So you want to start a watch collection. We say go for it.
But what’s going to be your first watch, the one you look back at and think, “This is the one that started it all.”? No pressure or anything, and the watch you start your collection with may not have much emotional significance at all. Everyone’s different, but there are a few things to consider when you’re getting your collection started off.
First, do you pre-owned, vintage, or new? What brand will you go with? What’s your personal style—is it something you want to wear every day that goes with anything, or is it more of a special occasion timepiece? And most importantly, what’s your budget?
Next is the hard part. The actual decision. What watch do you go with? If you need some advice, we’ve thought ahead and picked some solid starters based on all the above criteria.
Vintage, pre-owned, or new?
That is the question. What condition do you want for your first watch: pristine and untouched, or something with a little history?
Starting your watch collection with a vintage piece is a great choice. If you go the vintage route, you’ll find they’re often a bit more affordable, they’re not as common (as say, a modern Rolex Submariner), and they often come with a great story.
But there are certain things you need to take into account when it comes to vintage watches, especially if it’s your first purchase. The biggest? Whether or not the watch still has its original parts. In the watch community, a watch that’s been re-dialed or contains non-original parts is called a franken-watch and is usually dubbed a non-starter. So before you purchase a vintage timepiece, have it inspected by a watchmaker you can trust. They’ll be able to tell you more definitively of the watch’s authenticity.
Need to know where to start on great vintage options? Vintage OMEGA Seamasters and Rolex Datejusts are great values with some name recognition.
There should never be any shame in buying pre-owned.
If you have a middle-of-the-range budget, consider a pre-owned watch. Often, you’ll reap the benefits of market depreciation and find a great watch for your money. And if you buy from a reputable source, you won’t have to worry about its authenticity. Ultimately, when you buy pre-owned, you walk away with more watch for your money and no one can tell the difference.
Still not convinced or want some more data on which watches to buy pre-owned? Check out our series on watch value depreciation here.
If being the first one to own a watch is important to you, then buying new is the way to go. That’s especially if you plan on keeping it for a long time.
When you buy new, you get the guarantee of a manufacturer warranty and repair, as well as a watch in mint condition. But you better be willing to spend a little more money up-front for the watch (and prepare for its subsequent depreciation in value).
When it comes to starting your collection, the brand may be important you. Or it may not.
There are countless watch brands to choose from, but when you start out, you might want to stick to a reputable and reliable name like Rolex, OMEGA, Breitling, or TAG Heuer. People recognize these brands for a reason—it’s not just good marketing, they have the quality to back up the advertising budgets.
What’s your budget?
The first watch in your collection will most likely not be your most expensive.
Generally, you start small and work your way up. A NOMOS is a great collection starter: it’s got an affordable price tag, it’s attractive, and has some versatility in its style. Likewise, there are a number of entry-level Rolexes to choose from, while OMEGA and TAG Heuer tend to occupy a comfortable position on the lower end of the pre-owned market. (Read: Best Watches Under $5,000)
But if you want to start big (or you have a large budget to work with), you really couldn’t go wrong with a Patek Philippe Calatrava. It’s smart, stylish, and it’s the flagship watch from one of the most respected brands in the business. If you’re looking to start your collection with a solid high-end option, go with Patek Philippe (or A. Lange & Söhne, if you’re feeling something different).
What’s your theme?
So, do you stick to vintage? Do you stay within one brand? Do you collect based on dive watches or pilot watches or some other category? What about price point: should you venture into lower-priced watches or keep to luxury?
If you’re just starting out your collection, you have plenty of time to figure that question out. As you get more into watches and more into collecting, you’ll have a better idea of your tastes. At that point, you won’t even need our advice anymore.
Collecting is a personal passion. Ultimately, no one should tell you how to do it, but you have to start somewhere. And making that first purchase can be somewhat daunting. Breaking the decision into searching questions about your needs and wants means you’ll have a good foundation to move forward with your watch collection. Good luck.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 2, 2015. It has since been updated for clarity.