As gift buying season is nigh upon us, I started reflecting on some purchases passed. My buying and selling habits as a watch collector have gone through various stages since I first got into the hobby. At first, I was something of a hoarder. Maybe hoarder is an extreme word. I wouldn’t buy watches in droves but what I bought, I kept. The idea of parting with any of my pieces, especially in the early stage of collecting when I was trying to actually build up a collection, didn’t even enter my mind. And, of course, I wasn’t connected to the various forums and venues for buying, selling, and trading (well, aside from eBay).
Then, after becoming a bit more seasoned in the hobby, I became more of a…what’s the word? Hoarder. (See my previous article for more on this.)
Now, however, the buying and selling has reached a new echelon of fluidity, the philosophy behind need and ownership a new level of profundity. Now, I feel like I move instinctually through collecting. While my philosophy still focuses on the collection as a whole versus any single piece (a handy way to explain to S.O.’s why there are so many boxes arriving and departing, kinda) it has evolved from some type of endgame to a more transient and spontaneous idea of the collection of the moment.
This could be defined various ways. Is it the existential moment I’m in currently in my watch collecting journey? The moment I see myself in financially with other fiscal responsibilities in conflict with buying watches? The moment that a particular aesthetic has, for one reason or another, overtaken my field of view (or overtaken the Watch Fam at large which, undoubtedly colors my own tastes)?
Regardless, embracing this idea of a shifting collecting ideology, a moving target so to speak, has opened me up to a variety of interesting experiences. For instance, it wasn’t until I got to this point that I really began trading. I also had not really experienced such hot and cold extremes of buying and selling where, after declaring to myself that a watch would never leave the collection, suddenly it’s being boxed up and shipped off to someone in the service of procuring something else which had only recently appeared on my radar. Finally, I had never gone through the repeated process of re-buying pieces that I had sold long before.
This brings us to the real topic of the article, dear readers. What leads us back to pieces we’ve parted with? If watch collecting, as any good hobby, is meant to take us constantly forward into uncharted territory, rewarding our fastidious nerdiness with new and increased knowledge, what does it mean when it takes us full circle?
For me, I don’t think it’s a sense of regret. We always hear people tell stories of the ones that got away, those pieces which they deeply lament selling. I understand that feeling (and have experienced it in other ways for sure) but, at least from this moment in my collection of the moment, there are other things at play. Maybe the best way to grapple with this question is to look at a few watches that have had a hold on me for one reason or another, pieces I’ve sold but just couldn’t quit. There is no rhyme or reason to this short list. Each piece on it has its own individual story and reasons that have caused me to retread old territory. But, as I said above, to try to rationalize is beside the point of the collection of the moment.
One of the earliest outlets I stumbled upon when I started with watches was Worn & Wound. Back in the day (we’re talking seven or eight years ago), their reviews were focused on a lot of very affordable and approachable pieces. Their site is where I first encountered the Seiko SNK, the Seiko SKX, the Maratac Pilot, and even a particular Timex Expedition field watch that I’ve owned and since sold. It was there that I got my first glimpse of the Citizen Nighthawk.
Even before I was a full-fledged member of the Watch Fam I recall seeing Citizen watches everywhere, particularly at the mall and in department stores. I saw advertisements for rather generic looking dress watches that failed to inspire anything in me aside from a momentary glance. The Nighthawk, though, was a different story. The design is, in many ways, very much its own thing.
The draw of the Nighthawk, in my humble opinion, is the beautifully organized chaos. While the dial is extremely busy, filled with all manner of scales and calculation tools one could ever/never use, it somehow feels cohesive and insular. One reason for this, perhaps, is the very understated bezel. This watch is ALL dial. It reminds me of an infinity pool. There’s a bit of edge keeping the business of the dial at bay but it seems as if all that text could spill out and over the side at any minute. The totally flat crystal also helps to allow the dial to breathe. Were there a thicker bezel, the internal chaos of the dial would feel cluttered and claustrophobic.
Man, I liked this watch. I bought it used on eBay for a good price. It was in great shape aside from a scratch on the crystal that always bothered me. The bracelet was well made for the price and the watch wore really nicely. It was thin, despite the 42mm size (on the large side but also appropriate for a pilot’s watch). Why did I sell it? I don’t know.
I always wanted another one but I felt somehow that I had moved on from a more “entry level” piece like that or, perhaps, that I was moving onward and upward and that an Eco-Drive quartz piece was somehow contrary to that mobility. However, I am and have always been an aesthetics-forward watch collector. I can appreciate a good movement, brand history, blah blah, but what draws me in is design first and foremost. What gives me pleasure every time I look down at my wrist over the course of a day? It’s not the part of the watch I can’t see.
