In Conversation With: Daniel Aellig, Chief Commercial Officer At NORQAIN On The Adventurous Element Off Watchmaking

Art Of Watch Collecting Horology

THM Desk
11 Nov 2020 |
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The world of haute horlogerie, is akin to a wonderland. While one can easily loose one’s self within the labyrinth of micro-mechanical innovations and pure creativity, most are misled by clever; larger-than-life marketing ploys. After all every watch that makes it to this category has an edge over other, in one or the other way. But those of you, who have mastered the tricks of navigating their way through this maze, comprehend; that collecting watches is as much an art; as watch making itself. Whether you are a seasoned collector or an amateur, you are always on a lookout for authentic information that will help you build a watch wardrobe which essentially; is an extension of your personality. Navigating through the labyrinth of choices, amidst one’s own budgets, the ‘hottest’ watch, the commercial successes which one can ‘flip’, the limited editions, the ‘grails’ that one lust’s for but can’t afford, to the harbored secret desire that you hold but most have never given a second look to, for here we dissect through.

Art Of Watch Collecting Horology

Building up a collection of your own – be it art, antiques or watches – requires sound knowledge about the subject at hand. Of course, a 'fine eye' is important, too, but it will help you only as much when the focus of your interest is something like watches. Understanding various complications, thoroughly researching brands and even knowing the retailer will surely guide you in the right direction.
reach out to professionals and collectors, their insights could also offer you a perspective, which would assist in making a decision.

Art Of Watch Collecting Horology

One usually basis the foundation to their collection on the first watch bought or inherited. It is often the first piece of haute horlogerie that you wear on your wrist that determines your interest in being a collector. Like art, a watch has a history associated to it but unlike art, a watch is also an extension of your personality, which one carries on oneself. You don't hope to buy a watch and relegate it to your display cabinets as a collectible. No, you buy it, first and foremost, to wear it. Getting your first luxury watch makes you a proud owner but it's your passion for exceptional timepieces that earns you the sobriquet of a collector.

Art Of Watch Collecting Horology

History of collectors

Initially, the collector’s universe comprised of A-list celebrities, world leaders and royalty from across the globe. India, too, plays an important role in this. In fact, in the early 19th century, India and China represented 41% of the world's economy, and the Emperors and Maharajahs were celebrated watch connoisseurs. As the 19th century progressed, we saw the trade sector gaining momentum and the industrialists and businessmen became the 'nouveau riche.' There was a definite trend of luxury watches being made for this new class who had distinct tastes and preferences. However, this scene was largely dominated by pocket watches. 

Another seismic change appeared at the beginning of the 20th century when the wristwatch was introduced. It added the idea of watch as a fashion accessory to the collector's psyche. There was also a rise in the popularity of movie stars that encouraged manufacturers to create watches that are more fashionable with better technical merit and complications. And, today in the 21st century, watches have acquired a completely new meaning. Although the Smartphone has made a timepiece obsolete, a watch continues to be seen as a symbol of style, taste, status and an extension of one's personality. Much like your clothes, your watch speaks volumes of the kind of person you are. With a new league of collectors joining the fray, the demand for watches that are technically innovative & awe-inspiring is on the rise.

Art Of Watch Collecting Horology

Do your research

So, what should your first buy be? Well, in our opinion, your first buy should not be a watch but various books that will help you understand the nuances of fine watchmaking. Since we are now in the midst of the digital era, people often overlook the importance and information you can gather from a good read. There is a plethora of choices to pick from to further enhance your knowledge. That being said there are also a select few blogs and online platforms hosted by experts of the horological industry that also do provide detailed analysis of watches. Once you are well-versed with the watch making jargon and convinced that you are indeed passionate about collecting watches, it is time to take the next step.

Passion and introspection

Passion being the key word here and let me warn you, watch collecting can be an all-consuming passion. You may not discover the watch enthusiast inside you initially, but once you do there is no looking back. One of the greatest things about collecting watches is the fact that no matter what type of collection you choose to build it is never finished. There will always be that one watch you will want to add to your collection. 

As your knowledge and involvement grows, so will your collection. But it's well worth asking yourself if your first luxurious timepiece will be your last one. If the answer is negative, there are several more questions that you need ponder over – do I know this brand, should I opt for a new watch or a pre-owned one, which retailer should I buy if from, etc.

At face value, the world of watches is dominated by a handful of companies. For those brands that have a strong presence globally and in India, the decision merely lies within the purpose of your purchase. Some do it to celebrate a milestone, some as an investment, most do it to communicate a certain level of success or to be a proud owner of a historical timepiece. The reasons to start building you watch wardrobe are very personal. However, you could also explore the so called” dark side of the watch industry” with the independent watchmakers. Although your friends may not instantly recognize your watch, it ensures that your watch is unique and also reflects on your personality as a connoisseur. At the end of the day it is all about perspective.

