Thursday, November 10, 2005

Watch Collecting - Installment I



Ever do any "watchspotting"? You know, looking at the wrists of people you encounter, to see what is on their wrist? Do you gravitate toward watch stores in the mall, or linger on watch ads in glossy magazines? Or are you already far gone - with several watches in drawers at home, in cases, and on display?

Watches are compelling collectables becase they occupy the junction of function, art, and fashion. They can be an accesory, or a status symbol, or a tool for which form follows function. For these reasons and others, there is a large and growing body of watch collectors active both on the net and off.

Watch Types

Do you like digital, quartz analog, or mechanical watches? Or do you want your collection to incorporate all three? What complications appeal to you? Do you want chronographs, alarms, or watches with two digit large dates? Do you want to collect by purpose – military, dive, or dress watches?

Some collectors solve this problem by becoming Type collectors. A type collector might buy one watch that fills each of the desired niches chosen. Many collectors start this process before consciously taking up collecting, by buying a watch for the office, one for working outdoors, one for dress, and a ‘sporty’ casual wear watch. Others narrow the collection to one type up front, e.g. military watches.

Materials

Once the type(s) of watches to collect has been given some thought, watch materials can be considered. Do you prefer plastic sports watches, steel watches, or watches made from precious metals? One of my favorite materials for a watch is titanium. It is light, strong, hypoallergenic, and I find it attractive. Others prefer stainless steel for its durability and its ease of maintenance, still others solid gold for its value.

You may not want to limit their collection to case material type, but it is a possible focus for a collection. Also, do you prefer straps or bracelets? Straps are interesting accessories for a watch, which can easily be changed for different occasions. Bracelets are solid and lasting, and may increase the value of a watch depending on the materials of construction.

Movements

A common focus for collections is the movement. Movements, or the ‘engine’ of a watch, are the technical wonders of mechanical engineering that many collectors find consuming. Any given movement, such as the mechanical ETA 2824-2, can be found in a wide variety of watch styles and case materials. A collection could easily consist of ten different watches, from different manufacturers, but with all being driven by the same model movement.

As with watch types, movements can be collected on a type basis: a collector may choose to have each watch in their collection housing a different movement. For example, a collection may have one ETA 2824-2, one Valjoux 7750, one Lemania 5100, one ETA 2836, one Poljot 3133, and one Unitas movement-equipped watch, all from different manufacturers and all in different styles.

Watch Styles

The variety of shapes, colors, and design elements to be found in the watch world is nothing short of amazing – and when combined with the technological feats that make the watch go, provide almost limitless variety for the collector.

What shape watch case interests you? Tonneau? Circular? Tank? Non-conventional shapes? The style of a watch provides a significant amount of its aesthetic appeal. As with other factors in building a collection, one can include as narrow or as broad a range of styles as is desired. Like other segments of the fashion industry, watch styles and sizes go in and out of vogue. Vintage designs make resurgences, and avant-garde designs turn heads. There are also classics – timeless styles that will be desirable always. Where a collector chooses to place their focus is limited only by their imagination.

A Word on Condition

When it comes time to buy a piece, a good rule of thumb to follow for collectors of any stripe is buy the best you can afford. Like rare books or other collectables, the condition of the items in a collection adds to or subtracts from the intrinsic value of the collection. Often, saving for a nicer piece rather than buying a worn one will actually save the collector money in the long run. The buyer is less likely to feel the need to replace items in poorer condition as the collection matures.

To this day, I have problems taking my own advice. Because I am interested in a wide variety of collectables, and because I start new collections frequently, I have fallen prone to a rush to buy time and again. I think one reason for this is due to my temperament – I can tend to be impulsive. As a collector, this is not necessarily a desirable trait. It is important to recognize your own temperament when beginning as a collector. Are you impulsive? Easily excited by the collecting focuses of others, and anxious to build a similar collection as quickly as possible? Or are you methodical, and have a disposition more open to thoughtful collecting? Knowing your own tendencies from the outset can help you build a collecting strategy that will help you tailor your approach a s a collector, and optimize your success.

For example, after becoming interested in wristwatches, I tried to mitigate my propensity to gathering items too quickly by instituting a system I called "virtual collecting". Knowing that I have bought items too rapidly in the past, only to sell them later (and unfortunately sometimes at a loss) in order to get truly collectable pieces, I began to keep a detailed list of items I thought were desirable, in the form of a computerized spreadsheet. I included information such as the manufacturer, model, list price, best price actual price, and a picture of the item I had downloaded from the internet.

I maintained several lists in my spreadsheet database. One was the current ‘Want List’. Another was the ‘No Longer Want’ list - items I had once listed in the Want List, but were later replaced by choices that would better suit my collection. Finally, I maintained a ‘Have’ list, of items in my collection, which also included the price I had actually paid and the source I ultimately purchased from.

I refrained from buying an item until it had been on my list for several months. I found that over time, many items I initially thought I couldn’t live without were later replaced with pieces that were better suited to my taste. Some were removed as I found model I didn’t know existed, and had features, complications, and styling I liked better. Others remained on the Want List, but with added notations. Often, in time I found better prices and suppliers for watches I wanted, or interesting variations in case materials, bracelets, or dial colors.
This is just one approach to collecting, tailored to my understanding of my collecting habits. Certainly there are as many collecting strategies as there are collectors, but in the end, having a feel for your personality can help you build a collecting method for your madness.

Building My Want List

There are many sources of information available to a collector. Identification of information resources is vital for the new collector. These resources vary from knowledgeable dealers and collectors, to print and internet. Some resources involve buying information, but many are free – and invaluable. More on them in the next installment - Watch Collecting II

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