The 12 Mistakes New Watch Collectors Make

Trust me, you don’t want to be the person doing number eight.

We’ve all been there. Some of us are still there. You’re new to watches, you’re excited to learn as much as you can and to buy a few nice things. But unfortunately, you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you know where to start, but you’re not sure where to go from there. Or, even worse, you think you know what you’re doing, but you’re woefully mistaken. It’s tough.

Watch collecting is a passion that’s all about the details and there’s quite a lot of misinformation out there. Beyond studying the minutiae, memorizing reference numbers, and knowing your way around a complicated movement, there’s a lot you can do to raise your chances of success.  To get even more out of this fun little hobby of ours. 

This quick reference guide on a few things I often see young or new watch guys get wrong. I am writing this because I was there once (not all that long ago). I wish something like this had been there when I was just getting going. Now, this isn’t a complete list of mistakes commonly made by new watch guys. Not everyone falls prey to every one of these. I think many of you might pick up a thing or two that you may not have fully understood before. Here are 12 mistakes that new watch guys often make. Learn how to avoid them, from someone who has made many of them himself.  

1. Believing That a Movement Makes a Watch

Even incredible chronographs like this one from Vacheron Constantin often use Lemania-based movements.

Let’s be clear about one thing: a movement is a vital part of any watch, but it does not make a watch. Consider many of the Lemania calibers, or the Valjoux 72 or 7750. Consider the ETA 2892, or the Peseux 260 caliber.  These movements have been used for decades, in watches spanning myriad price ranges. Don’t get caught up in the movement comparison game that so many watch fans love to play. There is much more to a watch than just the movement. Experts look just as carefully at case construction, dial design.  Examining exterior finishing as they do at movement characteristics. Not to mention movement finishing in determining the quality of any watch. Movements matter, but so do other things.

2. Not Respecting Rolex Enough

Rolex makes a great watch. It’s that simple.

I tend to believe there is something of an inverted bell curve with any real watch guy or gal’s understanding of, and appreciation for Rolex. When you know nothing about watches – like you don’t know that there is anything else out there – you believe Rolex to be the best watch company in the world.

 Many are shocked to learn that there are, in fact, watches from other companies that cost even more than a Rolex! Then, you begin to go a bit deeper, you learn about Omega, Jaeger, and IWC, and later, Patek, Lange, Vacheron.   People tend to start looking down on Rolex and extol the benefits of hand-finishing, rarity, and limited editions. 

After being burned a few times by exorbitantly expensive Rare Watches.  Time-consuming, or far-too-often-needed service or a resale return of pennies on the dollar people tend to say “maybe a Rolex isn’t so bad.” And they’re right – Rolex watches are among the most reliable, no-fuss mechanical watches in the world.

Don’t forget that indeed, Rolex is Rolex for a reason. It was at the forefront of several world firsts in watchmaking. Yeah, it’s a behemoth, and everywhere, and certainly not what I’d call haute Horlogerie.

What haute couture is to fashion and haute cuisine is to food, Haute Horlogerie represents the highest standard in watchmaking. The direct translation of “haute Horlogerie” from French to English is “high watchmaking” but the label encompasses much more. But you can’t fault Rolex for succeeding in making a high-end, high-quality product that sells well, can you? We should all be so lucky.

3. Believing That a High Price, or a Lot of Complications, Automatically Equals Quality (or Bragging Rights)

Grand complications can be interesting, but they’re not the de facto be-all-end-all of watch collecting.

An obvious one, right? Not so. There’s a misconception among new watch fans that an expensive watch is a good watch, and that more is better. A more enlightened view of watchmaking is one where balance is respected, and ingenuity takes the place of excess. For example, the idea of a grand complication is only as interesting as an owner’s tolerance for service bills.  Many of the biggest collectors in the world often retreat from the world of multi-complication watches quicker than you’d think.

Also, the propensity for Swiss brands to advertise a watch’s parts count is something that we all fall for. Until we realize all they are saying is that it is taking them more components to produce the same result. Grand Complications are nothing more than halo projects and should be treated as such. Experienced watch collectors are far more impressed by thin, elegant watches that thoughtfully do something.  Rather than ones that throw more parts into a large case for the sake of bragging rights.

 And pricing? Well, I’ve seen how it’s done, and it’s no science. Get over being impressed by the number of complications in a watch and the price paid for it and you’ll be much happier. Oh, and nobody wants to hear how much you paid for your watch. Seriously. Nobody.

4. Not Owning (or Never Owning) an Omega Speedmaster

Even if you don’t keep it, owning a Speedmaster at some point is a very good idea.

5. Mistaking A Simple Calendar For An Annual Calendar

Annual calendars, like this one from Montblanc, didn’t exist at all until 1996. If you’re looking at a vintage watch, it’s either a simple calendar or a perpetual.

A Swiss watch expert for a top-tier auction house called what was a simple calendar an annual calendar. It drives me crazy. Let’s be clear here – the annual calendar was invented in 1996 by Patek Philippe. That means all those calendar watches before 1996 are simple calendars.  They require advancing in February, April, June, September, and November. An annual calendar is something else, and manual advances are only required at the end of February. Get it right, people, otherwise you’ll look silly in front of serious watch folks.

