Monday, May 10, 2021

What is watch collecting, and why should you take it seriously?

Every year or so, this topic is revisited for the benefit of newly joined subscribers and I volunteer to offer my take on this rather complex subject. Why should you listen to me? Because I've been around for 57 years and I guess, it would be fair to say that I do know a thing or two about watch collecting. I bought my first collectable pocket watch 47 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday: a humble open face 1950s porcelain dial Omega. It was acquired from a school friend for 50 Deutschmark. No doubt the seller was impressed, so the following week he had one more Omega pocket watch for me. Same price, but with a broken balance staff.

My dad was not impressed at all. Unlike my grandfather, dad was always a simple man: no big plans, no worries, easy life. "Watches are to be repaired, not collected".  I hate to admit, back then, he was right. Because I was doing it wrong, committing two cardinal sins of watch collecting:  buying without research and overspending like there is no tomorrow. Fellow subscriber, learn from my mistakes!

Let's dive into the fundamentals.


There is nothing wrong with having 'one of everything', but the more selective and focused you are, the more interesting and valuable your watch collection will be. Of course, most watch collectors start somewhere, but unfortunately, many end up nowhere.  The road to collector’s hell is paved with glitz and glamour, trends, forum and Instagram influencers.  Essentially, nothing wrong with that - except for one thing: by the time that watch everyone is raving about arrives in the mail, Facebook and Instagram have already moved on to the next 'absolutely must have masterpiece of horology'.  This, unfortunately, does not look anything like your current watch. Salivate over the photos, but don't rush to part with your hard earned cash. It is tempting to add more to the pile, but there is a big difference between hording and collecting.

Here is an example: suppose you decide to collect the most commonly collected timepiece: the Omega Moon watch.  Your first Moon watch should be a relatively new one, perhaps a few years old that could be had at some discount over the full retail price. Once you invest in the first Moon watch, take your time and learn as much as you can about it; it's functions, timekeeping, external details, and the history of the brand. Enjoy the moment! Give yourself at least 3 months before your next purchase.  And then, you will be ready for the best investment of your life: a book on Omega Moon watches! Spend some time learning about every moon watch in the book, in detail. The magic will happen: either you will lose interest for watch collecting altogether or you will get super excited about Moon watches.

If you decide to get serious, then your second Moon watch should be your birth year watch. If you are born in 1973 then that would be a watch you want to add to your collection. Obviously, the older you are, the more difficult it will be to find the birth year watch. But you are not really after just any 1973 moon watch; you want an all original, complete set with box and papers, in very fine condition. Hunt for it! When such watch appears on the market, you will be ready to jump on it.
Here is the beauty of smart collecting: suppose that you decide to move on to the next project; or your partner does not share your enthusiasm, or Mr Visa and Mr MasterCard knock on your door, unannounced, asking for a big favour. Both of your Moon watches - and the Moon watch book - could be easily converted to cash (at some loss, as expected). You had fun; you are moving on, life is good. (Now, if you decide to 'move on' with a 'collection' consisting of randomly acquired watches then finding an excited buyer in a hurry could be difficult to find even if you are prepared to cut your losses.)

Building a collection of watches is like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece is unique, and all pieces in a set fit perfectly together.  The final picture does not really matter - the challenge is in gathering, organizing, sorting out and building that big picture - the ultimate collection of your favourite timepieces.  A Breitling Navitimer does not fit in a Moon watch puzzle, and a Submariner 1680 belongs only to a Rolex Submariner’s story.

Your third Omega Moon watch? The one manufactured in 1969, the year of the Apollo 11 moon landing. At this point, having a box and papers is nice, but not really necessary - you are simply growing your small collection in a natural, organic way.

Ready for the next one? With the fourth Moon watch you have reached a fork in the road. You can either: focus on modern anniversary issues which are still easy to find, or, travel back in time. The 1969 issue is known as a 5th generation Moon watch - not without reason; there are four generations or predecessors. Going back in time is a serious challenge; the older they are, the more knowledge is required to make the right decision. Tip: obsessive perfectionism will ruin your enjoyment of watch collecting. Finding an unused 1957 Speedmaster is impossible; even 60's Speedmasters will contain some replacement parts.  Life is a compromise.


Watch collecting is an expensive hobby. Even the Queen of England would struggle to complete the Moon watch puzzle in a year or two. Most prized examples are extremely rare - and extremely expensive.  Be realistic and stick to your annual budget. Here is some hard data, based on years of helping collectors build their collections: a modest 10 piece (of a relatively modern) Moon watch collection would require an investment of $100,000. A lovely all original 105.002 from 1962 will set you back at least $50K. Or about 250K for the 1st gen Broad Arrow CK2915. In other words, just having one important 'moon watch' of every release from 1957 to today would be a multi-million dollar project.

Clearly, a serious collector focused on building a Moon watch collection cannot afford to be distracted with other brands - or even other Omega models. Laser focusing is the mark of seriousness.  But even an incomplete million dollar collection is something to behold. Dedication, systematic research and persistence of a sophisticated collector will pay off. A thematic collection is worth more than the sum of its individual pieces.  Not to mention the ultimate reward: being able to call yourself an expert in the field!

Is it really possible to build a valuable, exciting collection on a budget? Absolutely yes! Again, I am talking from my personal experience: over the years my modest railway pocket watch collection has grown from a dozen to over 200 watches. Almost all of them are real 'every day' pieces issued to railway workers, dating from the mid-1800s to now. Yes, I do have an 'unfair advantage' over you for the fact that I can restore and repair them myself. Like any 'on budget' collection, this one consists of a number of watches which are less than perfect, some even beyond repair, some showing minor (and major!) scratches and discoloration. Others are in near mint, unworn condition.  Yet again, the real value of this collection goes way beyond its monetary value:  it comes from the satisfaction of preserving something for 'the next generation'. This collection, as modest as it is, would ultimately provide a great deal of satisfaction to someone who would wish to expand it further, looking for missing pieces, trying to complete his own puzzle.

I will leave you with a couple of suggestions. A collection of unique watches – like a 24 hours Navitimer Cosmonaute for example - would be equally exciting.  Cosmonauts have a great story to tell, and many of them are in extra fine condition, priced in the $5-$7K range.  Another suggestion: vintage Grand Seiko from the 1960s. Or perhaps vintage Seiko divers?  Or Omega 1960-70’s hand held stop watches, beautiful but yet to be discovered and fully appreciated as masterpieces, which are still available for less than $1K?

Actually, the problem is not what to collect, but what not.  Stay focused, within your budget - and above all - have fun!

No comments: