How to Start a Watch Collection

Getting educated, buying your first watch and going down the rabbit hole.

3 watch collection
Hunter D. Kelley

So, you want be a watch collector?

You're not alone. Despite technological and practical obsolescence, enthusiasm for wristwatches has never been higher. The market is hot and collectors are jumping in younger than ever. But watches are expensive, and their technical nature can be hard to wrap one's arms around.

If you're reading this, we're guessing you're a relative novice — maybe you own one nice watch, or none at all. And the implication is that you want multiple timepieces in your arsenal.

We're glad to hear it. Here's where to start.

best leather watch straps gear patrol lead full
Changing straps can make a couple watches feel like a robust collection.
Chandler Bondurant and Hunter D. Kelley

Step 1: Arm yourself with some basic watch knowledge

There's a lot to learn about watches, so we recommend easing yourself in with some basic education.

Learn about the difference between quartz and mechanical watches, different types of watches and familiarize yourself with some of the major brands and iconic models that influence the rest of the industry. There are a lot of resources out there, but if we may, Gear Patrol is full of great watch info for experienced collectors and newbies alike.

Of course, there's an even wider world of watch media that'll let you go as deep or broad as you like. Start with Watchville, a website that aggregates new articles from many of the most popular watch enthusiast websites.

Step 2: Focus your horological interests

Before you blow your savings on the first timepiece that catches your eye, we recommend asking yourself exactly where your interest in watches lies.

For many collectors, the activity is a much more deliberate pursuit than simply amassing objects: each watch contributes to a coherent, harmonious whole — the collection. This is often a stage that comes after years of collecting, so you don't have to figure it out now, but you might want to begin with some focus in mind.

hand in pocket of pants wearing a watch
Many collectors begin with affordable Seiko dive watches.
Gear Patrol

Are you drawn to the icons? Are you interested in a certain brand or category? Do you want the latest thing, or are you more into vintage and history? Maybe you just want different styles of watches for sartorial reasons.

Even if you're just generally enamored with watches, their design and technology, it's helpful to consider these questions as you get started.

Step 3: Visit watch boutiques and see watches in person

You can get an incredible amount of information online. But there's nothing like feeling a watch.

Many brand today don't even have a physical retail presence. No matter: Whatever level of watch retail is available near you, go check it out and ask to try on some watches that catch your eye. Odds are a friendly salesperson behind the counter will have plenty of knowledge to share with you.

Step 4: Set a budget, make a plan

Sure, you could get all gung-ho and blow your savings on several watches at once. And you wouldn't be the first to do so. But we recommend spacing your first couple or few purchases out over a predetermined budget and period of time.

You might have, say, $500, $1,000 or $5,000 of discretionary funds to start with, or you might need to start saving to reach that budget. Everybody's different, and the approval of your significant other is your own business.

Then, since collecting watches implies continuing to buy more of them, decide how often it makes sense to buy a new watch — and try to stick to it. If you're buying several watches in a month, you might want to slow down. A useful yardstick is how long it'll take to replenish your new-watch fund.

watch in watch box
Rather than buying a bunch of affordable watches, consider saving up for a grail.
Henry Phillips

Step 5: Buy just one watch at a time

Yes, actually buying watches is what it's all about, and the transactions can be exhilarating. But consider starting with just one watch, and slow your roll.

This gives you a chance to live with the watch(es) you have before buying the next one. Every purchase is also a learning experience, so you might discover more about what you like and want based on that watch over time.

Moreover, there's nothing wrong with something easy and affordable for getting your feet wet, but many collectors end up with multiple "compromise" watches — which together might have the value of your actual "grail." There are some great affordable watches, but also think about the value of patience and saving up.

ProTip: Buy some straps. If you just got one watch, a few extra straps can give it more life, versatility and enjoyment. Straps are a joy in and of themselves and they can even make a single watch feel like a collection.

Step 6: Make mistakes

Icons are fine — the hype around brands like Rolex might be what drew you to watches in the first place. In the end, though, a watch is mostly for your own enjoyment (unfortunately, not as many people will probably notice your new watch as you might hope).

The watch you choose is ultimately up to you, of course, but if you want some suggestions, we have plenty.

At the end of the day, know that you'll probably make a few mistakes. And rest assured, you can always flip a what-was-I-thinking watch to fund your next obsession. It's all part of the journey — and this is only the beginning.

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