Pretty much since I sold the Nighthawk I toyed with the idea of buying another. It was just hard to justify spending full price for something bought cheaply and pre-owned earlier. As I looked, there was never an opportune moment. Either the watches available were in bad shape or, when one in good condition came up, I was on to something else.
On a whim, I purchased a random Seiko 6105, not the Willard diver but a random sporty/dressy blue dialed watch with the same movement as the Willard but a very, very different design. I don’t know why. I just bought it. Anyway, it was one of those purchases that I knew would be short lived. I wore it once and, after trying to sell it to no success, a friend asked if I’d be interested in a trade. Why not? I would have probably only broke even if I sold it anyway. What did this friend have to barter with, do you ask? Well, well, well.
Long story short, I ended up with quite the steal. Not only did I welcome a Nighthawk proudly back into the watch box, but it was in better condition than the last, had been upgraded with a lovely domed sapphire crystal and, instead of being the black version I had before, it was a very attractive blue-dialed version that was, to the best of my knowledge, only sold by/manufactured for Costco oddly enough. I think I got the better of that trade (but don’t tell my buddy).
Scurfa Diver One
Scurfa, man. A strange allure these watches have. I do love me a good watch with features I’ll never use and specs that far exceed any paces I’d put the damn thing through. I suppose that’s the allure tool watches have for many of us. It’s not that we need the tool for what it is but that we revel in it for what it represents or what it can do. Scurfa divers are just such watches. They’re well-built (by Paul Scurfield, an actual saturation diver), sufficiently tough, have a very agreeable design aesthetic (and a lot of colorways to choose from), and have familiar dimensions pleasing to many wrists (40 and 20, anyone?).
For me, the selling points for Scurfa watches are also the drawbacks in some respect. While their provenance (or street cred, if you like) is certainly legit, they drift just a little too closely to homage territory in some respects. Both the dimensions and design elements of the case (the bezel teeth, the crown guards, et. al.) are just a little too close to Rolex Submariner territory. The blocky indices are just a little too close to Tudor Submariner (Snowflake) territory. But it’s a tough one. We’re not talking a straight up homage-focused brand here. These are very capable dive watches (I think) coming from a brand owned by someone who would know. You could certainly do much, much worse. And who knows? Maybe the homage angle was a reason I invented to justify not picking one up initially.
Well, that didn’t last too long as I was searching the ‘Bay and became instantly smitten with a limited edition Diver One, a version with a blue dial and cream colored (yes, faux-tina) hour indices. I liked the look of the Diver One watches and their colorful dials (I was soooo close to a yellow one so many times) but, ironically, it was a version bordering even closer to homage (and vintage homage) that hooked me (I came to affectionately call this watch, and its later replacement, the “Scurflake.”).
The watch arrived and I was thrilled to bits. It wore perfectly, felt well-made, looked even better in person, and, in spite of the inspired design cues, not nearly as derivative as I imagined it would be. All was well with my new Scurfa….until I flipped it over to discover the caseback looked like it had been ravaged by a Dremel. The watch was in pretty good used condition but that caseback was a dealbreaker. After my lucky find (these were limited, after all), I had to send the watch right back to the seller for a refund.
After that, I was always kind of looking for another one. Scurfa divers would appear now and then but never the right one. I began to convince myself, again, that I didn’t really need one to round out the collection. Then, months later, maybe even a year later, my saved search paid off when a black-dialed version of the same limited edition Diver One popped up in an e-mail alert. After carefully inspecting the photos on the listing, particularly the caseback photos (fool me once), I jumped. The new Scurfa arrived and I don’t think I’ll be making the same mistake twice. I don’t think.
Timefactors Baby Dreadnought
My third and final example (for the purpose of this article; these are not the only tales of re-purchasing in my checkered horological past, dear readers) is another purpose built, tough as nails, tool watch. I’m sensing a theme here. Also, this one is British, too. I’m not sure I realized that as I started compiling this list. Serendipity.
I was turned on to the Timefactors Baby Dreadnought by a buddy of mine who wrote an article about it and its predecessor, the Dreadnought PRS-2 (Daddy Dreadnought?). Timefactors, as many of you may know, is another one-man (ish) operation that, in addition to creating original watches under the Timefactors moniker, also produces homage pieces under the Smiths name which they purchased as well as Precista (which I believe they trademarked and now own). The original Dreadnought, a massive 44mm-sized behemoth of a dive watch, was produced in a very limited number by Eddie Platts, the owner of Timefactors and, after, was never made again. There are only two hundred of these out there and people clamor to find them.
More recently, Timefactors introduced the Baby Dreadnought, a scaled down version of the original, now with a 38mm case diameter and 18mm lugs. I reviewed my friend’s article several times, pored over pictures of both the original and the Baby version, and read endless threads and accounts of the history and rarity of the PRS-2. The Kool Aid was thoroughly imbibed.
