My Biggest Watch Collecting Mistakes
If you’re looking for a tale of joy and prosperity, look away, dear audience. We have all made mistakes, some more than others, but what I am about to present before you is nothing short of a watch collecting nightmare. But it is no terrible dream; it is the truth, awake and intact, and it shall forever haunt me. Look away, dear audience, look away. These are my biggest watch collecting mistakes. You have been warned.
Rolex GMT-Master II 116710LN
The first mistake is not the first watch that I owned, but rather the first watch on which I spent more than I probably should have. Much of the cost was afforded by selling a non-date Submariner—that’s pre-ceramic—and the rest by caving in the head of my unsuspecting piggy bank. Its broken shards, sharp and brittle, would have been considered the foreshadowing of this next endeavour, had I had the foresight to see it.
It wasn’t so much the purchase of the watch that was the mistake. It was 2011, five years after Rolex had bestowed the GMT-Master II—and indeed the Rolex brand—with a bezel formed from the futuristic, indestructible, deeply glossy ceramic. Perhaps Rolex was a little late to the game, but its execution was nothing short of perfection; deeply crisp numbers coated in a fine mist of platinum made—in my mind at least—the aluminium bezel of old feel antiquated by comparison.
And that was far from the only benefit procured by ditching the old and fostering the new; the GMT-Master II introduced a fresh case, sturdier and more of its time, along with a bracelet that, dare I say it, made the outgoing feel like it had all the solidity of an Easter egg. It was the framework for the entire collection going forward, and I was getting in on the ground floor. Would you believe it—I purchased that Rolex GMT-Master II ceramic, with box and papers, the lot—for £3,500.
But this story, like all the others to follow, does not have a happy ending. I enjoyed the watch for a year, two at the most, before my eye started to wander. But I was cocksure knowing that my purchase would return me what I paid for it if not very close, that I had enjoyed my time with it for free. So, when the watch departed me, wrapped in foam and brown paper, I was feeling rather smug.
But it wasn’t to last, because the watch that followed, a Panerai, although I enjoyed it, did not fill the hole left behind by the Rolex. But the Rolex had started to creep up in price, new and used. I delayed and delayed and delayed until—I could no longer afford it. That has since changed, but knowing that one sat on my bedside table for £3,500 not too long ago makes the thought of repurchasing it for two to three times as much a pill impossible to swallow.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15300
If you need to take a break, I suggest you do you so now, because this tale of woe is only about to descend even further into madness. Might I remind you that there is no light at the end of this tunnel, not even the sweet release of a train—it’s simply and horrifyingly just an endless black void with no end in sight.
It didn’t seem that way at the time. Keen to put the GMT-Master II behind me, and eager to climb the ladder of great watchmakers that lay before me, I made a decision. It could well have been one of the greatest decisions of my life. Sadly, we both know that what might have seemed to be a moment of stunning clarity then can only devolve into absolute disaster. Oh, what I would give to tell my past self otherwise, instead of watching the events unfold over and over.
As chance had it, I found myself in the position to buy an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. It is a beautiful watch, a pillar that turned the tides on an entire industry, an original that spawned as many copycats as it has sides. Finally, I could move on from the Rolex, rinse out the bad taste that had lingered for so long and come to own the watch of my dreams. It was the most I had ever spent on a watch in my life—in fact, it was the most I had ever spent on anything that wasn’t a car or a house. I was nervous. I was excited.
And it was everything I dreamt it would be. The finishing, the dial, the movement, every bit as exquisite as they should be from a watchmaker considered at the very peak of its field. That could have been it, could have been the end of the story, a fairy tale come to life—but we both know that isn’t going to happen.
An opportunity to move house presented itself, and as chance would have it, the money I needed to do so was wrapped in a neat little steel bow around my wrist. It was no easy decision, dear audience, no easy decision at all, and it was with great sorrow that I parted ways with my beloved Royal Oak. I pray that you are sitting down, each and every one of you, because the price I sold that watch for, a watch that commands near on £20,000 today, was the same as I had purchased it: £7,000. As your head spins and bile rushes to your throat, I say take a hold of yourself—because the worst is yet to come.
F. P. Journe Chronometre Bleu
Of course, these journeys are not ones of immediate recourse. They are slow, punishing, revealing mistakes that bleed like ink wicking through a page, taking over piece by piece until they corrupt completely. But it’s the third and final mistake that excels in its short-sightedness, in its soul-consuming retrospect until there’s nothing left to do but weep. When you find out why I’m not holding anything, you’ll probably want to weep too.
You might think by this point that, as an individual partaking in the buying and selling of fine watches, that I might have absorbed some level of knowledge or intellect, if even accidentally, by some kind of cerebral osmosis. But oh, dear audience, this is not the low point in the play where the fortunes of our plucky hero start to turn in his favour; this is a downward slope leading off the edge of a cliff and onto the jagged rocks below.
Of course, I was very aware of what watches I liked and those I didn’t, and my eye was kept close on the marketplace for something that could match or exceed the Royal Oak I had so enjoyed. As you might imagine, these were no easy boots to fill; there was little out there that could satiate such a spoilt palate, particularly anything within reach of the price I had paid for the Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak, in all honesty, had been a heady decision that, second time around with an older head on my shoulders and a bigger mortgage to pay, seemed an excess too much, nevertheless the pale spot on my wrist seemed to grow uglier by the day. It needed covering and covering well.
And do you know what; my prayers were answered. For all the misery that had gone before, a path that I had not even considered treading opened up to me, a once-in-a-lifetime chance that, despite my clumsy interactions thus far, fell right into my lap. I would demonstrate the watch that was presented to me, but now they are next to impossible to get hold of. It was an F.P. Journe, a Chronometre Bleu.
It was the most beautiful watch I had ever seen, simple, yet interesting; bold, yet subtle; outrageous, yet sophisticated. The price was good, £10,000 on the nose. It was a chance to own a watch from the hallowed halls of F. P. Journe. It’s a watch that now changes hands for over £40,000. And this, dear audience, is where our tale ends, not with joy, or satisfaction, but with dismay and anguish. I passed up on that watch.
Now, these stories are all true, and as much as hindsight has kicked me up the backside, there’s an important message to note; I got to enjoy two of the best watches out there for absolutely no cost by buying pre-owned and looking after them. Yes, if I had kept them, they would be worth a lot more now, but I never purchased them with that in mind in the first place. It’s easy to conflate watches with investing these days because of how prevalent it seems to be, but I think that casts a shadow over the real reason why these watches exist: to be enjoyed. Of course, I would be very happy to have kept those investments and be able to cash in, but I’m even happier to have been privileged enough to enjoy them in the first place. So, after all, were they really mistakes? Only when I think about the one that got away…
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