You can’t open any site about watches without discovering somebody who talks of investing in watches and collecting them. They usually show hard-to-find pieces and pretend that building an assortment with buying and selling is simple and straightforward. However, actually, we will see that this isn’t precisely the situation.

How to get into watches?

So, how to start a watch collection? For some people, the enthusiasm for watches began at a young age. Patiently, perhaps following a good family example, they set aside their own money to support the cost of the pleasure of fastening that first precious watch to their wrist. And then another. And then another.

Others wind up as collectors by chance. Maybe after getting a legacy and investigating what was really going on with it. Lastly, being chomped by the “watch bug.”

Others perhaps began their collection for various reasons. Some directly for financial goals – putting resources into something substantial and conceivably having growth in value after some time. Or on the other hand, they also want to be on the fashionable side. A watch, as an extra, has this kind of impact: it shows your style and ultimately communicates your character.

As should be obvious, actually, there is no single inspiration that moves watch lovers to begin collecting. Each assortment is unique, as some may prefer vintage watches, and others favor new watches: everybody has their own way. However, whatever your need or want, it’s useful to sit back, take a full breath, unwind, and sort out the thing you’re getting into.

Create a collection with a feasible target

You would better understand that getting at least one outstanding quality watch is expensive – so it’s unrealistic (or, if nothing else, not the best thing in the world) to just start shopping and purchasing whatever watch you like. That would be the wrong way to deal with the watch collection.

When you find yourself in this condition, it promptly follows that you need to concentrate on a feasible target: that is the reason watch lovers discover the subject that typically describes their taste and gives the concentration to their assortment. For instance, there are chronograph fans. Other people who love divers. Or, on the other hand, watches with dials of a specific tone or that have a particular size of watch.

A collection doesn’t need to be extremely expensive; you may concentrate on collecting an entire assortment of quartz watches, the same way people did during the 1980s with the Swatch. Remind that having a particular topic will make it simpler to accomplish it.


How to build a watch collection over time?

Genuine collectors don’t “assemble” an assortment: they “develop” it. A collection resembles a living element, so the real collector is more a nursery worker than a manufacturer. This implies that, regardless of whether there is a start, there won’t ever be an end, as the genuine lover will consistently search for the “amazing piece” to finish it.

Thus, it’s helpful to build up specific rules to assist you with starting your journey, that is, to make a worthy collection of watches while staying away from the usual traps that plague beginners collectors. Also, at last, it leads them to waste their money without building anything with real value.

Study your subject from the beginning

People are not meant to be researchers, legal advisors, or engineers: they have to figure out how to become one and keep studying to keep up to date. We can say something similar for people who want to become watch collectors. They must continue to advise themselves and understand the huge number of seemingly insignificant details that distinguish the viewer from the master. In this way, the most brilliant option is to focus to your advantage on a particular item and have some expertise in it unbalanced – like bumper movement watches. Also, when you’ve mastered that one, extend it by looking at nearby fields – like automatic clocks.

Discover the Rafa Nadal’s watch, by Richard Mille


Establish a monthly/yearly spending plan for your watch purchase

Even though collecting watches is a hobby, you need to dedicate regular time to the activity. For this reason, you should follow a detailed financial plan for your watch hunting. We know for sure that the adventure of hunting for a specific piece may be so passionate that you may surpass your spending limits – watch collecting can turn into an exceptionally inescapable enthusiasm. Therefore, the ideal approach to keep it in line is to set a financial plan and never surpass it. This way, you can keep your spending in check while developing your collection.

Never run into watch collection

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. When beginners enter the field, they will generally commit average new kid on the block mistakes. Experienced players can detect a newcomer far in advance – and they usually realize how to profit from their lack of experience. Thus, there’s no reason to hurry up. If a chance appears unrealistic, for the most part, it is only that.

Never stop improving your watch collection

A watch assortment is rarely finished, as it would be unthinkable. There is always a consistent opportunity to get better. Maybe you could search for a specimen of a watch already in your collection that looks better compared to the one you have. Or then again, find one more with a watch movement that is in a better condition than the one you have. Or then again, essentially, you need to let loose a few assets to buy another watch, which would be seriously intriguing/reasonable for your collection. If you sell a reference from your assortment, you add the support you gain to your financial plan.


Assessing the current value of the watches you own

If it’s not too much trouble, monitor and record the watches that you have bought and their value, as it will help you to understand better where the market is going. Likewise, if you end up focusing on particular models, remember that the watches you buy would be influenced – sometimes significantly – by the value of the pure investment. In any case, the genuine collectors, most importantly, are passionate about watches; the value is something that comes after.

Always wear your watches

Except if you live in a risky sport, and along these lines, your assortment may be better put away in a safe-box, the real collectors wear the watches they buy. Purchasing watches is fun since you’ll put something different on your wrist each time, and you’ll do it – for the most part – for the simple pleasure of doing it. Despite its most obvious ability, marking time, a watch is an accessory that boosts your appearance and gives you a unique look at social events. A man who knows watches is usually a man of good taste.

