Curating the Collection Fewer, Better, Dressier

I started 2020 with eight mostly sporty watches. I finish with only four mostly dressy watches. A year ago I could not have imagined what a transformation my collection would have gone through, and I don’t mean ending up with half as many. In fact, after purchasing another dozen or so watches in 2020, of those eight I started the year with, only one remains with me: my 1938 Elgin. And probably because I had it engraved with my initials early in the year as a message to myself not to sell it.

Hand engraving on the back of my Elgin – and yes, I know how funny my initials sound.

Going Hard on Sport Watches

The first watch I bought in 2020 was the Seiko SNA411 Flightmaster, my attempt to work an aviation watch into my collection, because of my love of building model airplanes. That was soon followed by a Tisell flieger. So a few months into the year, before the start of you-know-what, I had three aviation watches (I already owned a Steinhart GMT homage), two dive watches and the Seiko Alpinist. Six sport watches for a guy who’s most common use of the word “sport” is in relation to bespoke jackets. As spring approached, and the world changed, I found myself wondering if instead of chasing watches that fit into my life, I had been chasing watches that I simply thought looked great.

The Flightmaster and the dh88 Comet

Discovering Vintage Seiko

A key turning point in the year was listening to David Flett’s vintage Seiko interview on episode 25 of the Beyond The Dial podcast. I must have listened to that episode six or seven times, absorbing as much information as I could. I had been aware of vintage Seiko, as a lover of modern Seiko, but wasn’t sure where to look or what to look for. David offered inspiring and practical advice and I quickly became obsessed with finding one thing: a birth year King Seiko.

One of my first vintage Seikos, a 1976 Lord Matic Special

I spent the next few months researching as much Seiko history as I could (I even wrote and produced a podcast documentary about it, which included more David Flett!) I started to discover the vast array of watches Seiko made in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And discovered that many of them would perfectly fit my new, evolving watch aesthetic of simpler, dressier watches, to match my overall personal style.

Refining and Flipping

My watch collecting is limited by two things: budget and space. There’s only so much I want to spend on watches (a lot for some people, very little for others) and so I usually try to stay within what I’ve already spent, i.e. the cost of a new watch needs to come from selling an old watch. Also, I only have 8 spots in my watch box.

Two dive watches I was sorry to see go in 2020, the Seiko SPB087 and the Baltic Aquascaphe. Thankfully, I kept the dog.

As I got more and more into vintage Seiko, cost wasn’t a problem. Most aren’t too expensive, so I began a process of selling my aviation watches. But then I came across a watch that seemed to bridge two worlds: the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date. A dressy aviation watch. The only problem was, I couldn’t afford to buy it with a straight swap. I’d have to sell a couple watches to get it, the two divers pictured above. But I did, temporarily dipping, or so I thought, below 8 watches.

Sadly, though, after just a little bit of time, I realized the Oris wasn’t for me. It was pointing in the right direction (if you’ll excuse the pun) especially in terms of quality, historical significance, and style. But with my sport watches replaced by mostly vintage dress watches, I now felt an imbalance in the other direction. So the Oris went. However, at the same time, something arrived which is a keeper, something with which I have a deep connection: a no-date 45 King Seiko. Not only is it one of the greatest movements Seiko ever produced, the case design expresses Taro Tanaka’s Grammar of Design perfectly. The clincher: it’s not only a birth year watch for me, it’s a birth month watch. My unicorn.

The Big Purge

As fall became winter, I was down to six watches and feeling like my collection was solid. I now had only one sport watch: the SPB143, Seiko’s new 62-Mas reissue. It is, in my opinion, the best dive watch Seiko has made and the best dive watch I have worn. It’s been four months now and I have no urge at all for another sport watch of any kind, it checks all the boxes for me. But the problem I had was too many vintage watches. I had a lovely Lord Matic and Grand Quartz, but I babied them and had to take them off every time I did the dishes. My only other modern watch was the Alpinist, my first “proper” watch, and it was doing a fine job of being my daily wear.

The SARB017, the watch that was the hardest to let go in 2020

But then my second turning point in 2020. I have long dreamed of owning a Grand Seiko. While I didn’t appreciate them for what they are when I first encountered GS through a friend five years ago, in this past year I have come to understand how remarkable they are, from historical, horological and design points of view. But still, I had two problems: I couldn’t find a modern Grand Seiko that appealed to me (simple dial, not too thick) and, mostly importantly, their high price, relative to the rest of my collection. However, seeing as GS prices just keep rising, I started to wonder if I should jump in as soon as I could.

While chatting with a friend who is a big GS collector about my quandary, he mentioned the SBGW235. A hand-wound GS with a beautiful creamy dial, blued seconds hand, vintage-style case and exclusive to the Japanese market. And he was selling his. I didn’t sleep much the next few days trying to figure out what to do. And then I jumped. It meant selling half of my watches, including my beloved Alpinist, but I would finally have an elegant, modern GS that fulfilled all but my sporty watch desires (which the SPB143 covers very well).

Forecast For 2021

Going through this past year, looking at the photos of all the watches that have gone through my hands, it’s all quite ridiculous. While it was an exciting and educating process, I feel the madness can now stop. I have four watches – the 1938 Elgin, the SPB143, the Grand Seiko and the 45KS – that cover all my bases. And so I’ve made one resolution for myself in 2021: no new watches. I will appreciate new releases and old favourites from afar, but spend the year enjoying and living with what I have, great watches I couldn’t have even dreamed of twelve months ago.

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