Curating a collection: a veteran's perspective

In a recent post, we discussed how best to get your feet wet in watch collecting. Over time though, tastes evolve and experiences accumulate, and you identify a favourite area or two you consider worthy of collecting, e.g. a certain period, complication or brand. Intensive engagement in your favourite horological discipline(s) will almost inevitably make you kind of an ‘expert’ in that specific. You usually realise this when you are suddenly asked for advice.

What I frequently observe is the fascinatingly different range of collecting criteria that long-term collectors have, to focus and streamline their watch inventories. I use the terms ‘focus and streamline’ intentionally, as I consider a ‘watch collection’ as something entirely different from a mere accrual of watches. A ‘collection’ tells the story of a collector, gives a compact yet comprehensive account and offers unexpected insights into the intellectual interplay of the single timepieces. All the aspects lie, in other words, on the meta-level and appear as ‘emergent properties’ of a watch collection.

I have come across ‘watch collections’ which comprise of hundreds of expensive pieces with only obvious commonalities (being expensive, precious metal, complicated) which tells me nothing (except that money does not buy taste). And I’ve also come across collections that are small in number, maybe half a dozen watches but are more exciting and thrilling as these watches are almost always accompanied with a story. Hence, a mature collection is not a question of money or numbers, it simply needs to be carefully curated and reflective of the collector.

Collections may follow widely known themes, e.g. focusing on OMEGA’s Speedmaster versions (with a guaranteed highlight every Tuesday: @speedytuesday) or aim to represent the works of a favourite watchmaker (@thejourneguy is a good example). The most exciting ones usually have more daring, unusual or very personal themes: @orangewatchcollector, as an example, collects watches with his favourite colour, orange. His collection ranges from a Swatch with an image of orange slice on the dial to unique versions of eminent Swiss watchmaking maisons, and finally to bespoke customised masterpieces from the likes of the Grönefeld brothers or Kari Voutilainen.

This is a good example to illustrate the allure of actively curating your collection: superficially, it might be cool enough to have unique, orange-themed watches. But there is something more to it; armed with a precisely defined theme, you can educate yourself along the collecting and hunting process, learning to understand and appreciate the intrinsic concepts of watchmaking. How does a brand or a watchmaker tackle a certain horological challenge? How and to what extent do they allow their identity to be altered? On a purely aesthetic level, or even functionally and mechanically.

It is often the simple themes which lead to the most exciting variations. In our image, we chose to feature watches which are primarily time-only with at most one ‘simple’ tweak.

The process is thrilling, exhausting and informative. At its end, you certainly feel horologically enriched with the additional insights gained. You’ll have a sharper discernment between a very good watch and an exceptional, immensely desirable one. A mature collection is not a matter of money or cost of acquisition. On the contrary, budget constraints can be a valuable catalyst in forcing you to refine your horological preferences. They make you reconsider and revisit a potential acquisition. Is a love at first still love at second sight?

Remember to make only well-considered compromises when choosing another watch. In the end, in most cases it’s better to forego the compromise and save or wait for the real thing. Note the industry veterans’ most cited phrase: “the most expensive watch is always the one you got instead!”

This post is meant as an encouragement to delve as deep as possible into this fascinating, ticking obsession of ours. Happy collecting! -Dr.B



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