This piece was inspired by my friend Pedro Mendes’s recent article on how he has established a set of rules that enable him to curate his watch acquisitions to the same high standards as he curates his wardrobe. After reading and cogitating his article, I found myself thinking there was something amiss, something did not resonate with my own watch collecting. I am a full-blown, died-in-the wool, for-better-or-worse watch collector. I honestly do not know how many watches are in my collection, I’d have to count them and that would be no easy feat. I have watches in drawers, watches in boxes, watches in different rooms, watches all over the place.
So how do I reconcile my situation with Pedro’s well-reasoned logic of applying good judgement to the watches you buy, buying in small numbers and applying a one-in and one-out policy? How could Pedro’s conclusion that a single watchbox provides the perfect, self-limiting collection be so far removed from my own approach where I find myself buying additional watch boxes as frequently as Pedro acquires new watches?
The idea that a collection could stop, that it could reach a limit, had never really crossed my mind. That is not a collection I thought. To me a collection is always open-ended, always growing. For example, I could never imagine a stamp collector closing his album and saying to himself “That’s it. I’m done. No more stamps for me!”.
I don’t really move in art collector circles (although I do have a particularly amusing story from a gallery opening in the Brussels Petit Sablon many years ago) so I wondered if those collectors also felt the urge to limit their collections. According to thecollector.com, the worlds most important personal art collection is owned by François Pinault, the current owner of the Gucci and Alexander McQueen fashion brands. M. Pinault has amassed a collection of 2500 pieces with a value of over $1.4 billion. This does not sound like a man that follows Pedro’s one in, one out approach.
Arguably the finest and most important Ferrari collection of all time was owned by Pierre Bardinon. M. Bardinon was heir to the Chapal family fortune built upon their leather and rabbit fur business. As a keen motorsport enthusiast, he soon fell under the spell of the prancing horse in the 1960s and started to buy ex-competition Ferrari race cars at a time when most other collectors ignored them. He scoured the globe for run-down and discarded Ferrari race cars. He built a private track around his chateau in Clos du Mas to ensure that his pride and joy could be stored and exercised.
The story goes that when Enzo Ferrari was asked if he had plans to build a museum to his cars, he answered that we already have one in the home of M. Bardinon. The collection was rumored to have had around 300 Ferraris at its peak including 70 significant race winners. You may have heard of the famous Ferrari 250 GTO, the world’s most valuable car, each one of the 36 made between 1962 and 1964 is now valued between $35 and $70 million. Pierre Bardinon had four of them! A person that has one Ferrari GTO is a Ferrari enthusiast. The person who has four of them – he’s the collector.
So, it seems I’m not alone in thinking collections can be large. If I hear another youtuber talking about the perfect three watch collection I think I may explode. That’s not a collection – that’s barely a handful! If you are old enough, or young enough to remember turntables and vinyl, would three records denote a record collection? No, they would not.
So while collections are not necessarily size-limited, they are certainly focused. I know nothing about M Pichaud’s art collection but I doubt he’s buying any old shit. A valuation of $1.8 billion would seem to suggest that is not the case either. Pierre Bardinon’s focus was Ferrari’s race cars from the 1960s, in particular those that competed in the 24 Heures du Mans. In the world of car collecting, and even Ferrari collecting, that is laser-focus.
Focus, I think, is the key here for me to understand my own collecting. My collection is predominantly, but not exclusively, Seiko and mainly vintage. But my focus is indeed tighter than that – it starts in the late 50s and extends to the late 70s. I also have to be drawn to the styling and design of the watch. Not much after 1980 interests me from a collecting perspective at the moment. I don’t really dig quartz watches although I do wear them and and there is not one Swiss manufacturer that has grabbed my interest in the same way as Seiko has.
If I hear another youtuber talking about the perfect three watch collection I think I may explode.
So perhaps this is the difference… Is my focus one that naturally leads to a large collection? I asked Pedro to summarize his collecting focus and he came back with a perfectly reasonable answer: “watches that are particularly elegant and also have some historical significance for the manufacturer.” That does not sound like a particulary limited scope to me, in fact it sounds like Pedro could easily cast his net far wider than I could.
