A Private Collector on What to Know Before Purchasing a Watch

We sat down with an anonymous collector and career-long member of the watch industry to hear how he first got interested in watches at the age of eight, his take on the increased accessibility of the watch world, and a few insider tips on how to go about purchasing your first watch. 

Photo credit: Nomos Glashütte

Photo credit: Nomos Glashütte

First, can we touch on your choice to be anonymous in this story? 

A lot of collectors will ask to be anonymous for security reasons, or because their collections are very personal to them. While I understand that sentiment, my collection is sadly not big enough to make me worried about security if I were to not be anonymous – it’s more because I’ve worked in the industry for different watch brands for years now, and I want to express my own personal taste which reaches beyond those brands. 

Fair, and looking forward to all your brand loyalties. Why don't we start with your first watch? Did you wear a watch as a kid?

Yes, I did. It was a digital Casio, in 1982. I was maybe eight years old. I just remember being immediately hooked and almost obsessed with the notion of time – recording time, looking at time. It had a digital stop watch, it had a digital countdown timer, it had an alarm on it, it had a light on it – which as an eight-year-old felt really novel. I remember that I did not take that thing off – ever. I would sleep with the watch, I would shower with the watch, I would go swimming with the watch. 

And how about your first watch as an adult? 

That was a Tag Heuer Formula 1, which they discontinued but actually recently brought back. This one also had a rubber strap, it had luminous hands, a black dial. I wore it nonstop as well, until I lost it in the ocean in 2001. I still have the box and all the paperwork for that watch actually. 

Tag Heuer Formula 1 advertisement circa 1992

Tag Heuer Formula 1 advertisement circa 1992

 How has your taste changed over time? Both of these watches are pretty sporty styles, whereas I see you as a classic watch guy or a dress watch guy – is that accurate?

You’re right, I definitely gravitate towards more dress and classic styles. I think there’s absolutely a place for sport watches  – nothing better than a good sport style on the weekend with a sweater and jeans – but I’ve gravitated to watches that I can wear to work. If you’re investing in just one piece, I would urge you to look at pieces you will get the most wear out of, something that fits your lifestyle – not those that will sit in the box Monday through Friday. 

Do you have a dream watch?

I really want a Vacheron Constantin Overseas. Man, I didn’t hesitate at all on that one. That’s one of the things I’ve been contemplating the last few years. The other watch I’ve been contemplating and doing a lot of research on – is a Rolex GMT Master II with a Pepsi bezel. I don’t have much color in my collection, so this blue and red bezel with the black dial will be so different. I’m that guy who does like 600 hours of research before buying anything – so I’ve thought about these watches a lot.

How do you think the watch industry has changed in the last twenty years in terms of accessibility? 

The change is a sort of both a beauty and a curse. When I first started getting into watches, information was much less available. It was sort of like this secret network of people and resources and books you had to get from the library, or from a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. So, it was a lot more of a secret world in terms of research and access to prices and information on the quality of products, but the internet has really changed the game. It’s had a lot of positive impacts – a lot more people can get into it, but at the same time, a lot more people getting into anything can lead to people getting taken advantage of.

What resources have come around in recent years that you think are really helpful for new buyers?

There are so many resources out there – from the names that everyone knows, like Hodinkee and A Blog to Watch, but also the discussion boards. For example, on sites like TimeZone –  there are discussions with both collectors and people who are just getting into it – those are also really helpful. There is just a lot of sharing of knowledge and passion – the ability to share that passion with a wider audience has definitely been a boom to the overall marketplace.

If someone is going to buy a vintage watch, what are a few places you would suggest they look?

There’s a newfound ability for consumers to buy, sell, and trade watches online in a controlled, safe, and reputable environment online – many of these sites are very digestible for first time buyers. Whether that’s Crown & Caliber, WatchBox, Watchfinder, & Co., or The Real Real. I had a great conversation a week ago with someone at Crown & Caliber – he wasn’t trying to sell me anything he was just trying to educate me. I mean, hopefully you are going to transact at some point, but it’s not so in your face, it’s much more about sharing a passion and knowledge. 

The one other place I’ll look is the auction houses – whether you’re talking about Phillips or Christie’s or Sotheby’s – they aren’t only focusing on the 17 million-dollar Rolex Paul Newman but also on the more day to day. I think sometimes people forget about that. 

Any tips for someone looking to purchase a new watch?

I think the first thing is it’s important to do your research – to be informed about everything is out there so you can decide what you like and what you don’t like so you can at least have a sense of where your taste lies before anything else. Then, the next question is, are you working with somebody reputable? Are you looking at purchasing from a knowledgeable authorized dealer?

How do you think a first time buyer should approach the price question? Of course that's deeply personal, but I'm curious to hear how you much of an investment you consider is reasonable for a first watch.

There is a misconception that people have when it comes to buying a ‘nice watch.' You do not need to spend a ton of money to get something good. And the truth of the matter is you can get a really nice piece under $5,000 or even $3,000 dollars with brands like Omega, Cartier, Breitling, Longines – brands that have tremendous histories and reliability. Nomos Glashütte is another one that is very popular under $3,000, especially with younger clients. You can always trade in and you can always trade up, but you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s like buying a nice car – you don’t need to buy a Ferrari, because the truth of the matter is you aren’t going to actually appreciate what makes it a Ferrari.