How many watches should a collector own?

It depends. It could be a number between one and infinity. But, of course, it depends on many factors. First of all, your finances. Then, what kind of social life you have, and how many social occasions you have to wear your watches. Business suites, gala dinner, formal clothes, sports activities, and more.

We would suggest aspiring collectors start with just one quality piece related to the theme you are passionate about and then slowly progress and buy others that fit well with your chosen theme. Be careful, though: always reckon with your wallet. Putting a piece in the collection that may not be perfect but you bought at an attractive price might be worth it. The best solution is always to wait for the right opportunity to present itself when you have the money ready to close the deal you have set.

Servicing your watch used to be a given. Now it has become an issue.

I was talking about watch servicing with my watchmaking professor a few days ago – as you readers know, frequenting a horology course permits me to get to grips with the technicalities of the trade. I might not become the next Gerald Genta, but I am pretty sure I will know much more than your average pen-pusher (given that I am one myself).

Now put the situation in context: my professor is a watchmaker with 30 years of experience – not your average pen-pusher either – and not a theoretician. He runs a shop and a watch repair lab.

And his conclusions were that the modern watch companies – that is, post-quartz crisis – are inherently selfish, and they are deliberately bending the truth to push clients and independent watchmakers into accepting their suspicious business practices.

Not that strongly expressed, but his sentiment about the issue was quite clear.

The evolution of watch servicing

In the good old days, the profession of independent watchmaker was accepted and endorsed by the business. Companies organized training sessions open to everyone when they brought new calibers to the market so to train people to repair the new stuff. Etablissage was common – that is, there were many companies making watch movements and many more assembling them under their brand.

Then, the Quartz Crisis came in 1970, with the debut of the first Seiko Astron. The semiconductor industry was in the hands of the American and the Japanese. For the Swiss, it was a bloodbath. Most Swiss companies folded, and others were forced to join conglomerates. Almost all the traditional mechanical movement makers ended into ETA, and the number of available calibers dropped down significantly.

Some of the companies making their own movements survived, other did not. But they realized that they were vulnerable, and had to build a continual stream of income from their end clients if they wanted to have a parachute for bad times.

The answer: the creation of official repair networks

Companies knew that you had to tap into a recurring business, and they badopted the solution used by car makers.

They started to restrict the supply of spare parts only to the labs of their networks. They closed every source of information to the outside – no more technical courses, no more technical manuals. It was like “if you want to service our watches, you do what we tell you, or else”. Independents were left out of the loop, and their supply of spare parts closed.

As of today, affiliated repair labs do what their franchisors tell them to do. Full stop. This means buying certain equipment, and adhering to strict guidelines about watch servicing.

Brands however give back something. Restricting supply and establishing rules, they are basically creating bottlenecks where the customers are funneled. So, when you enter into the tribe, you get customers coming through your door – independently of the prices that you apply. No more competition with the others: you do as you wish. Nope, as your brand wishes, as you receive a “suggested price list for services”. Which is way more than the average market price, ça va sans dire.

A real tale of a fictitious company

This is a typical case of a fictitious brand. You buy a new DeBoiron (I made this brand up, do not bother searching for it). The watch has a warranty of two years. After three years it is in need of a service. You go to a DeBoiron official repair service and they tell you that they have to change this and that, then they perform a service on your timepiece.

You pay the service at the “suggested price”. DeBoiron’s service manual says that in case of a watch servicing you have to change all sorts of elements – mainspring, gaskets, maybe come wheels for good measure. Part of the money is funneled to DeBoiron for spare parts you did not need, and part stays with the service center.

Is the service center despicable to adhere to the company’s requirements?

It just follows what DeBoiron’s manuals tell it to do – they have no choice. If the manual says that you have to apply oil in some places, you do it. Because the client might be an inspector hired by DeBoiron to check is the service has been made to its standards. If the company discovers that the lab did not service the watch as written in the service manuals, the service center risks being cast off the DeBoiron’s official network.

At the same time, if you go with your DeBoiron to an independent, he cannot service your watch, unless you are lucky and he has some old spare parts available recovered from other watches. If you are not, you are stuck with the company’s official network – or your watch would become an expensive piece of junk that you cannot repair anymore.

Would you trust such a company?

the same company that runs this kind of service network is possibly the same that plasters the media with the announcement about their revolutionary new movement, the AutoDeBo.  Through the use of advanced silicon components, this movement reaches a longer maintenance period ofr six years, against the other companies’ five.

Too bad that the service costs three times as much as the others. But this is not written in DeBoiron’s ads.

All of this means that you do not have any kind of control over what any watch manufacturer asserts – without really knowing if this is the best you can do for your own watch.

The double check at the bench

To come back to my personal experience, we were servicing a quartz watch. Despite what you think about it, watchmaking schools still teach us to do such a thing. While dismounting the movement, the professor showed us that the oiling specs used to service that peculiar watch movement, issued by the manufacturer of said caliber, were completely wrong. If followed to the letter, they would tend to clout the movement, as the viscosity of the oil was too much for the faint pull exerted by the quartz movement impulse.

