A Primer on Collecting Watches


Why We Buy The Stuff We Do

By Time Flies and Foie Gras

Copyright, 1998, 1999, G. J. Buhyoff and K. Fox

This paper evolved from e-mail correspondence between the two authors concerning future watch purchases they have considered. It was decided that in order to make a reasoned purchase decision, one must at a fundamental level understand why the purchase is being made in the first place. It is hoped that an understanding of the rationale for watch purchases may help the reader avoid making some of the expensive mistakes that have been made by the authors. Unfortunately, neither author has much faith this will be the case, since watch purchases are often beyond the control of the purchaser, and as such are manifestations of disorders beyond the scope of this paper!

Why do we buy the watches we do? A few of us are bone fide watch collectors. For the sake of this discussion, we will define a collector as someone who has and continues to amass a “collection” of watches, with some sort of overriding theme. This collection must be more than a mere amalgamation of “stuff,” of timepieces that tell time. There must be some sort of theme, some basic reasoning behind it, so that it is more than a disorganized pile of things that tell time. The “collector” must be someone who approaches his collection in a serious, plodding manner. He does not act impulsively, rather his moves are planned. He knows what he is acquiring and why, and he is willing to wait, however long, to get what it is he knows he must have. His collection has synthesis; it makes sense as a collection, both to the collector himself and to others. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and each part was chosen for some definable reason.

The authors have put their collective heads together, and were able to come up with only a handful of people they know that they would define as bone fide collectors. This is not an impressive number. But the authors know the great majority of the “regulars” on Timezone, and this was the tally. There may be others lurking in the shadows unknown to the authors, but there are probably not very many of them. For the record, neither author considers himself to be a collector of contemporary timepieces under the above definition.

Since the authors have arbitrarily determined that you are probably not now, nor destined to become, a watch “collector,” what are you? We would call you a watch enthusiast or fancier, or possibly a “watchnut” or “watch idiot savant,” (W.I.S.). Perhaps you have a better term. We will use the term “Watch Enthusiast” in this paper to define the group most of us fall into.

Like any classification system, ours has sub-classifications to present for your consideration. We would like to say that none of these classifications were modeled after any one individual, but rather are a composite of behaviors we have noticed both within and outside of the Timezone Forums. Most watch enthusiasts will exhibit behaviors which fall in more than one category, but will tend more towards one category than the others.

  1. Been There Done That –This is done for the satisfaction of having experienced different levels, manufacturers, styles, whatever. A person just enjoys having tried different things – it helps them to define what they really enjoy and they also benefit through the knowledge gained from having owned an array of watches. You learn a lot this way. In fact, most long term watch enthusiasts follow this model for a long time. This is where they learn a great deal about their hobby – they learn about watches and their own tastes. This allows the watch enthusiast to speak with greater authority about different watches. This is why many have owned at one time or another enough watches to supply a regiment. This journey is enjoyable for its own sake. These enthusiasts want to do this for the variety of experience and the knowledge they will acquire. In a way most serious collectors have been in this category. Watches come and go. That is part of it. But, this is not done for bragging rights. Under this model, a Lange 1 or whatever is justified if you like it and want to experience it.

  2. Bragging Rights– not much to say here — watches are acquired to brag that you have it or had it or whatever. The watch is not the motivator — ownership is. This is not to say that if this is a component of your behavior that you are a “bad” person. We all number among our friends one or more affluent people who own an expensive watch, for an example let’s say a Rolex, and they want you to know they own it. On a forum such as Timezone the stakes are obviously raised, since a watch that would impress the average person is somewhat below the radar screen for TZ regulars. We are impressed by more obscure Marques such as Patek Philippe and Lange. But the same principle applies, both inside and outside the community of watch enthusiasts.
  3. Aesthetics– you buy the watch because the implementation (dial, movement, total look, case style, whatever) really trips your trigger. You just love the way it looks or what you know of what is inside it — you can’t explain it to anyone else, nor do you care to — you just plain love it. Under this definition — it is just plain something you like and so be it. You will know you have come under the spell of “aesthetics” if after viewing a watch you say — “damn, that’s a beauty — I think it is just about everything I love in a watch”. This category is best experienced after having been in the “been there done that” phase, since that phase helps define what you REALLY like. But, as we know aesthetics also causes us to experience changes in those aesthetic requirements. Once you have it — you begin to realize that it does not quite cut the mustard. This category is related to the “been there done that” category but it is also different. This is a personal thing — not related to “bragging rights” in any way. This category accounts for why someone could own several watches made by the same manufacturer. If it looks like what you want and fulfills basic movement aesthetic requirements, than you do it. This category includes many of the most experienced watch enthusiasts we know through the pages of Timezone.
  4. Utility– the name says it all. It is related to aesthetics– but does not absolutely require it. Such an individual USES his watches, all of the contemporary ones. They MUST meet some need and the implementation is the driving force. Such an enthusiast requires that his watches meet real needs which are determined by his own activities. An example of this type of user would be a pilot who wears an IWC Mark XII. So, in this case, purchases are based more on UTILITY rather than aesthetics — aesthetics plays some minor role, but not the deciding role in the decision making process.

In case anyone is interested, the authors have used these defining characteristics to categorize themselves. Time Flies is an aesthetics/utility guy – he has defined over the years what he really likes after having been in the “been there done that” category for many years. Each acquisition must now serve a purpose and fit some minimal aesthetic standard. He knows what those standards are for him — others will have different standards. Foie Gras has passed rapidly (and expensively!) through the “been there, done that” category, and currently resides primarily in the “aesthetics” category. He has little “need” for timepieces and enjoys them for their own sake, especially if others who might notice will not recognize the watch he is wearing.

There are, to be sure, certain individuals who cannot be easily shoehorned into one of these categories. Some people just keep buying watches and reselling them with reckless abandon, seemingly having learned little or nothing from the experience. Some just like to gloat about their latest acquisition, and then move on to yet another.

Our point in writing this piece was not to try to pigeonhole our friends who buy watches and participate in this forum. Rather, it was our hope that by reading this you might gain a little insight into why you buy the things you do, and to evaluate future purchases with an eye to how they might better meet your needs, whatever they are!

Best Regards,

Time Flies and Foie Gras