You’ve heard it before (ad nauseum, likely), a list of pieces that have been (or should be) many people’s introduction to watch collecting/procuring/etc. Actually, you’ve probably heard different versions of this same list, sometimes praised or amended, sometimes ferociously debated or gatekept by this or another blogger/podcast host/etc. The list has likely included at least some the following:
- Seiko SNK809/7/5/3
- Seiko SKX007
- Orient Ray or Mako
- Orient Bambino or Tissot Visodate
- Invicta Pro Diver
- Hamilton Khaki Field
- Timex Weekender
- Casio F91W
To be clear, the above list is not intended as a list of watches that introduced people to watches but to watch collecting. We all have memories of the first watches that piqued our interest, that were given to us, that we saved up for. The above list is a different thing entirely. This list reflects pieces that are often suggested as a first point of contact for those who want to get into watches as a hobby (poor souls!) at one level or another.
The Seiko SNK for instance is, for many, their first experience with a mechanical watch. Not only is it relatively affordable but it also has a display caseback which allows newly minted #WatchFam members to get a gander at the complex inner machinery of something they always thought ran on a battery. I know this was certainly an experience for me, though I would have been more surprised and delighted if it hadn’t had been for that fake Rolex with the display back I bought in Rome many years before. But that’s another story for another time…
The watches on this list provide at least a rough outline of different watch categories to those new to the hobby. There are dive watches, field watches, dress watches, a chronograph (if you count the Casio’s stopwatch) and even a flieger-style watch (the SNK, technically speaking). As one gets more into watches and starts making the requisite rounds of blogs and podcasts, the idea of needing one from each category starts to germinate. I mean, could you stop after getting your first SNK?
Personally, the idea this list represents is one that I am very fond of. As a novice watch fan/collector/procurer I gravitated toward many of the options on the list. My first piece of interest was actually kind of a misstep (for what would become my particular taste in watches), an Invicta, not the Pro Diver but another dive watch. It was called the Sea Hunter, a matte stainless steel chonker of a watch (50mm!) with a silicone strap, a more than legible dial, and an enormous lefty crown (Model 1547 for those who want to feel like they’re doing hammer curls while checking the time).
After reading my first posts on forums and proto-versions of now well-known watch websites, I sold the chonker and bought an SNK809. Though I had owned a few watches in my life up to that point, the SNK was the first purchase that felt, shall we say, informed.
Since selling the Invicta, my collecting has moved in a variety of directions and gotten more informed and particular the way, I imagine, it has for many of you, O Dear #WatchFam relatives. Not only has my eye sharpened but I’ve also gained that other trait so important to our hobby which is the steel gut needed to absorb the shock of how much these things actually cost (even ones that don’t cost that much!). I’m not out there spending five (or ever, really, four) figures on watches, but it still took me a while to gather what many collectors consider to be reasonable prices and how, initially, those prices seemed very unreasonable.
I’ve rounded the bases and rounded out the collection and then thinned it out and started over in some respects. I’d like to think that I’ve grown wiser and my taste more discerning the longer I’ve been at it. One thing which continually puzzles me though is my inability, even at this stage of my time in the hobby, to shed the need to tick off categorical boxes.
I’ve heard the topic of collecting discussed in many articles and on many podcast episodes and there seems to be a constant debate about just what that term means. Is a collector anyone who accumulates a bunch of watches or more someone who has a set goal of completion in mind? Of course, one needs not label oneself as anything, really. Labels are, usually, quite counterproductive.
I can’t help but think about these definitions, though. Am I a collector? Am I a hoarder? Like I said, I’m not a fan of labels but these particular angles on collecting have given me a reason to think about this need to tick off boxes that I can’t seem to shake. Doubts can be a good thing. They don’t necessarily result in someone drastically changing a course of action but can, paradoxically, strongly reaffirm one’s original position. In my case, I came to the realization that having one of practically everything (that is, a watch that represents practically each major category of horology) is not the way for me.
I’ve come to an ethical crossroads on this one because, on the one hand, I feel like rounding the bases is a path many of us follow at the outset. It’s kind of hard not to. The unbridled enthusiasm and joy of the beginner’s mind, as Buddhists refer to it, makes one want to get their hands into a little bit of everything. I don’t know if my views on collecting would be the same if I hadn’t gone through this experience.
I started out at a point where I couldn’t imagine ever selling anything I bought to regularly parting with two or three pieces at a time either to condense my collection or to fund something else (usually the latter). Now, there are very few watches I own which are precious or sentimental to me and I’ve lightened up in the sense that I see them as things I enjoy, pretty things, rather than something that I have to stake my emotions on. Own your things rather than letting them own you, as a wise man probably said at some point.
And yet still I have this gnawing sense in the back of my mind that I must attain specific pieces that fulfill a particular niche or subject or area, something to give even my scattershot and beautifully chaotic collection some semblance of completeness. It’s as if completeness is a manageable and attainable thing for an erratic and esoteric collection of anything. What does completeness or evenness even look like to me? When will the collection be complete? When does it end?
But recently, perhaps over the last year or so, maybe even during this pandemic when everything around us is in such utter disarray, I have felt the letting go begin. Something changed, some switch in my mind that diverted the train to another track headed not so much in the opposite direction but out and to nowhere in particular. After several years of trying to collect with some abstract “purpose” in mind I’ve begun to realize that the only purpose that matters is a sense of satisfaction that cannot be named. Maybe it’s aesthetic pleasure or even personal goal setting (goals outside of the prescribed “collecting goals” that many would suggest make for a feeling of completeness). I’m not sure what it is but my collecting mantra has changed from “cover all bases” to “skip to the good part.” That is, get what moves you, not what you feel you have to in order to stabilize an unstable notion.
Perhaps I wish I had come to this conclusion sooner. Perhaps I wouldn’t have bought and sold and hungered after so many pieces if I had been operating completely on instinct. Or perhaps one needs to be born into the mold before breaking out of it.
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