11 lessons and tips from my first year of watch collecting

Advice for a new watch collector, from a new watch collector

By: Agaki (@agakistuff)

Picture. It’s the start of 2020. Following a timely raise and to celebrate the new decade (just make up events to justify buying stuff guys, it’s great), I decide to treat myself to an expensive watch: a G-Shock. A few watches later, accelerated by an era-defining global pandemic and with nothing much else to do, I dove into this cursed hobby and here I am a year later writing over a thousand words on watches, for fun. Suffice to say I fell for the watch trap. Here are some observations, lessons, and anecdotes from my first year of collecting shiny things.

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1. Don’t buy into the ‘textbook’ watches

The impetus for this upcoming melange of words was my feeling of being cheated by one of Reddit’s more universally recommended watches — the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist. I was (and many newcomers to the watch world are) obsessed with starting off with a watch that could ‘tick all the boxes’. The problem is that when you’re new, you don’t even know what the boxes are! I was gaslighting myself into thinking the words, ‘reliable Seiko 6R15 automatic movement’ weren’t literal gibberish to me. Watches are an anachronism. They have lost the pure function form they were born from. So why do so many of us talk about them as if they have ‘features’?  As a new collector, I initially approached this hobby in a totally logical but highly incorrect way — looking for standardized checkmarks I could tick off. After watching about twenty YouTube videos of people reviewing watches, listing water resistance specs as if watches were a smartphone, I bought in. ‘Great watches that YOU can afford!’, ‘INCREDIBLE value!’, ‘Top 10!’.

The true fun of collecting anything is in the emotional response it gives you and the life experiences you imbue onto said things. I sold my SARB017 soon after I bought it because it simply didn’t mean anything to me. Watches at their peak are storytelling devices. My problem was I didn’t buy into the story of the Seiko Alpinist being the choice watch for Japanese mountain climbers. What I bought was a 38mm case with a 6R15 automatic movement with a water resistance of 200m that was affordable and ticked all the boxes. We make fun of Omega’s moonwatch marketing barrage but that stuff really does matter! Buy a highly recommended television or fridge that ticks all the boxes. Not a watch. If you’re interested in listing off a bunch of specifications I believe a company called Apple makes something that might impress you. The best watches are pure storytelling devices. Every object is more enjoyable with a story behind it. Find the watch for you.

That said, I do highly recommend the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist, it’s an affordable daily driver and ticks all the boxes. What do you think? Leave a comment below and please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

2. Figuring out what you DON’T want on a watch is easier than figuring out what you DO want

I call this, ‘Big Menu At Restaurant Theory’ (look forward to the scientific paper). It’s far easier to knock off categories of things you don’t want than it is to pick out a singular thing you do want. I learned from my early Seiko Alpinist that I absolutely did not enjoy setting the date. I could look at the date on my damn phone. That was my arbitrary line. Every watch with a date window is now dead to me. This has evolved into only wanting to collect time-only watches.

Draw your own arbitrary lines and come up with your own personal catch-alls. This alleviates a substantial amount of decision fatigue and frustration from your collecting. It will streamline the collecting process immeasurably. Don’t like dive watches? Anything with a bezel is now inconsequential to you. Hate Roman numerals? Pretend every watch with roman numerals doesn’t exist. Tom Brady first surveys the gigantic open field, then eliminates closed passing lanes, and finally narrows into the singular receiver. He doesn’t continually scan the open field because that would waste time, he’d get tackled and I think not getting tackled is the point of American football. What I’m saying is, Bucs in six.

3. Find your ‘north star’ watch as fast as possible

After an initial period of buying whatever the internet told me to, realizing that was dumb, and then looking at too wide a field of watches — I decided to ask myself the question. ‘What is a watch that I want, and why?’ I’m not saying to pick a brand and then pick a model, I’m asking you, ‘Hey, what do you want to wear on your wrist?’ If that so happens to be a Rolex X or a Patek Y, then great!

This ties into the previous point nicely. The step after figuring out what you don’t want on your wrist is figuring out what you do want on your wrist. If what you narrowed down to is unattainable at the moment, try to pick watches that fit the vibe’ you’ve curated for yourself with this ‘north star’ of a watch you’ve chosen. My north star is the Credor Eichii II. It’s a time-only and watch made in Japan. I can’t get it right now because I didn’t buy any $GME, but my collection is dominated by time-only, made-in-Japan pieces. In finding the Credor I found out that I wanted to have something that was time-only and made in Japan on my wrist. Go figure. Identifying a grail watch as a mental exercise can lead you in the direction of many watches that will resonate with you.

4. You will screw up a few purchases, guaranteed

Early on I bought a really tidy looking vintage Seiko off Reddit. Its case size was listed at 32mm and I had a 34mm watch that fit me just fine. 2mm isn’t that much, in the grand scheme of things right? So I bought it (and a new Hirsch strap to go with it too!). Absolute rookie mistake, it looked like I taped a tiny bottle cap to my wrist. I sold it a few weeks later to a person that was clearly in some kind of triad gang (he pulled up to my house in the sickest Mercedes you wouldn’t believe, armed with gold teeth, a leather jacket and incredible sunglasses — lovely guy!) for a loss of a couple hundred dollars. Now scarred for life like a Toronto Raptors fan looking at Lebron James, I don’t dare go under 34mm.

You will screw up a few purchases early on. Mistakes happen. Please don’t cheap out on your strap changing tool. Please don’t cheap out on your straps. Please don’t cheap out on your watch box. A millimeter on a watch is scientifically larger than a real millimeter. There are certainly no perfect watch purchases despite what the often-times hyperbolic and disgustingly positive watch media tell you. Except the Credor Eichii II, which is a perfect watch and will make everyone respect you.

