guarantee for watches above $2,000 provides an additional level of trust to a high value purchase on eBay, so customers can not only invest in a timepiece that resonates with a personal passion, but feel confident that its authenticity has been vetted and verified by independent experts.”
I’ve mentioned that the great thing about collecting watches is that there are two major parts to it: the acquisition of knowledge, and the hunt. You can now add a third: the seamless, foolproof, effortless and totally protected acquisition of watches, thanks to eBay’s game-changing Authenticity Guaranteed initiative.