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What determines the longevity of a watch within a collection?

Date: Feb 06, 2012,14:15 PM -  (view entire thread)

What determines the longevity of a watch within a collection?

By Ping Tsai

© January 2012

There is a question that I have been contemplating for a long time – What distinguishes a watch that is kept from one that is sold? To put it another way, what exactly determines the longevity of a watch within an individual's collection? I have seen watches of which some were kept for a lifetime and others sold within a year, both purchased with equal enthusiasm and fondness. Why does one particular watch hold its owner's attachment longer than another? Surely there are a number of factors that come into play and I will attempt to examine a few in this post that I've considered. I invite the public to share any additional insights as well.

Quite often we buy watches that were highly sought after, by ourselves and others, their acquisition accompanied by great excitement and enthusiasm. We wear them for a while, blog about them, photograph them and share them with the horologic community. Yet over time, sometimes a short period of time, we notice their appeal slowly dwindling and then before we know it, the watch ends up on Collector's Market. How does that happen? Why does it happen?

"The idea of getting a watch outshines the watch itself."

The occurrence of losing appeal of a highly desired watch is not all that unusual. A dear friend of mine purchased an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore LE T3 watch a number of years ago. At the time, larger watches were massively gaining popularity and the T3 was the largest ROO AP had released to date. It was also unique in its design sporting lever-like crown and pusher guards giving the watch a futuristic, mechanical look. The T3 was tied to the release of the third Terminator movie, purposefully showing up in scenes from the film as well as receiving a hand in its design from the star of the movie, longtime AP fan Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Consequentially, the T3's design and release was one of the most anticipated in AP's watch history. All this hype fueled sales of the watch and my friend just happened to call at the right time and scored one for himself. Another gentleman was looking at the watch at the time and turned it down. My friend was next in line and purchased it on the spot. The first gentleman, realizing that he had just missed a chance to own a coveted AP Limited Edition piece, suddenly had second thoughts but it was too late. He had lost the mental mind-race to commit to a buy.

Surprisingly enough, after a year and a half of wearing the watch on and off, my friend put his T3 up for sale to fund the purchase of a new watch. All the while, I wondered - what happened to the pride in ownership that I had witnessed; the constant reveling in compliments from strangers, and the repeated self-proclamations, "I love this watch."? Something that was such a prized possession just a year earlier became so easily relinquished in a short period of time. It baffled me.

I concluded that the act and idea of getting the watch superseded the actual watch itself. The anticipation, the competitiveness, the exclusivity, and the climactic purchase were the emotional culprits that clouded judgment, rationality and the all important question that should precede any large scale buy, "Do I really like this watch?"

"The more you get to know it, the more you like it."

Did you ever meet someone new, liked her and found her interesting enough that you committed to seeing her again and several times after that? Perhaps she looked good on paper, had a good paying job, and was physically attractive, educated and in good health. Then you begin spending more time with her, taking her to family functions and formal events. You discover her idiosyncrasies, the nuances of her personality, the contours of her skin and the curves of her character. You increasingly want to see her more and as a result others less. Before you know it, it dawns on you…you're in love and you never want to let her go.

As cheesy as that just sounded, I noticed that a person can grow to love a watch the way he grows to love a person. To illustrate I will use the example of that same dear friend who went to IGOTT2 last year and brought home a certain P10 watch on pretty much an impulse purchase – after seeing it in person for the first time. The watch wasn't exactly "low-end" and I questioned whether he had really thought the decision through carefully. That was 7 months ago and he reassures me that he "likes the watch more and more" every time he wears it. I asked him why he thought that was and he said that it was because of all the subtleties that he discovered after buying the watch; little things such as the look of the dial when the light hits it from different angles, or the convenient way how it seems to go with just about anything in his wardrobe, and not to mention the supreme comfort of the strap, even during continuous wear. It was a case of his personality meshing well with the personality of the watch. It fit his lifestyle and thus fit him. And things that fit, effortlessly and naturally, tend to stick around longer than things that don't.

Classic Styles versus Trends and Fads

You may recall not too long ago when orange seemed to be a popular color for a car. I along with my family ended up being one of the early ones to follow that trend of the moment opting for an Infiniti FX45 in a very visible copper orange hue. It stood out, but in a good way like the woman at a classy cocktail event, wearing a red dress in a sea of boring black. It made us feel "special" very much the way a watch can.

A number of years ago, I chose a watch because of its look which was unique and stood out. The BR03-92 was an oversized, contemporary, military styled watch with a white ceramic square case. As a woman's watch, it was unconventional but extremely cool and fashionable. I liked that it looked different from most of the ladies watches on the market. Unfortunately, after a period of time, the fashionable qualities about the watch became dated and lost their novelty value. Since the watch wasn't made for a woman's wrist in terms of fit and comfort, the aesthetic features were overshadowed and not enough to keep the watch around. Not too long after I noticed the diminishing appeal of the watch, I found a new owner for it who could give the signature Bell & Ross more deserved wrist time.

I owned the BR03-92 for less than a year. Comparatively, I have owned my Panerai PAM 159 for nearly 10 years. I can honestly say that in the beginning, I did not desire one more than the other. The level of interest for the watches and the excitement of receiving them were the same for both. The Panerai has been able to hold its appeal continuously. It isn't a traditional looking watch but its design is more conventional than the Bell & Ross having a black face, stainless steel case and a slightly more rounded shape. Worn on the wrist, it does fail to grab as much attention as the Bell & Ross.

I would like to make a bold assumption and say that watches that stand out more have a more difficult time with achieving longevity in ownership. Perhaps it is because the more times something is seen and noticed, even by the person wearing the watch, the quicker that the novelty factor is depleted. Novelty does a great job at securing a watch purchase but prolonging it to keep the watch around is where the challenge lies. And fashionable, trendy designs do a lousy job at this. Classic looks fare much better whether it be watches, clothing, furniture or cars. The Lange might have a longer life than the Urwerk. The same can hold true for the black trench coat over the plaid wool blazer or the Corbusier chair over the floral-print upholstered loveseat. Sure a bright yellow VW bug is cute but it might not see as many years as a dark gray Mercedes C class. Of course there are always exceptions and I take a bow at the individual who loves his leopard dial amber jewel encrusted Rolex so much that he will never part with it.

Emotional Attachment

Finally, and probably most important of all – the one thing that makes us hold onto a watch more than anything else is emotional connection. The watch could be the oldest, ugliest, most worthless, completely unfit to wear and incapable of telling time piece of junk. But if for some small reason, it means something to us in whatever way, we will hold onto it until the end of time…or more feasibly, pass it onto our loved ones so that it will always hold presence within our lives and within our families. Perhaps the watch was given to us by someone we cared about. Perhaps it was the first big purchase that we made with the first paycheck from our first job and was symbolic of personal success. Maybe something memorable happened when we bought the watch or maybe we went through great pains to acquire it. The examples are endless, to the extent that there isn't a single person that can't relate.

It is the reason that I pleaded that a certain legendary Panerai not be let go because the story behind its acquisition was utterly meaningful and memorable. It was a close call but luckily…it worked.



Copyright January 2012 - Ping Tsai & - all rights reserved

Comments, suggestions, and corrections to this article are welcome.


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