And of course, that is the point I had missed when I first read his article. Pedro needs that collection limit because his focus is quite wide. So many watches fall under his tenet that there needs to be a secondary limit for his collection to be manageable. Pedro mentions in his article and I quote… “I will not get something new without parting with something I already have. And therefore, it has be a significant upgrade.” Here we have the secondary rule that applies, in addition to the focus, to select whether or not a watch should enter his collection.
This realization brought some inner peace to me. Instead of trying to characterize a collection in terms of its size, I needed to judge a collection, including my own, by its focus. Furthermore, as well as peace, I felt more than just a little zeal. I felt confident that I did not need a ‘one in, one out’ rule. My focus was narrow enough, and sufficiently testable that my collection should always include pieces that I was content with, even if that collection grew to 20, 30, 50 or 100 watches?
Focus, I think, is the key here for me to understand my own collecting.
So, internally, I had dispelled my discomfort at not having a size limit on my collection. I had persuaded myself it was totally OK, consistent and congruent for me to have a large watch collection. However, having a large watch collection leads to one immediate and inexorable realisation – “I have too many watches to wear”.
The corollary was equally undeniable: I had watches that I would hardly ever wear. Hell, I may even have watches that I will never wear. My short-lived euphoria was replaced with fresh doubt. If a watch is not worn, it no longer fulfills its purpose and threatens to become a trinket, or worse, clutter. Deep down, I fear that the difference between a collector and a hoader is actually quite small. We’ve heard the comments, “I could not buy a watch and never wear it” or the equivalent “I could never buy a collector car and not drive it”. Car enthusiasts even have a term for such cars. They are called ‘trailer queens’ and they are hauled from show to show in their trailers, displayed but never really driven on the road. Frequent any car enthusiast forum for a short time and you will discover a palpable loathing towards trailer queens.
But here is the thing… If I am really honest with myself, I really don’t care if I don’t wear them. I know I have some watches in my collection that I don’t wear. I am sure that I will purchase more pieces for the collection in the future that I will not wear. And that is OK. I would even go so far to say that many of those non-wearing nay’sayers, do actually have watches in their collection that they do not wear. Because they cannot wear them. Because they are their childhood watches and they no longer fit. Carefully tucked away by a parent for safekeeping and then rediscovered or repurchased by the grown-up child to rekindle those find memories and link their past with their watch-collecting present.
Deep down, I fear that the difference between a collector and a hoader is actually quite small.
I feel the same way about trailer queens as well as it happens, although admitting to such on a car forum will initiate an immediate online lynching. I wonder if the anti-trailer-queen crowd ever visit the Ferrari or Porsche factory museums when they frequent Maranello or Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. As they walk past rare and unique automobiles few of which will be in roadworthy condition, do they feign anger and disgust at all those trailer queens? I suspect not.
Why can I not have a personal museum? Why is having watches that will not be worn, so bad?
Thinking of my collection as a personal museum rather than too many boxes of watches that must be worn has been truly enlightening for me. Purchases can now be made guilt-free and without the worry of how a 35mm 1958 Seiko Marvel will look on my wrist. Such a watch is welcome in my personal museum first and foremost because it is gorgeous, secondly, because it was an immensely important historical watch for Seiko and thirdly, because there are so many variants to collect.
Furthermore, my 6138 UFO stays in the collection even though I hardly ever wear it now. It stays simply because I think it is important to have that piece in my museum. There is no longer a strong link between my ‘museum’ watches and my ‘daily wear’ watches.
Thinking of my collection as a personal museum rather than too many boxes of watches that must be worn has been truly enlightening for me.
Storing my watches also becomes more straightforward in this new post-collection world. Watches I wear can stay in the conventional watch box. Watches in the museum that rarely or never get warn, can go on display where I can see them and enjoy them more often than I would if they were tucked away in their boxes. I can also sell duplicates without angst because while it is fun to buy multiple examples of a watch model, especially when you see a good example at a good price, duplicates no longer have a place in my museum.
So now I look forward to spending more time gazing upon my watches precisely because they are not being worn. I also hope to be down to a single yellow Pogue some time soon… Just as long as I don’t see a transitional 1972 proof-resist for a good price.