To Get More Out of Watch Collecting, Meet Other Collectors

In the first installment of our newest series on being a “watch guy”, we explain the ins and outs of watch collector meetups.

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Chris Wright

How does one break into the confusing, esoteric world of watch nerdery? Our new column, “How to Be a Watch Guy,” aims to answer all your new watch guy questions, and help you navigate the always exciting — but sometimes intimidating, complicated, and pricey — world of watches.

It’s easy to be a lonely watch guy these days — in fact, lately I’ve realized I might be one myself. Mostly, I enjoy watches alone. I stare solo at my affordable collection of Seikos and indie brands’ wares and my beloved vintage Zodiac with its baby blue bakelite bezel. I scan the beat-up Timexes at the local farmers’ market while my gal peruses elsewhere. When I need excitement, I dive into the bloody battlefield of the Hodinkee comments section; when I need expertise or a strong opinion, I search the watch forums. When I need sitting-by-the-fire pleasure, I cozy up next to some of Jack Forster’s writing.

The web helps us find the right watches to buy, feeds our personal hobby an unending conveyor belt of expertise, reviews, gossip, and history. It’s a nice way to be a watch fan. But it also encourages us do these things apart from other human contact — so much so that if you, like me, aren’t careful, you might find yourself sitting alone in a dark room, pawing your collection like Gollum.

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The solution to this solitude is the watch meetup, a simple phenomenon — like a potluck or a classic car meetup, with watches serving as the main course — that’s been slowing spreading across the country over the past few years. RedBar is the biggest one, but there are offshoots and standalones galore, in big cities and out in the suburbs too. This is not news; you’ve been hearing about these things for years. Maybe you saw one posted on Instagram and decided to drop by with your watches wrapped up in a plastic case or a smart-looking leather roll.

I, like many of my friends, had not yet participated. When I started working on this column about being a watch-nerd-in-training, I realized that finding out why I partook of my watch hobby in this lonely way might go a long way toward conquering some of the hurdles holding me back from enjoying my hobby. Why was I shy of watches? Why was I intimidated by “watch people”?

I found a few answers quickly. Laziness, sure. Also, fear — fear that I didn’t know enough about watches, or that the watches I owned weren’t impressive enough. Mostly, fear that the guys would be like they were in this recent GQ story about “America’s Wildest, Most Exclusive Watch Gathering,” who supposedly chart the future of the watch market and plunk $50 to $100 million down on the table in the form of wildly priced vintage Rolexes. (One guy narrowed his collection down to bring ten — and claimed he left 990 at home.) That’s not my kind of watch love.

But that was just one story. I decided I had to go to one to find out where my hobby fit in — where I fit in.

The one I found was called OC Chrono. They advertised their next meetup in their Instagram bio, alongside their motto: “Promoting an analog lifestyle in a digital universe.”

OC Chrono ended up being two hours away, on the campus of UC Irvine (go Anteaters!). The parking lot at the business park seemed empty. My palms were sweaty. Why was I so nervous? Visions of cringey luxury watch release events flashed through my mind. Inside, I surveyed the scene. Two or three dozen adults, all men, dressed in a variety of business clothes, jeans, and t-shirts. Smiling and talking and milling around a few tables with open Pelican cases and watches laid on leather watch rolls. A few heads turned, but no one paid me mind.

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I saw a few bottles of open whiskey and headed straight for em. A bit of the social lubricant. The two guys who’d just poured themselves a glass were talking about their whiskey drinking preferences: a couple of rocks? Spherical ice cube makers. I nodded along for a few minutes. Another one came over and asked what the SITREP was on the whiskey. I was confused. “I’m in the military,” he said. “Sorry.” (SITREP = “situation report.”)

I retreated with my whiskey, went to the nearest table, and scribbled in my notebook:

Nerds.

This was part compliment, part warning. I too am a nerd. The question was, what kind of nerds were we talking about here? Pretentious ones? Sexist ones? Rich ones? Or could they be quirky, fun, goofy, passionate, self-aware — the good guy nerds?

