When the learning curve and emotional ups and downs of flipping watches starts to flatten out, many of us horological enthusiasts feel a deeper longing for a tight collection of watches that we know we’ll keep. These keepers will be watches that accompany us on our life’s adventures, watches we will imbue with important memories, watches that become as much like family members as mechanical devices can. If you’re a watch flipper who is feeling ready to commit to a small but satisfying watch collection, then this guide is for you.
How to Evaluate a Watch Purchase
Is the Watch a Potential Keeper?
Can we actually determine whether a watch has the potential to be a keeper? Using the Venn Diagram below, we can see that a keeper must satisfy three basic criteria: 1) it must please us aesthetically, 2) it must perform functions we require, and 3) it must represent us socially in a way that we are comfortable with. If the watch fails to satisfy these three criteria, we are confident that you will eventually flip the watch.
If you are able to genuinely determine that a watch lands in the middle of this Venn Diagram, then there is a fighting chance that it is a keeper. However, there are further criteria to consider.
Is the Watch Actually a True Keeper?
So you’ve got a potential keeper on the radar, a watch that is aesthetically, functionally, and socially going to work for you. Now it’s time to push into the realm of significance. Consider the Venn Diagram below.
Personal Significance: A watch can qualify as personally significant in so many ways. Perhaps the watch was given to you by a loved one. Perhaps you purchased the watch to commemorate a milestone. Perhaps the watch was on your wrist when you narrowly survived an accident or a disease. Perhaps you got married in the watch. Whatever it is, the watch has a very good chance of being a keeper if it has some personal significance.
Historical Significance: My friend Gary owns a Rolex GMT Master that once belonged to the NASA liaison to the White House under Nixon. Because of this historical significance, this watch is a true keeper. Other watches can be significant because they’re rare, because they’re a first edition of a classic, because they belonged to someone interesting, or because of a myriad of possible connections to history.
Mind-Blowing Significance: If you feel a deep resonance with the watch, a resonance that goes beyond simply liking the aesthetics and toward the ineffable, then the watch is likely a keeper. For example, I own a 40mm Bremont Supermarine 301 Black that has neither personal nor historical significance, but for reasons that I can’t quite figure out, it sings to my heart unlike any other watch; it has an ineffable quality for me; thus, it is a true keeper.
Personally, Historically, and Mind-Blowingly Significant: If you can get all three, then that’s The Holy Grail. (Some would face a killer rabbit and endure the torture of the knights who say “nee” to find it.)
Beware the Distractions!
Below is a list of influences that you should vigilantly eschew from your considerations of any single watch:
Price: Within reason, be willing to spend what it takes to get a keeper.
Bargains: Don’t let a good deal sway you (see above).
Advertisements: Same as above, but also know that a watch rarely looks like it does in ads.
Marketing: Beware the sexy photos in the magazines of the sex symbol you admire wearing a particular watch, or a brand that sends a watch to the bottom of the ocean, or up a mountain on some expedition. Ultimately, who cares?
Endorsements: I am literally in love with Cait Blanchett, but an IWC Portofino that she wears is not for me. ‘Nuff said.
Journalists & Experts: We truly don’t know what you should buy. We may help you come to know more about watches, but we can’t help you when it comes to sussing out your personal keepers.
In-House Movements: You need to be careful about caring too much about this. It’s a small thing (or is it?), and if a watch is right for you and it’s got a 3rd-party movement, then fine. Paul Newman’s Daytona sold for $17.2-million and it had a 3rd-party Valjoux 72 movement.
The Boutique Experience: Be careful in boutiques. The spot-lighting makes things sparkle, and the wooing of salespeople can cloud our vision. Revisit your Venn Diagrams, take the watch over to the window where there’s natural light, and don’t get a crush on the salesperson.
The 3-Watch Collection
Now that you’ve figured out how to determine whether a watch is a keeper or not, it’s time to assemble three that’ll cover your every need and desire. Personal needs and desires will, of course, vary, but here’s our recommendation for a solid starting point.
1. The Everyday Watch: This should be a versatile best friend that can go from the workplace to the gym and then out for dinner. This could be a stylish sport watch, a durable dress watch, or just about any timepiece that’ll ride comfortably and durably on your wrist every day.
2. The Indestructible Tool Watch: This should be indestructible, ready to kick-ass along with you on your most rugged adventures. Keep in mind that most watch abuses occur while hauling gear (SCUBA tanks in and out of boats), climbing over or under things (rigorous hiking), or doing adventure-based tasks (like trimming a jib on a racing sailboat or getting on a chairlift).
3. The Special Occasion Watch: This could be a dress watch for formal events, or perhaps for you it is a vintage watch, one that’s more fragile and only comes out for those gentler activities like a romantic evening or a wedding.
An Example 3-Watch Collection
The following is the author’s personal 3-watch collection:
The Everyday Watch
The Grand Seiko SBGH269 is my everyday watch. At 39.5mm and with 100m of water resistance, it can go anywhere anytime and do anything. I bought this for myself when I turned 50, so it is imbued with deep personal significance. It also completely blows my mind, because there is handmade Japanese watchmaking poetry in the dial.
The Indestructible Tool Watch
The Bremont Supermarine S301 40mm Black is my indestructible tool watch. With hardened steel, 300m of water resistance, many layers of protective coating on the sapphire crystal, a scratch-proof ceramic bezel, and COSC certification, this watch has taken a wicked beating and looks brand new. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the look of the S301 totally blows my mind; I think it’s the perfect dive watch.
The Special Occasion Watch
A 1972 Rolex Datejust 1603 is my special watch. With its acrylic crystal, vintage movement, and increasing value as a vintage piece, this one doesn’t play too hard with me. It does, however, play well on special occasions, like anniversaries, weddings and anytime I want to rock a Rollie. The branding does make me feel special, I’ll admit, but it’s the story of buying this watch with cash on a whim (while possibly still drunk from a wild night out) in Nashville while driving across country with my best friend that makes this one the most special in my collection.