Building a collection of anything takes time and patience, and, inevitably, mistakes will be made along the way. Collecting watches is no different. Cultivating a level of taste takes years, and a lot of trial and error. That’s all part of the journey, and there are no shortcuts around it. Before jumping in to some good starter watches, let’s breakdown some of the components of becoming a collector, and what you might come to expect as you progress. Of course, your mileage may vary, and a watch collection is a very personal thing, but with a few guideposts, you can save yourself a lot of heartache at the end of the road.
First things first, before you even set a budget, spend some time in the communities. Go down the rabbit hole of threads at places like WatchUSeek or RolexPassionReport and soak up as much as you can. It’s not going to sink in straight away, but you’ll start to find patterns, you’ll be able to identify some of the basic components of watches, and you’ll see plenty of pictures and wrist shots. This should give you a rough idea of what resonates with you, whether it’s a particular brand, or a complication, or a style, you should gravitate toward a rough theme that you can use as a foundation. This can and will change; conventional wisdom is meant to be challenged, and your early collection days will be a learning process.
At this point, armed with a bit of know-how and a budding taste for mechanical stalwarts from the likes of Seiko and Orient, it’ll be tempting to jump right in and start building your collection. Soon, you’ll find yourself with a watchbox full of ~$500 watches and you’ll think to yourself “boy, if I sold all these, I’d have enough money for a serious watch!” This is a process you’ll likely repeat a few times, with each iteration of your collection featuring slightly more valuable timepieces. With every watch that cycles in and out of your collection, you learn a little more about what you like, and more importantly, about what you don’t like. You’ll regret some purchases, and you’ll lament the sale of others.
At a certain point, you’ll find that you’ve become exceedingly selective about what your looking for. You’ll have a list of “grail” watches, and you’ll have books by George Daniels and spend time watching The Naked Watchmaker videos reading Philipp Stahl articles for the 100th time. You’ll have opinions on transitional dials, and spend your time convincing others that the 5970 is superior to the 5270 (because of course it is). You may even judge others for their collections, or their preference of watch, forgetting your own humble beginnings. If you’re at this phase then, well, you’re probably not reading this article. If you’re just starting out and looking for a few good suggestions, we’ve got you covered. Consider the above a small glimpse into the very, very slippery slope of watch collecting.
So, where to begin your collection? Here’s a few suggestions along why they make for great starter pieces.
There’s a lot to love about the Omega Speedmaster. There’s its storied history, it’s timeless good looks, and its accessible price point, all of which make this both a great watch to start your collection, and one that will likely remain in your collection through any phases you may go through. Just as importantly, it’s a very wearable watch, and one that looks good on a variety of strap options, meaning it won’t get stale. Do your homework and find the right reference for you, I love this example with the brushed cushion case, as it stands out from the common Speedy, but references some important historic models at the same time. If you know, you know.
The Cartier Tank is another watch that never seems to go out of style. If you find yourself leaning toward dressier watches, this is one you won’t go wrong with. It’s accessible enough to be a starter watch, and also has enough gravitas and clout to remain a keeper. This is a watch that will never be looked down upon in a room full of other collectors.
The Autodromo Group B may not have much history behind it, but it’s a great place to start for a few reasons. It has fantastic proportions, and early in your collecting career, this is what’s most often taken for granted. This is how a watch should wear. I love this watch for it’s unique looks and big personality, the kind that doesn’t have to shout about it. Better yet, these can be had for under $1,000.
Often times young watch enthusiasts will pick up a Seiko diver as their first watch. There’s a good reason for this, the forums love them, and they are under $500. It’s not uncommon to find these watches remaining in well seasoned collections, and that should say a lot about these watches. They wear very well despite their relative large size, they are fun to test a variety of straps, and they seem to last forever. Plus, and not many watches can say this, they are build from top to bottom in-house.
If you have the money, and want to skip straight to the end, pick up a Patek 5970 (or any Patek Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, for that matter, from the 1518 to the 5270), and call it a day. There’s too much history here to go into much depth, but if you’re skipping straight to the end, you’re likely not interested in that anyway. Just buy this, and you’ll fit in at the snobbiest of snobby watch events around the world.