A good research plan needs to be in place to help you in your journey to be an avid watch collector. A majority of the brands have websites that give all the necessary details of their product line and points of sales. But it is equally important to do your own research as well. Attending watch auctions, brand events, visiting watch museums and spending quality time with like-minded enthusiasts and even good watch retailers will help you enhance your knowledge further. 

Collector's pride

As a collector, you would want the best timepieces in your repertoire. With 500 years of fine watchmaking, it is not easy to find the 'best' timepieces. What matters is what kind of watches appeal to you the most and which are the ones you are likely to wear depending on your personal style and lifestyle.

Before building a watch portfolio, it is important to create a collector's ethos. Much like an investment portfolio, a well thought out watch collection is more likely to give you a good return on investment in the future. A fine watch, vintage or modern, is an investment. And no don’t get us wrong. We are not just talking about a good return value over time. Your timepiece should be an investment that will also bring you a sense of pride & joy.  

There have been examples of collectors auctioning their collections at solo auctions for substantial amounts. To create such a portfolio, you need to identify the kind of watches you wish to invest in. Your first love or your foundation watch is the one that sparks your interest and can be a likely example of the future watches that you buy. A more mature connoisseur would find vintage watches – those made before 1850 – intriguing. As most of the horological complications were created before 1900, a vintage find will be a great addition to your collection.

Key decisions to make

As you embark on our journey to build your watch wardrobe, you will have to make a few important decisions along the way. With many reputed brands now opening up a pre-owned market, one of them is whether you should invest in a new watch or a pre-owned one. A new watch certainly has a magnetic appeal. After identifying the brand that you wish to acquire, you can approach a verified retailer to narrow down your choices. Once your purchase is made, ensure that you take a stamped certificate of guarantee from the retailer, which will take care of any future repairs that the watch might need. 

In case you have decided to opt for a pre-owned watch, you need to be certain of the source selling it.  It is advisable to buy from authorised dealer or auctioneers with the authorised paperwork.

While you may splurge just a little bit on your first watch, you need to be more prudent with your other choices. Start with allotting an annual budget and be very clear about the kind of watches you want in your collection. To begin with it is advisable to buy two or three premium watches in a year that will enhance your repertoire an annual budget will also ensure that you have enough funds at hand when a unique watch is launched or comes under the hammer. Which basically means that if the watch that has been on your wish-list is finally available with your retailers you have to budgets set aside for it.

After-sale service is another important consideration for you. Many manufacturers are committed to collectors and maintain relationships over a long period. The collector has access to archived information about their watches, on request, which can help in making an informed decision about buying watches - pre-owned or vintage. In terms of after-sale service, the luxury watch industry is divided into three thought schools. The first insists on replacing only movement components of a watch that have sustained wear and tear. The dial, case and hands should remain intact. If you have invested in such a piece, you need to take particular care of your watch and minimise its use to avoid devaluation in the future. 

The second allows for all components and parts to be replaced and fitted by the manufacturer. This gives longevity to the watch and from a collector's point of view is an ideal situation. You can enjoy wearing your watch without worrying about the long-term effects of wear and tear. The third school of thought takes into account watches that are no longer serviced by the manufacturer due to a number of reasons including exit from the market. In such scenarios, other watchmakers can take a sympathetic stand and restore watches that fall in this category. You need to have thorough knowledge and cordial relations with watch experts and watchmakers to get such timepieces serviced.

We at The Hour Markers take pride in our exhaustive yet ongoing knowledge about the world of fine-watchmaking. We hope to be with you at every step of your journey as a watch collector by bringing to you the latest collections, detailing about the newest movement and highlighting the watchmaking legacy of each brand. We assure you that collecting watches will add another dimension to your life and lifestyle as you would get to know more about horological marvels and meet people who have dedicated their lives to the art of watchmaking. 

In a box

Keep these errors at bay while starting your own collection:

  1. Missing the big picture: A watch is not just a dial, a movement or a case. It is all of these and more components put together. Don't lose focus of the bigger picture in comparing movements or dials.
  2. Price equals quality: Not always! Price or the number of complications does not ensure the high calibre of a watch.
  3. Buy it to wear it: It is important to know where and when you will wear a particular watch that you are investing in. If it doesn't fit into your lifestyle, you might re-consider adding it to your collection.
  4. Fact finding on the Internet: With a host of bloggers, influencers and forums jumping into the watch bandwagon, not everything you read online will be 100% authentic. Look for an offline source to authenticate the facts you find online.
  5. Rules of the game: Learn about the different components of a watch and their correct pronunciations to avoid looking like a novice while interacting with your collector peers.
  6. Keep your head on your shoulders: A sizeable watch collection is likely to give you bragging rights, but it is important to realise that collections are personalised so comparisons between collections are futile. Avoid getting carried away while discussing the watches you own. Be more appreciative of the creation rather than its ownership.