Some watches are just must-haves for every collector. Here are my choices.
Spend any time searching the web for watch collecting advice…
… and you’ll quickly stumble across dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts about “Watches Every Collector Should Own.”
Unfortunately for me and others like me who won’t spend the price of a new car on a watch, most of these lists amount to little more than watch porn. (The No. 1 resulting “must have” article on Google right now touts watches that will run you tens of thousands of dollars.)
So here’s my take on the type.
#1: A watch you love
If you could own only one watch, this would be it. It might not be your most expensive or prettiest or most collectible, but it’s the watch you pick up and wear the most. It’s the one you choose when you can’t decide which one to wear. For me, it’s a modern Hamilton Khaki King automatic. I can wear it anywhere and it won’t embarrass me. It doesn’t mind going out in the rain. It keeps excellent time. And it’s comfortable. Plus the display back lets me show it off a little to non-watch people who wonder why I’d care about such things.
#2: A watch with some history – yours or someone else’s
I have a 1953 Hamilton Medford that was owned by my great uncle. I never knew the man, but based on the stories I’ve been told, I wish I had. The watch isn’t in the best condition but still runs and keeps good time, and I wear it every so often when the weather is nice (waterproof it isn’t).
You may not have anything with similar family history available, but there are plenty of watches with history. Engraving on the back of any watch hurts its value (unless it’s provably engraved to someone famous, of course), so finding a watch with some sentimental value is one way to afford models you might not otherwise. If you’re into military history, there are many watches out there engraved to commemorate someone’s military career (though these can get expensive in some cases).
#3: A solid gold watch
Solid gold doesn’t have to mean a second mortgage. But it does mean there will always be a floor on the value of the watch. Watch cases, especially on smaller vintage models, might only contain 10 to 25 grams of gold, but that’s always going to be worth something, even on a model that no one would ever consider melting down for scrap. (Though a few years ago when gold was so high, countless great watches did meet that fate, sadly.)
Some collectors only go for gold, which makes sense if you’re trying to ensure value, but it does mean that many excellent watches aren’t going to be available to you. Having at least one, though, is a great addition to even a small collection.
Mine is a 1967 Omega Seamaster Deville Automatic. I bought it in New Orleans for my birthday a couple years ago (I was born in ‘67). It’s in fantastic condition, and I don’t wear it much because I want to keep it that way.
#4: A fun watch
Every collection should have a watch that’s there just for fun. For me, it’s a 1970s Helbros Mickey Mouse model. There have been countless Mickey Mouse watches over the years, but some cost a pretty penny (such as old Ingersoll models from the 30s) while many are closer in mechanical quality to wind-up toys than watches. The Helbros uses a Lorsa manual-wind movement that’s better quality than those used in most character watches, and as a result, my Mickey is actually a pretty reliable timekeeper.
#5: A “wow” watch
I suppose anyone who only wears Pateks is always wearing a “wow” watch, but most of my vintage pieces are small and relatively understated by modern standards. It’s fun, though, to have a watch or two that catch people’s attention. I actually have a couple.
One is a Benrus Dial-o-Matic, a unique jump-hour watch from the 50s that simply stands out. It’s a wow not only at a distance because of the interesting dial, but also up close when people realize that the star in the center is the seconds hand.
The other is a Bulova Sky King. They rarely show up online and clearly weren’t very popular when they came out in the 50s, but they have a fascinating look, with a black dial and numerals that live outside the crystal on the bezel. I found one on eBay not long ago and probably overpaid, but it’s in excellent condition for a 65-year-old watch and simply doesn’t look like any other watch.