As a child, I was fascinated with collecting coins from all over the world. I acquired Spanish pesos, Italian lire, Greek drachma, amongst other international coins. As I saved money, I started to add more American pre-1965 silver coins. I would occasionally pull out the binder that contained my collection, admire it and then put the binder away. As I grew older, I lost interest in the hobby. If I could categorize my disenchantment, I would have to say it was having a hobby where there was too little interaction. Find coin, buy coin, add to the binder, put the binder away and repeat. I was in acquisition mode but not really enjoying the things I had collected.
Several years later, watch collecting entered my life. Unlike coin collecting, I acquire a piece and enjoy it every time I pull it from the watch box and place it on my wrist.
Watch collecting found me—thus my self-imposed title of “Accidental Collector.” Fifteen years ago, my wife was looking for a Christmas present for me. Naively, she thought, how hard could it be to pick out a watch? She was overwhelmed by the choices and suggested I visit Feldmar to find something that suited me. As I searched and acquired my first modern mechanical watch, I realized that this could become a hobby that I would truly enjoy.
Watch collecting isn’t passive. Not only is there fun in the acquisition phase— looking for and finding that special piece—there is the enjoyment and interactivity of wearing, unlike with coin collecting. Watches are worn. It is nice to have a hobby that you can put on your wrist and enjoy throughout the day. My acquisitions don’t just sit in a case to be looked at on occasion, they are part of my daily activities.
When I put on a watch, I think about how I acquired it and special events that happened in my life on the days I have worn that particular piece (for example, I have one watch that is reserved for special occasions and date night with my wife).
My interest in mechanical watches comes from my engineering background and wanting to know (forgive the pun) how things tick. It fascinates me that you wind a watch to create and generate energy in the main springs. That energy is regulated and released through a series of wheels, the escapement and the balance assembly that precisely relay the time on the face of the watch (here’s a great video showing how that works). For hundreds of years, the basis for how a mechanical watch runs has not changed. Materials and the manufacturing process have improved, but mechanical watches perform the same function they always have.
Having a time piece that is run by mechanical means is a joy. I often find myself looking at the display back of some of my watches and admiring the hypnotic movement of the balance wheel oscillating back and forth.
Watch Folks are Some of the Best People I’ve Met
One of the more enjoyable aspects of watch collecting for me has been the people. The people are the watchmakers, the retailers and distributors and the collectors.
I have been on three watch manufactory tours, two in Germany and one in Switzerland. Tremendous detail and craftsmanship goes into making a watch, from machining and testing the individual components to assembling and then testing the assembled units. Quality control is an essential part of this craft, but in countless situations, I have been impressed with the zeal the watch makers have for “getting it right.” There is no quality control program that can compensate for the pride of a job well done. As I went from manufacturing station to manufacturing station, I was repeatedly called over to “check this out” and proudly shown everything from how to properly blue screws to final assembly and testing of a minute repeater. When I wear my watches, I am reminded of the effort that manufacturing them took.
Along with the energy and effort that it takes to create a watch, I have learned to appreciate the attention to detail that goes into making these mechanical marvels. When you watch a dial being manufactured or look at it on your wrist, you can’t help but notice that watches are made to last and you won’t be needing a software update (a topic for another post).
Watch collecting has been an avenue to meeting some great people and making new friends. My wife and I have fond memories of the watch folks we have met through the years, from Walter Lange, the founder of the modern rendition of A. Lange and Sohne who resurrected his ancestors company after the fall of the Berlin wall, to the Egyptian doctor I met on Lake Como, Italy who noticed my Breguet Type XXI and immediately started talking about his love for watch collecting. I still remember my wife striking up a conversation with his wife about their spouses’ intense passion for the hobby.
Watch collecting became an unexpected passion for me. With an appreciation of craftsmanship and ingenuity, a connection to people and personal enjoyment, watch collecting, in all of its many facets, has become a large part of my life.