5. It’s okay to not own a watch you really like

I like the Black Bay 58. I really really like the Black Bay 58. Yet I don’t want to have my own. It took months for my pea-sized brain to reconcile the fact that I don’t need to actually own something I really enjoy. For a while, I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I liked this thing but didn’t want to buy it. Predatory consumer psychology compounded by social media (repeatedly seeing beautiful shots of the BB58 in my social feeds) and FOMO really hit hard. Just endure and remind yourself you don’t need to own something you really like. While usually linked, you’re allowed to divorce the idea of liking something from the idea of owning something. I really really like saxophones, funky strobe lights, fighter jets and Yankee Stadium.

6. It’s okay to not get why everyone likes a certain watch

I’ll fire some shots here and say that I just don’t get the Rolex Daytona. I didn’t grow up watching Paul Newman. This (hopefully) isn’t me being a hot-takey hipster. This (hopefully) isn’t ignorance, as I’ve sincerely attempted to appreciate all things Daytona through a lot of reading and looking at it in both a historical and cultural context — all the way to going into a consignment store pretending I had enough money to buy it just to hold the damn thing. This is simply a case of, ‘this is not for me’. Just like (in my case) TikTok, Jordan Ones, wearing jeans and wearing jeans with Jordan Ones. Am I so out of touch? No. It’s the children who are wrong. We all have that one watch that seemingly everyone else adores that you just don’t get. And that’s okay! Don’t pretend to like something you don’t. Just let things be. Unless that thing is bund straps. Don’t wear bund straps.

7. Watch photography is hard, man

Photographing these tiny things is obtuse and frustrating. I am actually allergic to dust yet I’ve never so much as cared about tiny dust specks until I decided I wanted to play pretend watch photographer. This stuff is shiny as all hell, can I turn the shininess down somehow? How do these watch photographers summon the power to manipulate sunlight itself?

These things are but a mystery to the majority of us monkey-brained phone snapping internet socialites. I’ve also seen my share of condescending sh*t-slinging on Instagram from a few professional watch photographers decrying the low quality of shots from us regular folk. I’m just trying to take a photo of my shitter bro, relax. Watch photography is extremely difficult, leading to the next lesson.

8. Watches will always look better in person and straps will always look worse

Part of the charm of watches is that intangible something that you get from seeing a watch through your own eyes. Every single watch ever photographed looks even better in person (100% facts). The illusion of the watch photo on the internet tricks you into believing watches are bigger than they actually are. In reality, most watches are in fact micro marvels. Utter joys to look at in their true and tiny form. However, on the internet, a lot of watches look like clunky wall clocks. Watches just look better in person. It’s not just a bunch of gears. In person you truly appreciate the art. Compare Mona Lisa the .png to Mona Lisa the real thing.

The opposite is the case for watch straps. Watch strap sellers have mastered the art of making their watch straps look like the second coming of Mona Lisa on internet photos — often tacking their watch strap onto some unattainable reference. Then it arrives in the mail, duller and lacking the magic you were promised. Like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A watch strap will always look 20% worse than the picture presented on the internet.

9. Sometimes there just...isn't any easily available information

For how meticulous watches as an object are, they’re kind of terribly documented. Myths and hearsay are widespread, obfuscating actual information. I wanted to know what the difference was between the King Seiko 45-7000 (which I had picked up on Yahoo Auctions) and the King Seiko 45-7001. What I thought would be resolved in a Google search ended up as a two-week hunt for an answer. No dice on Google in either English or Japanese so I DMed about five vintage Seiko collectors who were lovely to interact with but couldn’t give me any definite information. I looked through scans of some old Japanese Seiko catalogues, nada. No answers from asking the question on any of the various vintage watch Facebook groups I’m a part of as well.

As a last resort, I took a time machine into the early 2000s where message boards were still a thing, signed up, and made a thread on a forum for Japanese watches. And actually got a response! Now that may seem a tad trite but please understand the last time I asked for help on a forum was when I wanted to get a paintbrush for my Neopet. What if nobody ever showed up to answer my question? I recently went through another case of hard-to-find information wherein I had to dial an actual phone number and speak on the phone in order to ask a few questions regarding a future purchase. Info that couldn’t be found online. Wild. Oftentimes, the watch universe truly is glacial in speed. Guess I’m just a millennial spoiled by easy access (it is 2021 though, c’mon). Sometimes the information you want simply isn’t available on the internet as we know it.

10. Get a nice watch box

For the longest time, I had my watches out flat and stark naked on my computer desk. Not on a watch stand on my computer desk, no. Literally on my computer desk on my mousepad. I had my fancy vintage watch stored inside the crappy generic cardboard box that it was shipped in on the desk too. It was the ‘good’ watch, so it deserved that special cardboardy protection.

Getting a proper watch box isn’t really about practicality, it’s about evoking the feels. The feeling of turning a heap of crap on your desk into something that looks freaking sweet no matter how much your watches cost. It’s about turning a pile into a collection. Just like putting your Pokemon cards in a sleeve. Please get a nice watch box instead of dumping your watches on a desk.

11. The only watch collectors who actually know what they're doing are G-Shock collectors

What do you want in a watch? Do you want a great looking, durable, waterproof, great value, resalable, highly collectible, easily serviceable, and astoundingly accurate watch with a lot of cultural prestige and horological heritage that can be worn in any situation that friends and onlookers will recognize and point out?

Just get a G-Shock. No cap. Just buy the G-Shock and get out while you still can. I’m begging you. Aside from G-Shock aficionados, all us watch collectors are truly idiots. Should’ve gotten into knitting instead.

You can find Agaki on Instagram @agakistuff

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Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches, mostly vintage. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your inbox every Sunday. Follow us on IG too.