There’s a recurring question asked by many novice collectors who are just beginning to delve into watches: how do you build a meaningful collection of timepieces while keeping to what may be a modest budget, knowing that many of the ones worth owning are expensive, to say the least?
The answer lies in thinking outside the box, and putting aside most of the big-name brands, at least for the time being. Novice collectors on a budget can still assemble a stunning line up of cool watches if they focus on lesser known names and smaller independent watch brands, while cultivating a multifaceted appreciation of timepieces along the way.
Enthusiasts’ brand Nomos’ Club Campus 38 retails at just S$2,110 (approx. US$1,540).
The primary goal of newer watch collectors should be to experiment. With so many styles and designs of watches out there, it can be very difficult to determine what you like and what looks good on your wrist without trying them all out. Instead of immediately spending money on a major luxury brand, consider buying something from a smaller, lesser-known one. This doesn’t just prevent you from spending too much money on watches that you may ultimately not like, but it also allows you to experiment with a wider range of timepieces.
The novice collector should also consider brands that offer watches with great value-for-money. A good place to start are the Swatch Group’s entry and mid-tier brands, such as Hamilton, Tissot, and Longines. These brands don’t just have access to the collective production capabilities of a major group, which allow them to offer well-made (albeit mass produced) mechanical watches for under US$2,000, they also have their own iconic models, such as the Hamilton Ventura and the Longines Lindbergh Hour Angle.
The Hamilton Ventura retails for just S$2,100 (approx. US$1,533).
Great value isn’t monopolised by major groups though – just look at boutique independent brands that offer unique timepieces with compelling value propositions. The size and scope of these companies vary as wildly as the types of watches they produce. Some of my personal favourites are based in Germany, including companies like Nomos Glashütte, Sinn, Stowa, and Junghans. There are dozens of such companies and the difficulty (and consequently, the satisfaction) in discovering them is part of the charm. Think of it as having a sleeper hit on your wrist, or being part of an inner circle thanks to that cult watch you’re wearing.
At S$4,400 (approx. US$3,200), the Sinn 1746 Classic in steel is priced above the benchmark US$2,000, but offers a grand feu enamel dial that ups the luxe factor.
Choice of brands aside, how does one go about building a collection? It may be wise to concentrate on a specific category, or to go about acquiring one ideal watch from each. These “categories” that I mentioned aren’t necessarily well defined, but you’ll recognise them when you see them. Dress watches, for example, are smaller, thinner, and simpler – usually with an understated dial and a traditional three hand display. A diver’s watch, on the other hand, must be robust, legible, highly water resistant (typically 100m and above), and have a uni-directional rotating bezel to measure elapsed time underwater. Driving and pilot watches are two other sporty/casual categories to consider for a start; each category is really a world unto itself, and trying to fill each of them with a single emblematic watch is often a good way to get started. What other categories are there, and how did these types of watches evolve to become what they are today? That’s for you to find out.
As you continue on your watch collecting journey, hopefully with an ever increasing budget, you’ll probably want to move onto bigger names with higher prices. It’s a logical progression: higher prices generally translate to more refined designs and better quality, while also widening the choices for complications. Brands such as Bell & Ross, Tudor, and TAG Heuer will start showing up on your radar. By this time, you should hopefully have a better idea of what you like, and want to concentrate on.
The Bell & Ross 03-94 chronograph with a blue dial and steel case, S$7,600 (approx. US$5,550).
One last word of advice: never let anybody tell you what you should be wearing, or what you must have in your collection. Watches have a very high communicative value about their owner, so you want to make sure that your timepiece not only fits who you are, but also says what you want being said about you to the world.
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Ariel Adams – United States
Ariel Adams started writing about watches in 2007, almost immediately after finishing law school. Since then he’s never looked back – combining his business skills with an enduring passion for timepieces and all things “well-made”. In addition to running the world’s highest-traffic online watch magazine, Adams also wrote a book, The World’s Most Expensive Watches, and also lends his voice to leading watch and thought publications around the world.