Jeff Stein is the nation’s leading expert on Heuer watches. As the founder of On The Dash and owner of Chronocentric, Stein is very active in the watch community. His day job is as a lawyer at King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based law firm, and is a vintage watch collector by night.
Stein will proudly tell you that wearing a watch makes him happy. When he starts his morning, the first thing he does is pick out his watch and then select the shirt, pants, shoes, jacket that complement his watch choice. The watch excites Stein a lot more than any other fashion pieces.
Stein’s fascination with watches started with an interest in vintage cars. He attended vintage car races and while at a race in California, saw a Heuer mounted dashboard timer and knew he had to have one. He bought one online and this piece is now a permanent staple in his collection.
Legibility, ruggedness, and vintage chronographs are some of the main characteristics that Stein looks for when choosing his next watch. Stein does not have any “safe-queens” or watches that just sit in the box. When he buys a watch, he purchases it with the intention of wearing it on a regular basis. Most of his watches tend to be vintage sport chronograph watches, rather than dress watches. The main focus of Stein’s collection centers on the 1960s, early 70s Autavia watches. Stein points out that the style of watches in the 1960s are very different from the style of watches produced in the 1970s.
History is also something that Stein considers when purchasing a timepiece. One of the most interesting pieces in Stein’s collection has historical significance. It is a Heuer stopwatch that was worn by John Glenn in 1962 during his space exploration. After going through many NASA archives, Stein and other enthusiasts were able to confirm that Glenn wore this stopwatch during his space exploration in February, 1962. This was an important find for Heuer as it proved that they had the first watch in space.
Categories of Watches
Abercrombie & Fitch Watches
Stein’s collection is comprised of a few sub-collections, one of them being his Abercrombie & Fitch watches. The watches were created in the 1940s’ and 1950’s when Abercrombie & Fitch was known as the go-to department store for “proper” men looking to equip themselves for their next adventure, whether it was hunting, motoring, fishing, hiking, sailing, etc. Executives from Heuer and Abercrombie & Fitch would come together every year to discuss ideas for watches. The store’s clientele was very upscale and both companies knew they needed to create a watch that would appeal to these shoppers.
Another sub-set of Stein’s watch collection is racing watches. Heuer watches were the watches that were used in the 1960s before there were promotions and advertising. These were the watches that the racers actually wanted to wear. Famous racers, such as Parnelli Jones, Steve McQueen, and Mario Andretti, all wore Heuer watches.
One thing about watches that appeals to Stein is their uses. Stein enjoys collecting vintage pilot watches. One of the watches in his collection is a watch that was issued to the Italian Air Force. This watch has been banged up and it is very clear that a pilot truly used this watch while flying. For Stein, the fact that it is banged up a bit actually appeals to him as it adds to the story of the watches. If it was in pristine condition, it would be less interesting.
Another of Stein’s pilot watches is a Heuer watch from 1935 that was issued to the German Air Force. Stein had always wanted one of these watches and was able to get in touch with a collector while he was on a family trip in Israel. While the situation could have been precarious, the collector was very helpful and was able to sell Stein this watch.
After 15 years of collecting, Stein admits that his approach to collecting has changed over the years. Here are a few tips he has for collectors:
- Do not have a specific list of “this is what I want” or “this is what I want to collect.”
- Constantly ask yourself “Am I still happy with what I have?”
- Condition only matters on the second watch. Once you have that one watch, you can consider updating it later on. The first watch has to be something you like and enjoy and does not have to be in the greatest condition.
Watches With a Story
When the first of his daughters got married, Stein wore a black TAG Heuer Carrera to complement his son-in-law’s white TAG Heuer Carrera. For Stein, this watch will always be the watch that he wore to his daughter Rachel’s wedding.
At his other daughter’s wedding, which took place just a few months after the first daughter’s wedding, Stein selected a NOMOS watch. His son-in-law planned to wear a minimalist Junghans watch and Stein believed that an understated, simple NOMOS watch complemented this selection. To Stein, this watch will forever be known as the watch he wore to Emma’s wedding.
Stein refers to one of his Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer watches as his “Emma Watch.” As a senior in high school, Emma was waiting to hear back from Penn University in Philadelphia. At the same time, Stein was expecting a watch delivery from Philadelphia. This Seafarer watch showed up the day before Emma was to find out if she got in and Stein decided that if he liked the watch, then it meant Emma would get in to Penn. It turns out that Stein loved the watch (he considers it to be one of his favorite watches) and Emma did get an acceptance letter from Penn the next day.
One of Stein’s favorite things about collecting is the fact that it is a private hobby. His watch stays underneath his sleeve most of the time and many people do not even notice that he is wearing a watch. Stein likes the fact that his watch makes him happy and that it is not something that other people need to admire or be a part of.
Stein’s passion for vintage watches makes him happy and he enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with other watch enthusiasts through On The Dash and through Twitter.
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