As a recent inductee to the exciting, addictive, and often confusing world of watch collecting, you probably have some questions. For example, “how do I avoid getting ripped off?” or “how can I make sure the watches I buy will appreciate in value?” The good news is, you’re not alone. The watch community, both on and offline, is vast and full of good people willing to share their experience, insights, and honest – sometimes brutal – assessments of your latest purchase. Tapping into this mind hive can be as easy as joining a few groups on Facebook or following watch-related hashtags on Instagram. But be warned, it can be an all-consuming black hole once you venture in.
If you don’t have that kind of time or aren’t quite ready to dive in fully, that’s fine too. You can just dip your toe in the water with the five tips below that I wish someone had told me when I first began my watch collecting journey.
1. Forget About Re-Sale Value
In recent years, there’s been a growing focus on re-sale value within a subset of the watch-collecting community. This is generally a no-go for purists. As a collector, you certainly want to be mindful of not overpaying for a watch. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with adding a piece to your collection that you think might appreciate in value over the long-term due to its significance, rarity, etc. However, that’s ideally not your primary motivation. That said, there are in fact some opportunistic individuals out there who are increasingly looking to buy watches they can resell for a profit in a few months’ time. This is what’s known as “flipper culture,” and it has become rather pervasive in the watch community.
I’ll let you consider the relative merits of this approach yourself, but I would argue that it is not the behavior of a true collector. A collector acquires objects that they love, that speak to them, and that they intend to hold on to for a long time. Sure, you might fall out of love quicker than you expected – a common occurrence that just about every collector I know has experienced – and it’s totally fine at that point to sell the watch and make space for something new. The key takeaway here, though, is that when you focus solely on re-sale value, you greatly limit your options, which leads me to the next tip.
2. Look Far and Wide and Be Open to New Possibilities
The world of watches offers much more variety than the glossy magazines would have you believe. Yes, there are the big names that we all know and love, like Rolex, Omega, IWC, and Seiko, but there is also a vast array of high-quality brands out there that you’ve probably never heard of. I’m not talking about the fly-by-night Kickstarter brands that pop up everywhere in your feed and then disappear six months later. I’m talking about established manufacturers with lengthy histories that lack the marketing clout to compete with major groups. For example, ask any true tool watch enthusiast for a recommendation, and the German brand Sinn will likely appear near the top of the list. The Frankfurt-based business was established in 1961 and offers tremendous value for money, yet it remains relatively unknown to the wider community of casual watch enthusiasts.
A great place to start your search is a platform like Chrono24. There are currently 500,000+ active listings on the site and you can be sure they aren’t all Rolexes (although there is abundance of those, too). Supplement this with visits to relevant forums and social media groups, and you will soon discover a richer selection of watches than you ever thought possible.
3. Set a Budget and Stick to It
This is a tricky one for all of us, but knowing what you want to spend, and more importantly, what you can realistically afford to pay is going to make your experience as a collector much more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean you can’t lust after grail models that are currently out of reach – we need to dream, after all – but as we’ve already discussed, the breadth and depth of the watch market is such that you need ways to narrow down your options. Like it or not, price is one of the best filters going. Plus, you’re going to be able to enjoy your purchase a lot more if you’re not filled with dread about the massive void left in your savings account or mounting credit card interest.
Likewise, knowing your budget will help you negotiate your next purchase. When the heart gets involved, it’s easy to overpay simply because you feel like you have to have it. This is not a foolproof strategy, of course, which is why we’ve included tip number four.
4. Accept You Will Make Mistakes
It doesn’t matter how much research you do or how many questions you ask, at some point you will inevitably make a mistake. Maybe you will overpay, maybe you will wake up the next day and realize that you actually don’t like the watch at all, or maybe the deal that seemed too good to be true was in fact just that. The important thing is to not get discouraged. This is all part of the journey. In fact, ask any seasoned watch collector and they’ll more than likely be happy to share their “war story” with you of that time (or in some cases, multiple times) they did something dumb or got caught up in the hype.
Mistakes happen. The important thing is to try and recover from the situation as quickly as you can, write off any losses, and absorb the lessons that may arise from the experience. None of us are perfect, and we’re always learning. I definitely have a watch or two stuffed in the back of my sock drawer that I take out every now and again and wonder aloud, “what was I thinking?”
5. To Thine Own Self Be True
This is by far the most important tip on the list. Disregard the other four if you will, but follow this one and you will always have an enjoyable and rewarding experience as a watch collector. It’s as simple as: buy what you want. Yes, do your research so you don’t get the wool pulled over your eyes, but ultimately, you get to choose what you buy, how much you pay for it, and how you wear it. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has an opinion, which is totally fine. But remember, their opinion is not yours, and neither is their wrist.