Are you a beginner trying to figure out how to start a watch collection? Here’s a 101.
As a long-time watch collector, I often get asked why I do it. As someone who’s worked in the auction industry, I’ve seen a range of reasons why people do it — and why so many drop a lot of zeroes to do it.
The main reasons we love watches are style and stories. A watch can be a great addition to an outfit, a conversation piece on history or mechanics, and also a small visual indicator of who we are and who we want to be. And on top of that, it tells the time. Well, usually. Not always.
If you’re remotely interested in any of these things or are just remotely curious, read on. Here’s a comprehensive yet basic and beginner-friendly guide on how to start a watch collection.
Table of Contents
Starting a Watch Collection From Scratch
Here are some important things to consider when starting a watch collection:
Why Do You Want To Start a Watch Collection?
No idea is truly random. If you’re just now considering taking up this hobby, it must’ve been sparked by something. I implore you to think about that to help you start navigating the beginning of your journey.
Here are some common reasons people start collecting:
#1: You Want To Add to Your Style Arsenal
If you’re looking at watches as an accessory to pair with your outfits, this is a pretty easy place to start.
What colors do you often wear? Go for a dial that either matches or complements your favorite tones.
Perhaps you want watches that go with a particular type of clothing style. Military watches look great with workwear, so maybe you start with one of those. Maybe you love formal wear and suits, so you can start your collection by finding the perfect dress watch.
The great thing about collecting with this intention is that there’s a wide range of watch styles.
#2: You Own One Watch, and You Now You Want More
I know a lot of guys who’ve been wearing one watch for years. If you’re one of these guys, maybe you inherited your timepiece. Or maybe you just saw a piece you loved, went for it, and just didn’t think you needed another one until now.
If you want to expand, consider whether or not you want more watches just like the one you’re wearing. Is it a pilot watch? Great. Pilot watches come in a wide variety, from chronographs to fleigers, from modern to vintage.
Maybe you only want vintage watches. In that case, you’ll start your journey at antique shops, auction houses, and secondary markets.
Perhaps you want a collection with variety. If your initial watch is a diver, add a dress watch to the mix. Then, from there, a field watch. Do your research regarding the different kinds of styles and figure out which boxes you want to check.
If you inherited a small collection and you want to expand it, you’d go about it the same way. The only other consideration is that you have the option of selling and trading as well.
#3: You’re Nostalgic Over a Childhood Watch
Did you own a Casio digital watch as a kid? Or perhaps you had a Mickey Mouse or Snoopy? You can start your collection by trying to find grown-up versions of what you loved about that particular model.
Casio and Citizen make tons of electronic models that have a retro-cool effect. Meanwhile, affordable heritage brands like Timex often partner with other properties to serve up respectable timepieces with characters on them.
This can be your entryway into “real” watches. From here, you’ll start to learn what you like and don’t like about watches in general.
#4: You Came Across Something You Love (and Now You Want More)
You’d approach this similarly to wanting to expand your one-watch collection. However, you should decide whether or not that model you love. Maybe you saw it on a watch ad, or maybe you walked past it in a window display. Ask yourself if this watch is really the one you want to start with.
Perhaps you love the Omega Speedmaster because of how it looks and the fact it’s Swiss-made, but you don’t have the budget for it. You might start your collection with a lower-priced chronograph, then follow it up with a Swiss-made piece.
Your burgeoning collection may eventually hit every component and teach you more about your developing interests.
If you’re impressed with its space exploration history, you might consider the Bulova Lunar Pilot, which also went to the moon.
Think about the things you love about this one watch, and curate your collection around that.
#5: You Feel Like You Should Have a Watch Collection
Feeling you “should” start a collection is perfectly okay. And you’d be surprised at how easy it is to start a collection based simply on the fact you think it’s just the grown-up thing to do.
Do your research regarding the different kinds of dress and sports watches out there, and start your collection by acquiring one of each. Now you have something you can wear with a suit and something you can wear on casual occasions.
From there, you might realize that you love your silver watch with a black dial, but you want one that can really match your favorite gold tie — this might mean the next acquisition should be a gold watch.
Or maybe you absolutely love your field watch but want something with more complications. Perhaps the next acquisition should be a chronograph.
#6: You Love the Mechanical Component of Watches
I once took a friend who was ambivalent about watches to a lecture about watch movements. He absolutely fell in love with the history and technique and decided he wanted to start a collection of timepieces that represented scientific breakthroughs.
Sounds ambitious, but technically all movements represent some forward motion in the development of watch mechanics.
If you’re into the mechanical components of watches, maybe your goal is to collect a range of different movements. I suggest starting your research there. From internet forums to calibercorner.com, there are plenty of resources on the internet to help you understand movements.
I also recommend collecting pieces with exhibition casebacks so you can watch these movements in action. And you don’t have to drop a bundle on these models either. Seiko is known for constructing entry-level mechanicals that often have see-through backs.
#7: You Want To Add to Your Investment Portfolio
Approaching watch collecting as an investment is a bit of an advanced intention, so I really don’t recommend it. Most watches will go down in value. But if you’re really interested in doing it this way, then I highly suggest educating yourself before buying that first watch.