Possibly in the long run this would require a service sooner, or a replacement with another movement. And this discrepancy between the specs and the practice was well-known among watchmakers.

So, you get the conclusion that you want. As for me – an independent watch guy – I am continuing to buy and refurbish vintage movements, which have a large number of spares available on the market, and with the new mineral oils and techniques used in servicing, these old movements need a five-years timespan between services, on the average.

With the added bonus that everyone who knows his trade can repair them, and there won’t be anyone ever telling them not to.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

The rise and fall of one of the most illustrious watch companies

Old Zenith movement

I could be biased, but I still cringe somehow when I think about Zenith and its current fate of being a sort of troubled child lost in the stable of LVMH, with watches felt just as undeservedly “expensive”.

It saddens me to see a brand with such an illustrious history that is vegetating, without a clear path to re-establish itself at the levels of quality and technical excellence that were typical of its legacy.
And I cannot do anything but think about Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of the company, who, after finishing a caliber, felt that the name used to indicate the universe’s highest point was the fitting name for such mechanical excellence.

So many changes, so little focus

The recent history of Zenith follows closely the one of several other important brands of horology. After a troubled period during the Quartz Crisis, the company had a comeback, and in 1999, it entered into the orbit of the LVMH luxury group. Which put different CEOs at its helm – all eventually ineffective.

As per the New York Times in 2019:

Over the last 20 years, Zenith has been reborn a number of times. In the 2000s, under Thierry Nataf, it embraced the excesses of the years before the 2008 global downturn. Then, under Jean-Frédéric Dufour (now leading Rolex), it became more conservative.

In 2016, a breakthrough. Enter Jean-Claude Biver, the genius marketer that made the fortune of a brand like Blancpain and Hublot, amidst great expectations of a relaunch of the iconic Zenith brand.

Jean Claude Biver

Yet, the cheers lasted only for one year. In 2017 Biver leaves Zenith for “health reasons”.

And then the current CEO becomes Julien Tornare, coming from a career inside one of the most irriverent and forward-thinking companies there is, Vacheron Constantin. I am being sarcastic here, as much as I love the brand (and I love The Old King much). Anyways, Tornare has ideas. Great ideas. But maybe, not the right ones for the company.

The launch of the amazing caliber 9100

Right after his debut, Tornare – who was heading the Asian operations of Vacheron Constantin – keeps busy with the preparation of the innovative (and I am meaning it, extremely forward-thinking) caliber 9100, with its groundbreaking silicon oscillator.

The innovative silicon oscillator

The watch is launched in 2019, and takes the market by storm. It is critically acclaimed by the industry and the media. The movement has awe-inspiring stats: its innovative design is based on a huge vibrating oscillator that beats at 129,600 vph (18 Hz). Almost mind-boggling for a mechanical movement.

Remember that the El Primero, possibly the best-known modern chronographic movement made by the same Maison, beats at 36,000 bph – almost 4 times slower than this.

Yet, what happens? Enter the COVID in 2020. Zenith production came to a screeching stop – and the lucrative markets that Tornare knew so well immediately dried up, also thanks to the Hong Kong revolts. The exports of Swiss timepieces went down like lead balloons – and Zenith’s numbers with them.

As of late, the company sells around 21,000 timepieces per year – which Tornare, in an interview, says that should grow to 25,000, and has an annual sales figure of around 100 million CHF. Unfortunately, the other members of the LVMH group like TAG Heuer and Hublot are six times bigger than Zenith.

A typical Zenith Pilotìs chrono

Are Zenith watches expensive? In Mr. Tornare’s point of view, not enough. His “sweet spot” for watches is 10,000 CHF from the 5,000 CHF the company enjoys now (which is already considered expensive by the public). It is desirable? Yes, for him. Is it possible? I am highly doubtful.

The real issue? Lack of coherence

While the movement, mounted inside the Defy line, is extremely promising, the rest of Zenith’s production looks like it has been abandoned, marketing-wise. The traditional production of models for which Zenith is famous, the vintage-inspired pilot’s watches that fight squarely against IWC’s.

How can you put together something like the Defy and a Pilot’s watch? It seems a bit far off, and not only to me.

Detail of the mechanism of a Zenith Defy

So, despite the good intentions – and great technical achievements – fostered by Mr. Tornare, I am not seeing the launch of the Defy as a solution to the company’s ailments. Possibly, it is even something that is going to put more strain into a brand that has not a clear view of its future, tactically and strategically.

And if I can make an educated suggestion to Mr. Tornare, he should start from the basics. Please revise the current production lines and models, and reorganize. Divide it into coherent lines, and match them against the competitors, product-wise and price-wise. Most of all, take a long, hard look at prices. My readers say that Zenith prices are way out of the watches’ technical merits, and I tend to agree.

You cannot build up a brand if you have weak foundations – and the first is price. Get back to the four “P’s” of marketing, please: Product, Place, Price, Promotion.

Price. “Zenith watches are expensive” should not be heard from its would-be clients anymore.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual