One facet of collecting that some of us try in vain to deny is the emotional side of the equation. And we do so at our peril, because emotions play a large part in the compulsion to collect and there are dangers in refusing to admit that our collecting passion is fuelled by anything other than rational behaviour.
Indeed, it’s emotions that drive most of our need to acquire things: like the joy of finding a lost treasure in a boot sale; the sense of supreme conquest when we snatch up a coveted model at auction, the self-satisfaction of acquiring expertise, and the awe and wonder of discovering something significant that we never knew before.
The feelings of accomplishment and triumph we have when we fix the unfixable and the inexplicable forces that drive us to acquire the mintiest of the minty are emotional, not rational, sensations, and, if we’re wise, we'll acknowledge the role they play in our obsession to collect.
Not all collecting emotions are positive and some of them have the potential to dampen our passion and sow the seeds of indifference to pursuits that were hitherto at the very centre of our existence. There’s the dark cloud of despair and self-disgust that descends when we’ve been taken to the cleaners by some horse thief who sells us the dream, but not the genuine article, and, of course, there’s always the deeply discouraging realisation that we’ll never be rich enough to possess every masterpiece of mechanical ingenuity that presents itself. But, then, there’s always the kid’s university or college accounts that we can raid!
Sadly, it’s usually when we refuse to recognise that our emotions are giving themselves an airing that we reach our most vulnerable. We let them override our knowledge and good sense and we make very wrong calls. We also, at times, fail to invest enough excitement, delight, curiosity and wonder into our collecting activities, leaving us prey to the more primal forces of greed, rivalry, enmity and arrogance. Find a balance between the search for knowledge and expertise with some of the following:
1. If buying on-line, the larger the pictures of the watch, the better. Large pictures are a boon for non-horologists because not only are they pretty, but also you can more easily score the watch against your checklist. Checklists are an effective way of getting curious and building knowledge – I’m still adding to mine! Checklists are also good insurance against post-purchase depression, which, believe me, is infinitely worse than post-partum depression.
2. Become a horological petrol-head. After all, the mechanical watch you wear on your wrist is a miniature engine. Get to know the cogs and wheels, the terminology, the engines which have become classics, and occasionally get under the bonnet to learn how everything comes together – old and clapped out watches make especially good victims for novice micro-mechanics. I’ve operated on more old Elgins than Doctor House has patients in the TV show of the same name.
3. Befriend a watchmaker/horologist and build a mutual relationship based on knowledge sharing and exclusive servicing of your watches. While there are a few youngsters taking on the craft, most expert mechanical watchmakers are now in their 50s – 70s! They represent a motherlode of information and, in my experience, are more than happy to advise enthusiastic amateurs. It’s very good for the soul to have a mentor.
4. Join a ‘Community’. Gravitate to those who, through experience, know a lot about the mechanics, values, collectibility and rarity of particular models. While names, dials and case aesthetics are important, the ultimate value of a watch often comes down to the quality and history of the engine that powers it and community discussions on the pro and cons of one engine over another can be fun. What’s more, good feelings come from shooting the breeze with people who share your interest and your foibles!
5. In antique furniture collecting (museum quality is an exception), if someone removes all of the patina from an object and makes it look “new”, the value can drop significantly. A gracefully aged dial and an evenly worn but well-maintained case and movement is a beauty to behold. So, get into the richness of the patina of the watches you collect, and take 30 heavenly credits off the value of a re-dialled watch as a general rule of thumb and take even more off for an over-polished case.
6. View vintage watches as you would people. A fifty-year old woman whose contours remain smoothly amalgamated (let’s not be sexist here because the same applies to blokes), whose complexion has been protected from the harshest ravages of time and sun, who goes for regular check-ups, and who has maintained a healthy exercise regime, looks, and indeed feels, very different to one who has fallen victim to self-abuse and neglect.
7. Every now and again, buy a cheap, but not nasty, watch just for its aesthetics. That’s how, as a mainline Omega Constellation collector, I got into Zodiac Astrographics, Omega Dynamics, Rado Manhattans and Roger Tallon-designed Lips! It’s fun to explore the history, geometry and design influences of watches. The 60s and 70s were a wonderful sandpit in which many designers played; even those who created cases and dials for some of the big names.
8. Give as well as receive. Share your misfortunes as well as your conquests. People rarely ever learn how to be astute in any collecting field by one successful acquisition after another. It’s the mistakes, the cock-ups and the disappointments that inform the development of the astute collector. Share those experiences generously with others and enjoy the respect and admiration it brings.
9. Never make a decision about an acquisition if you feel that only your emotions are driving your behaviour. And never, repeat, never engage in on-line bidding contests just for the sake of beating someone else down. Stand back and challenge the reasons why you feel so compelled to cream the other guy. Seek advice before bidding, ask questions and find a balance between ‘I want’ or ‘I want to win’and the cold, hard rationality of the pros and cons of an acquisition.
10. Share your passion with your wife or partner. It’s mainly men who are horological petrol-heads and its usually the wife or partner who feels that your love of, say, an Omega Grand Luxe, somewhat exceeds your love for her. While this may occasionally be true, bring the Grand Luxe and your wife together. Ask for advice on aesthetics and even learn about the subject together. Believe it, or not, more women are entering the science professions than ever before and you may well be surprised at their latent capacity for the science of horology.