6. Assuming Anyone Who Spends More Than You on a Watch Is Buying for Investment Only and Will Never Wear It

Not every collectible watch is being bought to sit in a safe. Take this Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm as a case in point.

Some assume that anyone who buys a watch that’s more expensive than they can afford is buying it solely as an investment. In other words, they’re saying “this person couldn’t possibly be a real watch guy!” Why? Because he or she happens to be able to afford a more expensive watch than you can? And this seems to be a sliding scale. As those folks move from time-only military watches, up to the matte dial Rolex, then gilt dials, and to vintage Pateks.  

As long as they can afford something similar, then the watch is going to a true enthusiast. Right. It doesn’t work this way. The number of people who use watches purely as investment vehicles are minuscule.  Anyone with half a brain about ROI will realize quickly that watches seldom offer real returns. Those steel Pateks you see go at auction? They end up on the wrists of serious watch lovers. People who take the time to learn about, study, and purchase watches at auction are real watch people. All these great watches will end up in the back of some rich guy’s safe.  That says more about the person making the remark than it does about the “rich guy.” 

You’re already in a hyper-niche community, don’t try to create another divide between you and the rest of the watch collecting world. We’re all in it together. As you gradually can afford more of what you’d love to own you wouldn’t want people to think you’re not a real watch guy, would you? 

7. Calling Any Vintage Rolex With a Black Bezel ‘Bakelite’

The ref. 6542 GMT is the only Rolex with a Bakelite bezel.

Yeah, a ref. 6263 Daytona doesn’t have a Bakelite bezel. Neither does ANY Submariner. Or any Rolex watch that isn’t a Reference 6542 GMT-Master, for that matter. Bakelite was used by Rolex on just this one reference, no others, and for a very short period at that. Understanding bezels is an art form in itself.  But first things first: Bakelite inserts for a Rolex exist only on a reference 6542. It’s that simple.

8. Citing One Post on One Forum (or One Instagram Comment) as Fact

You know who can make a post on a forum and declare themselves an expert? Anyone. Anyone on this planet. Do you know who fact-checks them? Nobody. So, citing a single post or thread on a single forum as fact is something that doesn’t make too much sense. You have to remember that the world is full of people trying to take advantage of you.  The man you know only by his avatar could very well be a dealer or a less-than-honest seller.  Who may have invested heavily in one vertical or another?  I’ve seen people make six-figure decisions based on literally the opinion of one person, whose name they do not know. Trust experts whose names you know. Someone who you know will be there to support you if something goes wrong, not the random guy on the forum. They are littered with mis-and disinformation. While forums at times can be fantastic resources for watch lovers.  Consider who exactly is on the other end of the comments that are driving your purchasing decisions. The same thing goes for Instagram comments – a few thousand followers does not an expert make.

9. Calling a Deployant Buckle a ‘Deployment’ Buckle

This is not called a “deployment” buckle. I promise.

10. Proclaiming You (Or Someone You Know) Is the ‘World’s Biggest Collector’

No matter how amazing your stash is, saying you’re the “world’s biggest collector” is silly at best.

The “biggest watch collector in the world.” First, what would that even mean? And second, just no you’re not. There are tons of mega-collectors out there, and the most serious would never claim to be any absolute biggest or greatest. This is a community, and titles like that just have no place here.  

11. Assuming That Any High Price Achieved at Auction Only Happened Because a Brand Was the Bidder

At the time of its auction, the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication was the most expensive watch ever sold publicly and it did not go to Patek Philippe.

This is another one that we hear a lot from young watch fans.  To be fair, it’s not as if claims that the watch brands themselves support their watches at auction are unfounded. We know that watch brands bid on and buy watches back for their own collections.  Many brands have fantastic museums and private collections which they are constantly looking to build upon. But the truth is, a watch company does not bid on many watches per year.  The bids they do place are strategic, and on pieces that they genuinely want to own for their museums. Many cite this 2007 Wall Street Journal piece on how Patek and Omega have influenced auction prices. Brands frequently collude with auction houses. What is not often mentioned is that the WSJ story was widely disputed by several accounts immediately after it was published.

Also, this story was written over 10 years ago.  The prices these rare watches were fetching at auction were, in some cases, a fraction of what we’re seeing today. So indeed, many watch companies are active bidders on their own pieces. But only on historically important or special pieces needed to complete a collection. After all, money is money. Remember, it takes two bidders to raise any sale price. So one institutional bidder with deep pockets can’t do it alone.

12. Forgetting That It’s Just a Watch—and You Don’t Need One

Watch collecting is a community, nobody is “the biggest collector.” Nobody.

I love watches. I’ve dedicated my entire career, if not my entire life at this point, to them. I know that what really matters in life are friends, family, health, and happiness. I’ve seen good friends have long, drawn-out arguments over rare watches. I’ve seen friends literally swear off people they’ve known for years because someone insinuated their rare watches. Arguing re-lumed, or over-polished, or maybe even polished at all. How dare they! It’s too easy to fall into the ego games of some watch collectors.  While I am as guilty as anyone who wants to own something special, remember that these are just watches.  At no point should comments about your mechanical watch change how you feel about a close friend or associate? There’s more to life than watches, and that’s coming from me, so take that for what it’s worth.

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