If you’ve ever wondered why someone would spend thousands of dollars on a luxury timepiece, then it’s highly likely that you’ve not yet been exposed to the slippery slope that the watch collecting hobby can become.
Alternatively, it’s also possible that you’re already hooked, and are wondering how to start and build your own watch collection.
In either case, you’ve come to the right place. Throughout this guide, we delve into the most prolific reasons for collecting timepieces, as well as provide some background on the pillars upon which many collections have been crafted:
After reading through, you’ll understand why even the most eccentric and expensive watches always find a buyer, as well as be ready to start your own collection.
SPOILER: you don’t need a big budget to have a cool collection; it’s all about the watches that hold meaning for you.
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Why Collect Watches?
The reasons why people collect watches are about as varied as the personalities of the individuals themselves, so it would take more than just a page here on Bespoke Unit to cover them all. Nevertheless, it is possible to discuss the overarching themes that often drive them to seek out and hold on to specific watches.
Before diving in, there’s a pretty obvious reason for collecting that we’ll get out of the way first: they look great! The watch is a timeless accessory for women and more so for men, and the variety in their designs allows the wearer the express their personality and uniqueness in a way nothing else does.
A word of caution, though. Watches are luxury consumer products, and definitely not a necessity. More bluntly, they’re objects, and quite expensive objects at that. So, before you go on a spending spree, ask yourself why you want to start collecting.
It can be as simple as wanting to treat yourself to something nice. If you’re familiar with our other content here on Bespoke Unit, you’ll know we’re big fans of enjoying the finer things in life.
We certainly believe this is one of the best reasons for collecting timepieces, but must insist that you keep your true motive in mind and your expectations in check. It’s also a good practice to ask yourself why you’re buying a specific watch, and if it’s likely to play out as you envision it.
In short, what we’re really trying to say is…
Take It Slow
Lastly, we highly recommend taking your time, not just in the beginning, but throughout your journey. Your taste and preferences are guaranteed to change as you learn and experience more timepieces. What once seemed desirable can become gaudy or over-the-top three months later.
Taking it easy will quite literally pay off in the long run, as you will surely buy a watch that you’re not happy with. If you’re methodical in your purchases, the likelihood of this occurring can be reduced to almost nil.
With those tips out of the way, let’s review some of the most popular reasons for collecting watches. If nothing else, we hope these give you plenty of justifications to take the leap on the next timepiece, and open your world to the endless ways of collecting them.
At the end of the day, collecting watches is a hobby like any other. Admittedly, this can be hard to assimilate, given that most hobbies don’t usually cost tens of thousands of dollars.
But the fact of the matter is that collecting watches doesn’t have to be expensive. Indeed, one is more likely to hear about the $10,000 Rolex, or the $50,000 Patek Philippe. But there is a whole world of watch brands, new and old, which can be purchased for hundreds of dollars if not less.
A collection made up of more affordable watches is no lesser than one consisting of millions of dollars in timepieces. It’s all about the story and the inspiration behind each watch purchase, and how these reflect the personality and individuality of the collector.
As with many hobbies, collecting watches is more of a winding journey than a straight path. We’re not trying to sound cliché here, but it is the truth. Most watch collectors will experience a change in taste and will develop preferences over time; these changes will then be reflected in their collections.
For example, you may find a collector first preferred diver’s watches, so their oldest watches are all in this style. Nevertheless, their most recent pieces may reside in the traditional realm, boasting a dressier character and highlighting a change in taste. You’ll also find that some collectors choose to get rid of the old ones, while others prefer to keep them around and still wear them actively.
Either way, the collection becomes the embodiment of the unique journey, and often results in one forming emotional bonds to the watches. Naturally, with every journey comes a goalpost, so to speak, or a direction to follow. This is what we refer to as “the chase”.
The Chase is the reason to keep collecting, the reason to keep saving for future watches, and the insatiable hunger for “the next one”. Every watch collector always has the next desired watch in mind. Even more, they always have “the Grail”.
The Grail is the usually the unattainable, or the ultimate watch that a collector ever hopes to own. It varies from person to person though it’s usually some rare or very expensive model, if not a piece unique.
Whether one will ever actually own the Grail is not really the point. It’s about having something to look forward to, to daydream about, to gawk at on Instagram. If there’s no Grail, and there’s no desire for another watch, then the Chase becomes inconsequential, and the hobby turns dull.
Luckily, watch brands are continuously pumping out exciting timepieces, in addition to the vintage models that are always coming out of the woodwork. There’s plenty of places to look for and decide on your own Grail watch, so it’s unlikely that even unlimited budgets will ever feel completely fulfilled in their watch collecting journey.
In the present-day, technology influences every aspect of life. More specifically, digital devices and namely smartphones, are used at all times to facilitate just about any task. There’s really very few mechanical devices that haven’t already been replaced by a digital (and usually cheaper) counterpart.
An automatic or hand-wound watch may just be the most mechanically intricate device you handle in the modern day, and for many collectors, this is one of the most romantic and appealing aspects of owning mechanical timepieces.
High complications like a perpetual calendar are the most extreme example of mechanical complexity in a timepiece, and also serve as a great point of contention for watches.
What does one own, digital or else, that could theoretically keep working accurately as long as a perpetual calendar? Likely nothing! These calendar watches will correctly tell the time, day, date, month, and sometimes the year for the next century if they’re continuously wound.
In a world of planned obsolescence, this virtue is one to be treasured, and is also one the aspects that makes a perpetual calendar so widely desired by so many watch collectors.
There are many watch collectors who load up their watch boxes with timepieces as opposed to beefing up an investment portfolio or 401K, thinking that it will pay off massively.
On this matter, we regularly offer the following straightforward advice: don’t treat watches as financial investments. In contrast to what you may have heard from your local watch salesman, very few watches actually appreciate in value. In fact, if you’re lucky, you just may break even after a couple of years of wear.
This entails that most watch buyers lose money with each purchase. Well, it’s the truth, and a great example of survivorship bias.
Few individuals will openly share how they took a “thousand dollar haircut” on their watch only 6 months after buying it. Alternatively, those who get lucky and just happened to buy the watch that mysteriously doubled in price, are unlikely to shut up about it.
We don’t want to sound gloomy here, as there is a significant positive return on investment with watches, it’s just not monetary. The watch that you chase after for months, that you’re finally able to purchase, is likely to bring an incredible amount of satisfaction for as long as it’s with you.
You can’t really put a dollar amount to the feeling, so the biased watch collector writing this will call it priceless and believe it. If you can learn to see it from this perspective, we think you’re well on your way to becoming a gleeful watch nut.
Lastly, and likely the most common reason why anyone collects a watch, is the story and emotional connection that grows within us for these sophisticated tools.
Watches are often given as gifts, which makes them a special object right from the start. They’re also likely to be purchased when a professional milestone is reached, where they can make for a meaningful symbol of achievement.
Yet perhaps most notably, the lasting nature of watches allows them to be passed down within families as heirlooms, where they truly become sentimental things. They stop being just a watch, and become a very personal relic of one’s own heritage, and the living memory of beloved family members who are no longer with us.
For all of the above reasons, collecting watches can be one of the most rewarding hobbies when it’s affronted with the right mindset.
How To Start A Watch Collection
Now that you’ve considered some of the reasons why watches garner so much attention from aficionados, let’s review some of the different points to consider when starting your own collection of timepieces.
There’s hundreds, maybe even thousands, of different watch brands out there today, so picking just one watch from a single brand can seem daunting. One of the easiest ways we recommend of narrowing down the expansive selection is to pick a brand whose designs and history (more on this later) resonate with you.
Each brand has a particular ideology that they stick to when crafting timepieces. Some manufacturers aim to create the most opulent timepieces, while others concentrate on providing the best quality at the lowest price. Some deal strictly with traditional complications and metals, while others are constantly pushing the boundaries of horological technology and viable materials for watches.