In contrast to my initial feelings about/qualms with the Scurfa, the Baby Dreadnought was on the almost exact opposite end of the homage spectrum. It looked like nothing I’d really ever seen. If you paid close attention there were flashes of existing watch DNA here and there (most notably, perhaps, the massive orange “lobster claw” sword hand reminiscent of the Omega Ploprof) but, for the most part, it was its own thing. It had a bead blasted case. Its bracelet was close to what I’d consider an engineer style but also not quite. It had solid end links but they still left a weird recess even though they fit against the case snuggly. In many ways it looked more tool-ish and brutish than many tool watches I’d seen. All part of the strange appeal.
Well, if you know anything about Timefactors and Eddie Platts you know that they/he don’t really market in any kind of conventional way. Basically, you sign up for their e-mail list and you’re notified when the Timefactors store will be opening (UK time, of course, and usually for only an hour or so). The e-mail gives you a decent two or three week heads up but it can still be really hard to snag one.
Luckily, I found one for sale on eBay and got it for a decent price. It arrived in great shape but was definitely smaller than I imagined. Like quite smaller. Size is a tricky thing. I have other 38mm watches but, for some reason, this one felt and looked smaller to me. The diameter seemed a bit dwarfed even by my 38mm Hamilton Khaki Mechanical field watch. What’s odd about the Baby Dreadnought is that it’s thick and that thickness and heft seems appropriate for a 44mm wrist-dragging monster but unexpected and a little out of sorts (for me at least) at such a scaled down size. Still, I pressed on and tried it out. I really liked the aesthetic even though it’s an acquired taste for sure. I wore it on the bracelet which was chunky and solid. It was no beads of rice but was not altogether uncomfortable to wear. I think the sturdiness of it gave me an unsettling feeling of being in a shackle that would never come off. I guess if you’re diving you’d want that kind of reassurance, though.
I threw it on some nato straps which looked pretty good but it’s not really a strap monster, particularly with that blasted case. Not that matte watches are hard to pair with straps, but this particular matte watch was, for me anyway. This was not a dealbreaker but I think it was one of the contributing factors that led me to eventually parting with it. I think, above the lack of versatility, there was just something about the case shape that I didn’t vibe with and the fact that, each time I looked down at it, I just wished it was a little bigger. 42mm would have been great but I think if it were even 40mm I might have held onto it longer. Alas, after some time owning it, something else caught my eye and I sold the Baby Dreadnought to shore up some cash.
But as with the aforementioned brands, just when I thought I was out they pull me back in!
I saw on Timefactors’ Instagram page that they would be releasing a white-dialed “Polar” version of the Baby Dreadnought. It was the same watch but the combination of the white dial and orange hand immediately gave me Polar Explorer vibes. I was taken instantly and I don’t know why. It’s an even more acquired taste than the original version. Also, did I say Polar Explorer? I thought homage was a turn off for me. I said that before, right? Right? Well, friends, as Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.).”
I knew I had to have it. The e-mail went out alerting us on the mailing list that the shop would be open for a mere hour. I calculated what the hell time that would be in EST (AND had to do that nasty 24-hour time conversion business) and readied myself, phone in hand. The store opened, I swooped in, had one in my cart and, after a small hiccup, nabbed one! Checkout, pay, confirmation! In retrospect, I think I got swept up in Timefactors fervor. I think the excitement of waiting for the shop to open and the feeling of triumph over my fellow man when I added that baby (Dreadnought) to my cart had my adrenaline pumping.
Almost immediately after placing my order I began to feel a pit in my stomach. I didn’t need to spend this cash now. Wasn’t there something else I had my eye on that I was going to buy? Did I need to replace something that I thought wasn’t worth having enough to sell it? Would I be able to return it? If so, would it be a pain to have to ship it back overseas?
Needless to say, all of these things watered down my excitement about this piece so that, by the time it came, I was less than thrilled to see it. I was pleasantly surprised that the leather case and packaging were definitely improved upon from the last iteration. But, when I zipped open the case, I was underwhelmed. There it was, the watch I knew, the watch I had owned not too long before, the watch that I was never quite on the same page as. The white dial was ok. Ironically, in contrast once again with the Scurfa experience, I thought it looked less appealing than I imagined in person. It was ok. It was just a little flat and I knew, immediately, that I didn’t find it as appealing as the black dial (which, in turn, I found not appealing enough to keep).
So, back it went. Luckily, I was able to get a refund and had a great customer service experience with Eddie who couldn’t have been more accommodating or friendly about it (probably because I didn’t mention all the things I told you I didn’t like about it).
Lesson learned? Only time will tell. Judging by my history, not by a long shot. Even now, as a write this, there are spirits of watches departed that are whispering to me from the shadows. We have unfinished business! No rest for the weary!