I went back up to the whiskey crew. We started talking. Sitrep guy was wearing a Bremont E-3 AWACS, which was inspired by the same plane he flew in the air force. “We got a big enough crew of guys together that they gave us a great deal, so I just had to scrape the money together to buy it,” he said. He showed me how the diagonal bar on the dial was actually the radar sweeper on his plane.

The bourbon-on-the-rocks guy got his Tudor at a pawn shop in Vegas. He’d had some winnings at craps and his nephew convinced him to buy it. He came to these things with the nephew, who was standing right over there. “It was just luck of the draw,” he said. “I’d had some craps winnings, and the guy who pawned it needed to cover his losses.” That’s the way it goes.

It went on like this all night. There were watch nerds and non-watch-nerds. Men of all ages, creeds, and nationalities. Rich guys and poor guys. Rolexes, Pateks, and Audemar Piguets. Junghans and Orises. NOMOSes, DOXAS, TAGs, and Tudors. G-Shocks and Timexes and Unimatics. Seikos and Casios and Damaskos.

There were even one or two women!

Every single person had a watch he or she wanted to show you and a story about why and how they got it. The Mickey Mouse watch he always wanted as a kid. The affordable-ish German brand he fell in love with after he had to sell his other watches during tough times. The dial the kid acid washed on a Seiko to make its Pepsi bezel just the same shade as the famous Rolex. The watch with the one mark at 9 o’clock that he would always be able to pick out of a lineup.

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One guy had a half-dozen watches but pointed to a 1966 Rolex Date that was his father’s only watch. He only wore it on Sundays, he said, which was the only time his father wore it. The rest of the watches in his collection don’t mean shit, he told me. When he dies, he hopes they’re all sold and gone, except for this ‘66 Rolex, because that’s going to be his daughter’s one day.

You listen to these stories, and you realize the watches themselves don’t have to be the hobby; the people who wear them can be the hobby, too.

I asked another guy what he liked most about coming to the meetups. “Hearing everyone tell their story. Everybody has one. And their watch could be a Timex, and after I hear them tell that story, I think, ‘That is the coolest damn watch in the world.’” After he said that, another guy came over, and threw his arm around this guy, and they smiled and laughed and caught up and talked about watches. Simple as that.

“I would be terrified walking into this for the first time,” said the founder Michael Haymond, who started OC Chrono after meeting in a bar with three friends to talk watches. “But then you quickly realize that the people in this room are the best people in the world. We have friends outside this group, and spouses we love. But we just can’t talk to them about watches like we do here.”

The drive home was two hours, but it felt like 15 minutes. I had told people the story of my watch, the vintage Zodiac with the baby-blue bakelite bezel, and they had oohed and aahed and told me how awesome it was. I’ve been wearing the thing a few years now, and nobody had ever made me feel that way — like the collection I had started was awesome.

I’m sure there are watch meetups out there that aren’t like this — where the people are obnoxious or cliquey or just plain not nice. But that’s any hobby. Don’t do what I did — lock your hobby away in an ivory tower of your own making. Make watches a social pleasure, not just a solitary one. I guarantee it’ll open your watch-loving mind even more. You won’t be a lonely watch nerd anymore — just a happy one.

Some Tips

1. Do the legwork

You’re already online, you nerd — use that to your advantage. Instagram is the most common place for meetup groups to advertise. Watch forums, too. Search your area, and don’t be intimidated — you won’t know what the meetup’s like until you go there in person.

2. Bring something, if you can

Do you wear one watch or roll deep with half a dozen of your precious timepieces? It depends on you. Bring the piece you’re excited most about, whether it’s a Rolex or a Timex. And don’t sweat it if you don’t have anything to wear. Haymond said a young man once showed up not wearing anything. “He told me, ‘I don’t have anything yet. That’s why I came here — to see what I like.’”

3. Work the room

You have the easiest conversation starter in the world. Don’t just ask what watch they’re wearing — ask how they got it, and why they wear it.

4. Prosper

It’s not only about watches. People meet friends and business partners at these events. Don’t force it, but do let the connections happen.

Chris Wright, a former Gear Patrol editor, is a freelance writer based in L.A. Write him with your watch questions, comments and concerns at cwrighteditor@gmail.com.

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