“It’s great to get a watch that has a really cool grandfather,” says Powell. “A great modern-day [Omega] Speedmaster has echoes of its vintage past all over it—and by owning that watch, you’re subscribing to a legacy, and it allows you to learn a lot more about that history…You’re not just wearing a Speedmaster, you’re wearing the first watch on the moon’s grandchild.” What also makes these great starter watches is that there’s a vast amount of information about them, along with large collecting communities dedicated to them. Buying a Speedmaster, for example, grants you entry into an active community: one that meets up in real life and shares their watch-children on Instagram every “Speedy Tuesday.”
One more tip if you’re a green collector: consider starting with modern watches. While vintage is the current buzzword among many watch enthusiasts, starting there is incredibly complicated. “The quality of fakes today is super high, greater than it’s ever been,” says Powell. More than that, you run the risk of finding “what we call ‘Frankenwatches,’ which are 95% real but have aftermarket hands.” Meaning: a vintage watch can be mostly legit, but at some point over its lifespan, someone knowing or unknowingly replaced a piece with one that would have never gone on the original watch. Imagine spending all this time to find the perfect watch only to have someone point out the watch you love is actually a haphazardly stitched-together monster.
Trade In (and Up!)
Just because mechanical watches are durable enough to last a lifetime on your wrist doesn’t mean you have to keep it there that long. Watches retain their value so well that it’s possible to think of yourself as just a custodian for a piece during its own long life. This takes a lot of pressure off the first purchase of your watch—there’s no need to think of it as a massive commitment. “When you begin to collect, you start in one area, but then you often venture into another,” says Ross. “It happens a lot, even with seasoned collectors who start fresh with something completely new.”
When swapping watches, Ross recommends cranking up the difficulty meter a bit. Many of those starter pieces only tell the time—so you may want to own something with a bit more complications, like a Patek Philippe with a perpetual calendar or a Rolex GMT-Master with multiple hour hands. Or, consider trying out a different material. If you are getting tired of wearing stainless steel, maybe see how you feel while rocking gold.
If you do plan on eventually trading in a watch, make sure you’re taking good care of it while it’s in your hands and on your wrist. “Make sure you’re servicing it,” says Powell. “Don’t overdo it, but don’t underdo it, either. Every three to five years, make sure that it gets the proper service. Make sure you keep the box and papers if [those] came with the watch, because that definitely helps with resell. Similarly, if you took a link out when you were adjusting the watch, put it in a safe place because you might be selling it to somebody with a larger wrist.” Engravings on the caseback are beautiful, but Powell suggests asking whoever is doing the etching to use a light touch so future owners don’t have to be reminded of how much your spouse loves you, too.
Go Deeper, Not Wider
“I do think it’s important not to be a mile wide and an inch deep, because it really becomes difficult to learn about watches when you’re spreading too far,” says Powell. Finding an area of interest to pursue is vital to forming a coherent watch collection, because learning will inform the type of pieces you chase. Once you’ve fallen in love with a certain genre, the watches on your wishlist will grow exponentially. If you love divers, you may find yourself longing for Zodiac’s unique and brightly colored Sea Wolf, or entranced by Panerai’s partnership with the Royal Italian Navy. Maybe you are treating Submariners like Pokemon—trying to catch ‘em all—and there is nothing more important to you than seeing the watch’s name written out in red text. Someone who started with a Breitling Navitimer might want to pursue other pilot watches from brands like Bremont or IWC. You get the gist.
Then Get Weird
Eventually, even the most advanced collectors may run dry, or just start turning over rocks in hopes of reinvigorating their initial passion. The good news is that while names like Patek, Rolex, and Omega dominate much of the conversation around watches, there are plenty of independent makers out there that will satisfy your itch. “At some point, begin to explore the independent brands,” says Powell. “That gets really fun because in some ways you’re closer to the person that made the watch. “I love Cameron Weiss, and one of the reasons I like it is when I hold a Weiss watch it was made by the guy whose name is on it.”
Going independent will also lead to zany creations, like Maximilian Büsser & Friends’s spaceship-looking timepiece. Less-renowned brands like Universal Geneve and Longines have interesting histories of their own. And even while venturing into the obscure, it’s possible to keep chasing your passion: this watch from Ressence that utilizes a case filled with oil to create its dial is technically the brand’s take on a diving watch.
So summiting Mount Everest might not actually be the most apt comparison for watch collecting. Reaching the top of the mountain implies finality. But with watch collecting, it’s nearly impossible to reach the peak—and even if a collector did, they’d probably scuttle back down the mountain only to try a different path back up. It’s really the climb that’s the fun part.