Like most endeavors in life, watch collecting involves twists and turns, fortunes and failings. What starts for many as a curiosity – a lark even – can snowball into a full-blown obsession. Each new watch discovery leads you down a novel rabbit hole, even deeper than the last, filled with countless references and variations. Icons pile up until all that is left is a mountain of ambition or a box full of timepieces that seldom see a wrist.
At a certain point, one has to ask: What are we really chasing? Is it that next watch and the story it tells? Or is it the thrill of the hunt itself? But with all prolonged study often comes a degree of focus. For many collectors, the natural course their collecting takes is to counterintuitively pare down and sell off, leaving only the most important pieces. In very rare cases, those fabled few are able to narrow their desires down to just one: the final piece, the single grail watch.
Finding the Perfect Watch: Form Follows Function
The hypothetical premise of, “if you could only have one, which would it be,” is a classic dilemma among watch collectors. Similar to asking someone what their last meal would be, it’s almost a morbid exercise. We shudder to think about having to choose only one watch and then immediately rack our brains with glee: What if we could have any watch? Where does one even begin?
Perhaps practicality is the place to start, first and foremost. After all, if a collection is to be comprised of just one watch, it needs to be capable of going anywhere and doing anything. It needs to be a watch that can be both rugged and elegant at the same time – “take a licking and keep on ticking,” as the saying goes. It should be something that can go from a dive to a dinner party with ease.
There was a time in the not too distant past when one’s watch needed to complement their attire perfectly, as though the very conventions of etiquette demanded it. A dress watch was to be worn with evening wear and nothing else. Such restrictions are generally a thing of the past, and while we may remember the rules of a bygone era, we are also more than happy to break them. If this is now the case, there is perhaps only one choice to consider: the Rolex Submariner.
If it is going to be a Rolex Submariner, why not make it a distinct one? Digging back through the history of the Sub reveals a plethora of options; however, this has to be something that can be worn day in, day out. Thus, the six-figure Big Crowns and Milsubs may be slightly impractical. Purists are likely to choose a matte dial, but that could also be a bit too utilitarian for some. The sweet spot may lie somewhere in between with the glossy Gilt dials of the 1960s. Few things can match the practical beauty of the obsidian-esque dial of a Gilt 5513, its inky-black backdrop punctuated by golden lettering, rich aged luminous plots, and that iconic gilded crown.
Watch Collecting: Shock and Awe
Then again, who really began collecting watches out of a desire to find the most practical choice? If you really want practicality, there are innumerable options available, none of which require a five-figure investment. And at the end of the day, deep down inside, you might be thinking: Isn’t a Rolex Submariner kind of obvious? What if your real goal is to win? In other words, to be the one who has the watch that silences the room, the watch that makes everyone wonder, “How on Earth did you get one?”
At the peak of the horological fervor which has swept the world in recent years, we find ourselves inundated with “hype-watches.” Everything is un-gettable. Everything requires years on waitlists, personal connections, or a purchase record sufficient to put the entire sales staff’s children through college. At a certain point, there are a lot of people who have money to spend, but what really sets you apart is getting that one watch that no one else can. If that is your goal, then virtually nothing else will surpass a Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711, signed by Tiffany & Co., of course.
This is the hype watch to end all hype watches. Even when it was available, it was not available. Nowadays, a time only, steel sports watch that retailed just shy of $35,000 has reached prices well north of $100,000. But if you really want to drop jaws and attain that extra bit of rarified air of a Tiffany & Co. signature, you’d better be prepared to spend closer to half a million. Then again, can you really put a price on a first impression?
Watch Collecting: Finding THE One
With all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding who is wearing what, how they got it, and how much they spent, one can’t help but pause and ask who are we actually buying these watches for. Do we buy them for our personal enjoyment or to impress everybody else? While there is certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to own something special or marking a special occasion, if a watch doesn’t resonate within your heart, then, well, what the hell is the point?
Watches mean different things to different people. They spark joy and passion in dynamic and varied ways, none necessarily more valid than others. But for me personally, watches are special because they tell and inspire stories.
You see, watches make me dream. They make me fantasize about adventures in far-off places or enchanting evenings spent in elegant splendor. Like a beautiful painting or poem, the right watch can transport the mind to a time or place that you may never get to see for yourself. To look down upon a finely-tuned piece of mechanical artistry with its intricate and unfathomably small components finished to absolute perfection is an experience that only a very privileged few get to have.
Bearing that in mind, there is really only one watch for me: the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Flyback Chronograph. While I have been deeply fortunate to try on some truly spectacular timepieces, including rare vintage references and megaliths of watchmaking prowess, none of them has ever made me feel quite the same as the 1815 Flyback Chronograph. From the graceful simplicity of its symmetrical dial to its strong yet reserved case, its presence on the wrist is the very definition of understated elegance.
But that’s not all: Turn the watch over and stare in awe of the horological cathedral that is the movement – the feeling is almost ineffable. The level of dedication, passion, and expertise it took to create this watch is evident upon every polished edge and within every intricate engraving. Inspired by the beauty of the thing itself and what was required to create it, I cannot help but dream of places where such a watch would be worn and adored.
It is a purely romantic thing, this love we share for watches – and it is only out of such love that a masterpiece like the 1815 Flyback Chronograph could emerge. If a single watch is capable of inspiring such profound reverence, why would I want to wear anything else?