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Things I've Learned While Building My Watch Collection

by Dana Li

One of my favorite things about watches is that there’s always something new to learn whether it’s a new reference, the history of a brand, or the technical aspects of a movement. Since I first got into watches, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet wonderful fellow collectors in the community who’ve taught me so much about the industry by sharing their perspectives and stories. As I continue to build out my collection, here are some of the things I’ve learned throughout my experiences.

My AD has this amazing sign in their store that, in my opinion, perfectly reflects what watch collecting should be about - having a good time.

Watches can (and should) reflect your unique style

There are so many watches out there. I mean, truly, so many that there is definitely a watch for everyone. Even when I come across the same pieces from multiple collectors, no two people reflect the same aesthetic or style when they wear their pieces. If I’ve learned anything about watches in the last few years is that they can be a great way to express yourself.

My wardrobe has always been relatively plain with a neutral palette so I usually have my jewelry, bags, and of course, watches as my statement pieces. My current watch collection tends to be centered on classic vintage pieces with a twist from a Root Beer GMT, a patinated Oyster Perpetual, to a dressy, gold IWC; however, I am definitely looking into bolder pieces in precious metals and brightly colored dials for my next watches.

It’s not always about the big name

Most people know the big names - Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, etc. While these brands make beautiful watches and are behind some of the most iconic timepieces, there are so many lesser-known and under-appreciated brands that were responsible for notable contributions to the horological world. For example, Bulova, Elgin, and Waltham were important US manufacturers that issued watches to the US military during World War II.

I recently acquired a Bulova ladies manual wind cocktail watch from the 1940s (pictured below) and it has quickly become one of the key pieces in my collection. If you’re just getting into watches, some of these underrated (and thus, undervalued) brands are a fantastic way to get a beautiful, historically significant piece at a reasonable price point.

A 1940s vintage Bulova cocktail watch

In-house movements are not the most important thing

While in-house movements are sometimes a great way to showcase a brand’s technical capabilities, a watch that has a movement that’s not developed in-house is just as compelling and technically sound as one that is.

Historically, the watchmaking industry was significantly more centralized than it currently is. There were select groups that specialized in developing and producing movements for brands to then incorporate them into watches. ETA, one of the most well-known movement manufacturers, has been critical in shaping today’s watch industry with robust and reliable movements such as the 2824 and the Valjoux 7750, which are still used today. Some of brands that develop in-house movements today have also previously leveraged movements from other watchmakers in their vintage watches. For example, Jaeger-LeCoultre supplied movements to Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and even Patek Philippe.

Watch collecting doesn't need to be serious

Lastly, and most importantly, watch collecting does not need to be so incredibly serious or expensive. You definitely don’t need to be buying Paul Newman Daytonas or Royal Oaks to be a watch collector. Some of the best finds are not necessarily the grails but often the quirky, unusual ones that come with an equally fun story. The most fun piece I currently have is a manual wind Seiko featuring Tom & Jerry, with Jerry “running” from Tom on the second hand (pictured below) and I absolutely love it.

A 1970s Seiko Tom & Jerry manual wind.

The best part of the watch collector community is that people are truly passionate and want to learn about all the history of the watch industry and the stories behind all the cool watches out there. As I previously mentioned, buy what you love for your own reasons, not based on what’s trendy or what you need to check a box. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it!


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