If you’re not feeling overwhelmed yet, we want to mention that this is only the first point to consider before starting a collection. Just on this page, we cover 8 more, and there’s others still not discussed here.
So before continuing, we want to articulate once more that the watch hobby is not finite, and that the best way to enjoy it is to take the time to research and learn about brands. There’s no rush!
With time you’ll learn what makes each so valuable and revered. Additionally, we can assure that it will be much more exciting when the one watch you’ve been hunting down finally makes it onto your wrist (and into your watch box).
Still don’t know where to start? Jump over to our list of top luxury watch brands and check out the manufacturers highlighted there. We’ve covered the household brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet, along with equally prestigious though lesser known names like Bovet and A. Lange & Sohne.
Style or Type
There are a wide range of different styles or design themes which watch manufacturers base their models on. Some are extremely popular, like the diver’s watch or the dress watch, while others less so.
Figuring out which style you like the most is a great way of starting; it also gives you a couple of options as far as ‘boxes’ to tick within your watch box. In fact, many collectors choose to have at least one watch of each style for different occassions. These can be from the same brand, or more regularly, from different manufacturers.
This is mainly due to the fact that specific brands specialize in, or are known best for, specific styles. For instance, IWC is renowned for their pilot’s watches, as is Breitling, though both boast very different designs. On the other hand, a brand like Breguet is recognized for dressier and more classical watches, which are also often elevated with exclusive complications.
You can use the following links to check out our extensive guides on specific watch styles:
Complications speak to the mechanical functions that a watch performs, and can range from a simple date window to the complex minute repeater. They are also used by watch aficionados fill niches in their collections.
For example, it’s very common for a collection to have at least one chronograph, or at least one GMT watch. These two are quite popular and widespread, and will often become the foundation for a large collection as they tend to make great starter watches.
As with styles, some complications are often associated directly with specific brands. Take the perpetual calendar, which is recognized as a trademark of Patek Philippe. Alternatively, the GMT is a hallmark of Rolex due to their historic GMT-Master line.
For our individual complication guides, use the links below:
Metal or Material
The specific material from which a watch is crafted makes a big difference in the overall look of the timepiece. “Material” here being a more adequate word, as modern horology no longer uses just metals, and is constantly integrating new materials into watch cases. Consider ceramic, one of the hottest trends in the watch industry, which is not a metal but widely encountered.
There are many other non-metal materials working their way into watches, though the classics still remain: steel, gold, and platinum. As a rule of thumb, the steel watch will usually be the least expensive, and then increase in price exponentially (not progressively) as more precious metals or synthetic materials are used.
If you’d like to learn about the different types of materials used in watches, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each, check out our extensive series on timepiece materials.
Country or Region
Much like in car design, wristwatch design is rooted in the heritage of the brand that manufactures them. The brand, in turn, will usually work off a set of practices and design principles that reflect their heritage and history. These will often be based on what country they’re created in.
If you’re just getting started in watches, you may be surprised that fine timepieces are not just made in Switzerland. In fact, they’re made all around the world, in countries like Germany, Japan, and even China!
There’s also plenty of countries going through a “rebirth”, where watch manufacturers are popping up and are becoming quite successful by following in the steps of their ancestors.
What all of this means is that there is a plethora of different styles authentic to individual countries to choose from, and which give the collector even more themes on which to base their collection.
For an in-depth dive into what makes a watch from Germany different to one manufactured in Switzerland, for example, check out our various country-specific watch brand guides below:
The history or story behind specific watch models is probably one of the greatest selling points of timepieces today. Every successful brand has a ‘first’ that they attach themselves to, and which definitely influences the purchases of consumers.
We mentioned earlier that Patek is renowned for their perpetual calendar watches. Well, this is due largely to the fact that they created the first one. Therefore, when collectors are looking to fill the ‘perpetual calendar spot’ in their collection, they will often want to go with the brand that crafted the first one.
