The idea of building a watch collection is an exciting proposition with the range of models, brands, prices and finance options available in the market today. There are, of course, the ‘household’ big name and hundreds of interesting independent watch brands. No matter what you decide to collect, one thing’s for sure, you are going to discover lots of nice watches.
So, where do you start? My first piece of advice is to try not to be influenced by others and hype – this is your collection, and it’s all about you.
The fact that you are reading this article already tells me that you have a keen interest or already own some watches and that you love watches. So, we are off to a good start.
Like you, I am a watch collector. I am also the owner of an independent travel watch brand called CuleM Watches. I have collected watches since I was a boy and I believe that I will continue to grow my collection throughout my life. Currently, I have around 30 watches in my collection ranging from a Seiko chronograph that I purchased 30 years ago, a Jaeger LeCoultre world timer (a gift from my Dad), and a collection of my own CuleM creations that embrace my love of travelling, watches and the world.
Each watch is individual. And I love every one of them. It’s not about the price, or the brand image, or what my friends have – it’s about the fact, that for me, each watch is a beautiful work of art, and each one has its own story. I remember when I bought it, where I was, and what attracted me to it. I remember the person who gave it to me, or who was with me when I made the purchase. So, choose watches that speak to you, that will hold your memories, and that look beautiful (whatever that means to you).
If you have a particular interest in certain items or activities, start looking for watches that match what you love. For example, if you love diving, look for diving watches that are water resistant to a certain depth, and can be used for scuba diving. If you love travelling, look at dual time watches like a GMT or world timer that you can use on your travels and read the time in two or more zones. Having a connection to a watch is important when building a collection because you will not only take pleasure in looking at it, but it will always remind you of your passion.
Aside from your personal interests, it is also important to consider your style when building a collection of watches. In my case, I am generally smartly dressed and like to wear an elegant dress watch on a leather strap. Therefore, I prefer to have more watches in this style in my collection. For some people who are more casual, they might prefer larger and more rugged watches like a diving watch or chronograph on a metal bracelet. So, think about how and when you’ll be wearing them and choose watches that will suit your lifestyle and your wardrobe.
For some collectors that I have met over the years, variety is the spice of life; they aim to have many different pieces in their collection with different functions like a date, GMT, chronograph, annual calendar, alarm, world timer, etc. I understand this type of collector and I used to collect watches like this. However, these days I tend to wear the watches that I connect to the most – which, in my case, is travel watches.
If I were to start collecting watches again, I would be more individualistic in my approach and buy beautiful watches that I love to look at and connect with on a personal level. It’s not just about the watch for me. It’s about the connection and wanting to be constantly inspired by the timepiece I see on my wrist.
Think about when you are getting dressed for the day and you are choosing which watch you want to wear, choose the one that you love and ignites your passions, and makes you feel at your best. Those are the kinds of watches you want in your collection.
There are four main types of watches in terms of the mechanics: automatic (also called self-winding); manual winding; quartz; and smart watches.
The last decade saw the rise of the smart watch, dominated by Apple. These watches don’t tend to hold their value like other watches as they are out of date very quickly. They aren’t built to last, there isn’t much of a second-hand market – often, if you decide to sell, you’ll just get the recycling value for the watch – and, for what you get, they can be expensive. However, if tech is your thing, (and remember this collection is YOUR collection) then there are some interesting watches to collect.
Quartz watches are battery powered and go tick, tick, tick. They are easily recognizable, and we’ve all had them. Quartz watches are generally cheaper than automatic or manual winding watches, but in my view, they are not designed with the intention to last a lifetime. They are more of a moment-in-time watch – but they are ideal for lower budgets. The main advantage with a Quartz watch is that you never need to wind it, but many collectors avoid them as they aren’t considered to be high-end or luxury and so don’t hold their value as well.
The holy grail of watches is considered to be automatic and manual-winding watches that can be passed on from generation to generation. Both types of watch can be manually wound and automatic watches benefit from continuously winding themselves as you wear them. Both types of watches will also have a power reserve. For example, CuleM’s GMT watches all have an automatic movement and 42-hour reserve.
If you wear an automatic watch every day, you will probably not need to wind it. If you vary the watches you wear then you may need to wind it slightly when you put it on after a break – just to get the movement started. Manual winding watches do not have this automatic (self-winding) function and will need winding regularly.
When starting a collection, I would recommend buying an automatic watch that is Swiss made, which will potentially last a lifetime – making a great watch with which to start your collection.
Many argue that Swiss made watches are the gold standard and they are of course excellent, like almost anything Swiss-made. But, they do come at a higher price.
That said, Swiss made watches are a good place to start when building a collection because of the variety of brands, quality, prices and functionality. Other countries to look at include Germany and Japan, which both have some lovely, high quality brands. Then, of course, there are the much cheaper fashion watches that are often made in China. These can look great, and certainly won’t cost as much, but they don’t tend to last as long or hold their value as well.
A great place to start looking at watches is online and social media. Some brands are only currently available online, so you’ll get a much wider choice by looking there – and a wider range of prices too. Also, it is great to browse watch shops and attend watch events like Baselworld in Switzerland.
The great thing about events and shops is that you can generally try on the watch and see it on your wrist – how does it make you feel when you look wear it, what does it look like on you, how comfortable is it? All of these are important questions. Some watch shops can be a little intimidating; try not to let this put you off. However, if you do feel like this, I think it is best to leave and find another shop. After all, you are trying to discover what you like, you want to feel good, and I hope you are going to buy many watches to add to your collection in the future.
For watch brands that are only available online, like CuleM, you can download the Try on CuleM app and see how good the watch looks on your wrist. Follow your instinct with online purchases knowing that you can generally return the watch if you are not happy with it. Check the company’s returns policy first – before pressing the buy button.
As you progress in your watch collecting journey, you will probably want to dig deeper and get to know more about watches, the inspiration behind them, the story of the brand and its founder. To really connect with a brand, you may also want to know about their vision, and chat with the founder. This way you can get a real sense of the brand and know if it’s one you wish to follow and buy more watches from in the future.
Watch events like Baselworld in Switzerland, Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair, Miami Watch and Wonders, and Dubai Watch Week are a great way to do this. There are also smaller local events which you can search for online. You can meet the people behind the brand, get to know them, and understand the vision for their future collections.
Most peer groups will see the same or similar watches around the dinner or meeting room table. Last summer I spent the day with friends, and all I could see on the majority of the wrists were one or two big name watch brands. If your watch is simply a status symbol, this may make sense, but if your watch is about expressing your individuality – then look for brands that speak to you, and not just the ones your peer group are wearing. A great, but little-known watch, can be a great talking point. So, lead the way. Collect what appeals to you. Choose the brands you like – whether they are well-known or a small independent. Remember, this collection is about you, not anyone else.
In short; be you. Think about what you are passionate about and your general style. Then, browse watches online, attend events and check out some shops. Follow your instincts and spend what you can afford. Set the trend, by leading not following. Enjoy the journey and happy collecting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CuleM Watches is an independent watchmaker founded by watch collector and traveller Matthew Cule. CuleM ‘s World GMT collection of Swiss made dual time automatic watches celebrates the beauty of our amazing world and are designed for people who love to travel and collectors of exquisite timepieces. CuleM believes there is no experience more meaningful and amazing than travel – and no object more beautiful and meaningful than a watch, so each watch is a time capsule of memories of the places you have been and an inspiration for the destinations you wish to discover. Available from Goldsmiths and luxury retailers.
CuleM will have a stand at Baselworld this year showcasing The World GMT collection from 30th April to 5th May 2020.