Do a lot of reading and talk to auction house specialists. Brands like Rolex and Patek are often reliable when it comes to investment pieces. Limited editions are also good models to look out for.
If you’re new to watches and you want to be an investment collector, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.
Now that you’ve figured out your motivation, here are the other things to consider:
Watches, unlike art collections or toy collections, are integrated into your practical day-to-day. There are people who collect timepieces just to display them, certain investment collectors, for example. However, if you’re a beginner, I’m assuming you’ll want to wear these pieces.
If you’re a logger, get at least one durable sports watch that you can wear to work. I’m not saying you can’t have several precious metal watches if that’s what you love, but consider what your typical days look like.
Similarly, if you’re like me and your office is a traditional suit-and-tie situation, you usually won’t be allowed to wear humongous, gritty tool models.
Fortunately, even the smallest budget can give you a pretty good collection. The best way to take your finances into consideration is to make a budget and stick to it.
If you’re a beginner, don’t think you’ll have your grail collection right away. (Actually, I’d advise you stick to this advice even if your budget is pretty huge). After all, what you might consider your ultimate collection today might be different ten years from now.
Decide on a number of watches (maybe just three to five to begin with), set a reasonable price ceiling for yourself, and stick to it for this initial launch.
Do Your Due Diligence
Do all of your homework. Look at all of the places you can buy watches. Consider boutiques, eBay, gray markets, auction houses, heck, even the mall.
See what you can get for your money.
Maybe a certain model is more expensive at an authorized dealer, but it comes with all the paperwork and a great warranty.
Maybe a really trustworthy seller on eBay is looking to give you a deal because it’s a piece you have a huge interest in but no one else does.
There’s a lot of push and pull here.
Don’t be in a rush to pull the trigger on that first piece. The acquisition process is a big part of watch collecting, so really do your best to enjoy it!
Do You Have a Grail?
If you have one absolute grail, and you’ve done all your homework on it, and you want it to be the center of your collection, you can do one of two things.
You can start your journey with the grail itself. Perhaps it’ll take some saving, some prospecting, and so on. Depending on how elusive your grail is, this can take years. You’ll simply have to accept that.
Or, you can ask yourself what about it makes it your grail. What pieces are you looking to acquire around your centerpiece? Perhaps start with those! You can also collect affordable, more attainable alternatives that you can use as stepping stones to get to that ultimate upgrade.
How To Start a Luxury Watch Collection
Relatedly, if you want to start a luxury collection, you have to remember that in the watch world “luxury” means more than just a price tag. It also means exclusivity and reputation.
Why do you want a luxury collection? Do you love precious metals? Do you love limited editions? Maybe you’re all about the most complex movements. There are a lot of things that make watches luxurious that also make them unattainable to even those with big budgets.
That being the case, you may want to set yourself a goal regarding where you want to take your collection.
Perhaps in five to ten years, you want one or two (or three or four!) very specific 50k vintage pieces. You can start with some entry-level luxury pieces and keep your eye out for good upgrades. Think of your collection as a living, always-changing thing.
No one really starts with their perfect luxury collection.
How To Start a Watch Collection on a Budget
As mentioned, stick to a realistic budget and decide on a number of watches. Maybe three slightly pricier pieces or five slightly more affordable pieces. There are a lot of good watches out there in the budget realm.
As with luxury collecting, you never know where a budget collection will take you in a few years. Be open to upgrades and look out for bang-for-buck options.
Seiko and Citizen are known for their horological chops, price-for-quality, and wide range. Casio is a good retro-cool brand that has a lot of esteem. Tissot is a good option for affordable Swiss-made models.
I actually also recommend checking out unabashed homage makers. Even if you don’t want a cheaper dupe of a luxury piece, brands like Alpha and Steinhart still make other mechanically inclined standards.
Need some quick answers to questions about beginner watch collecting? Here are some common ones!
Is Collecting Watches Worth It?
Yes, collecting watches is worth it. As long as you love it, you know why you’re doing it, and you aren’t ignoring bill payments to acquire pieces, watch collecting can be really fun and meaningful.
What Should a Watch Collection Include?
What a collection should include depends on why you’re collecting.
You might want a diverse collection with a wide range of different styles. Perhaps you have a theme, like just pilot watches or just Rolexes. In those cases, you might want to consider historical or important models.
You’ll have different boxes to check depending on your intentions.
How Many Watches Are Ideal in a Collection?
There isn’t an ideal number of watches for any collection. You could have a collection of three rotating pieces if you sell as well as buy. You might want every tentpole Omega.
For beginners, I suggest acquiring three to five over a year or a few years, depending on your budget.
Can You Make Money From Watch Collecting?
Yes, but I wouldn’t consider trying this as a beginner. There’s a lot to learn, and the market is always changing.
Meet Other Watch Lovers!
My favorite part of watch collecting is that you get to be part of a community.
Real watch lovers know that pretentiousness isn’t part of this world, so don’t get dejected if you come across an unsupportive watch snob.
Enthusiasts are all about, well, enthusiasm. You can learn a lot in the watch-collecting community and grow and change as a collector.
Do you have any questions about starting a collection? If so, let me know in the comments!