A similar phenomenon is encountered with vintage watches, where if they were worn by famous figures like movie stars or race car drivers, they quickly become desirable.
This is exactly the case with the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona, the most expensive wristwatch ever sold. There are similar designs to the original that are called a “Paul Newman Daytona”, but the actual watch worn by the infamous actor was considered the ultimate timepiece, selling for more than $17 million when it went up for auction a couple years back.
This makes a pretty strong case for how important the history of a particular watch or even model family is to watch collectors, and how many times it is a story that they are buying for their collection, more so than a watch.
With this in mind, consider that the story doesn’t have to be as prominent as that of Steve McQueen’s Daytona. As long as the story behind a watch is meaningful to you, then the watch is clear candidate to keep a spot in your collection for a long time.
In the past, individual watchmakers would generally fly under the radar, and most of their accomplishments would simply be attributed to the watch manufacturer as a whole. Sometimes they would break off and start their own brands, but these would rarely garner much attention from the public.
In the modern world, and thanks in particular to the advent of social media, independent watchmakers enjoy tons of exposure to the public eye. Platforms like Instagram allow them to share their wildest and latest creations with watch fans worldwide, as well as provide a peek into their creative process.
A perfect example of this is Russian watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin, the genius behind the independent watch brand by the same name. Through his online platform, the watchmaker regularly offers a sort of “over-the-shoulder” look into how he crafts his revolutionary timepieces.
This kind of access to watchmakers had never been possible, but is now coming to light. It’s also helping watch collectors around the globe decide on who their favorite watchmaker is, not merely a watch brand, and then make those exclusive pieces a part of their collection.
Of course, with exclusivity comes a high-ticket price, further increased by the fact that independent watchmakers generally run small operations. This ensures that each watch is given the appropriate attention by “the man himself”, but also restricts them to the upper price echelons.
Price is likely one of the first considerations when looking to add a timepiece to your collection. Nevertheless, we chose to place it towards the bottom of this guide intentionally.
This is to make the point that watches need not be expensive to hold a place in a collection. The previously-mentioned Paul Newman Daytona probably cost less than $5,000 when it was originally sold, what made it so valuable was the history that it held.
Likewise, your collection should be made up of watches that you’ve chosen after thoughtful consideration and research. If they happen to be expensive, then so be it, but oftentimes the most important timepieces are the ones that have sentimental value. Indeed, other objects can have sentimental value, but none of them can be said to have a “heartbeat” and be as timeless as watches.
For this reason, we recommend not shying away from timepieces just cause they’re not pricey. Technology is steadily bringing down the costs for watchmakers worldwide, allowing for some outstanding timepieces to be had for a fragment of the cost of a popular brand.
The age or the production year of a watch can often be something to watch out for when purchasing a timepiece. Although it’s good to know when your watch was made, many collectors will often look for watches produced in their birth year, as this can be meaningful to them.
Other collectors may seek specific years of production as it can signify something about a watch model in particular. Rolex, for example, has many watch models that went through “transition periods”.
In these transition periods, small changes were made to standard models, like the movement, the dial printings, or the material used in the lume. These situations essentially create a rare “in-between” model. The slight differences make for special and limited quantity pieces, which in the world of vintage Rolex, instantly translate into higher prices.
Considering the age of a watch before purchasing can also be much simpler – one may just prefer a more modern watch as it is often easier to service, if it needs to be serviced at all.
We hope this guide has shed some light on the watch collecting hobby as a whole. The authors of Bespoke Unit’s watch content have many years of experience as collectors, as well as working inside the watch industry. We’re huge proponents of all kinds of timepieces, and truly believe that there is a watch out there (if not multiple) for everyone.
So, if you take nothing else from this, remember the following: buy watches that fulfil you, no matter the price or other’s opinions of them. And most of all, make sure you wear them! That’s what they’re made for, right?
Throughout this page, we’ve linked to many other watch guides that we’ve previously published. Feel free to peruse through those if you’re looking for more watch content, or check out some of our most popular watch pages below: