How To Start A Watch Collection

Aug 12, 2021

Category: Style

With the increasing prevalence of smartwatches, one would think that the traditional watch market would be in a death spiral. But, as luck would have it, the market for mechanical watches has arguably never been hotter. Vintage watches are blowing up in value, high-end luxury pieces have decades-long waitlists, and a new budget-minded microbrand is popping up seemingly every week. If you’re experiencing some FOMO because you have yet to own a single timepiece, have no fear, as our guide will teach you how to start a watch collection of your very own.

First things first, some congratulations are in order as you have decided to start a watch collection. Good for you! Collecting watches can be an extremely rewarding hobby thanks to the versatility of watches. A watch is a useful tool, an expression of personal style, and a loyal companion with whom you will make countless memories. A watch can even be a good investment in rare cases, but you should never go into watch collecting with the intent of making money as you will almost always spend more than you make in return. So with that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the details of how you’re going to start collecting watches.

So You Want To Start A Watch Collection...

Watch And Learn

You’ve taken the first step and decided that collecting watches is something you’re interested in. So where do you go from here? There are a number of key things to figure out before you get started, and we’ve got them all laid out for you below.

Do Your Research: The absolute first thing you need to do before you start collecting watches is learn everything you can about watches. Virtually every collector has regrets about how they started and watches they wished they’d never spent money on, but you can minimize this regret by doing your due diligence. You’ll want to look into how much you should expect to pay for a quality watch, what brands are reputable (and which should be avoided), and what styles or types of watches you are most interested in collecting. All of the big watch blogs, YouTube channels, and watch forums are all excellent places to gather information, as is HiConsumption, as this site has a plethora of watch guides and we’re always adding more.

Set A Budget: Watch collecting can get expensive in a hurry, and if you’re not careful, you can end up underwater before you know it. While some watch collectors are content to stay in the affordable realm throughout their collecting careers, many others are unable to resist the pull of luxury brands. And while we certainly believe that many luxury watches hold tremendous value for collectors, both monetarily and emotionally, no watch is worth going into financial ruin over. Therefore, it is important to set a watch budget and stick to it. If $500 is what you can afford to start your collection, then that’s great! You can pick up an excellent Swiss mechanical watch with some history behind it for that, or go for quantity over quality and grab a couple of solid Japanese exports. Whether your budget is $200 or $20,000, the important thing is to stay within it and figure out what watches you want within your playing field.

Don’t Discount Buying Used: While the crazy bull market of the past five years has erased some of the value from buying vintage watches, the used space remains a great option for collectors. While many vintage watches — i.e. those from the ‘90s or earlier — may now be a bit out of reach for many new collectors, the same can’t be said for newer used watches. Numerous sales forums — which are aggregated on sites like WatchRecon and WatchPatrol — along with behemoths like eBay and Chrono24 have every type of used watch you can imagine on offer from all over the world, and buying used is often the best option for money-conscious collectors. Watches are like cars: They lose a ton of value once they leave the store (except in rare cases among Rolex, Patek, and a few other very high-end brands), and it’s always a better value to buy one that’s a year or two old over brand new. Your new watch is going to become used right after you take it out of the box anyway, so why not save yourself potentially hundreds of dollars by going preowned instead?

Prepare For Your Collection: Prior to bringing your new watches into your home, you’ve got to prepare for their arrival. That means setting up a safe place to store them when they’re not on your wrist. A dedicated watch box is best, as it’s designed specifically to safeguard watches and won’t take up much space, but if you’ve got the room you can always keep your watches in whatever boxes they come to you in. You’ll also want to bone up on things you shouldn’t do with your watch, like change the date between 9 pm and 3 am or get it wet with the crown pulled out, and the forums are a great place to do that. Finally, you’ll want to set yourself up with some basic tools so you can handle simple tasks like bracelet resizing and strap changes yourself and save a trip to the jeweler.

Types Of Watches To Buy

Decisions, Decisions...

OK. You’ve done your homework, set your budget, explored the market, and set up your watches’ home. Now it’s finally time for you to get some watches. Well, almost. Before you start buying everything you see with three hands and a dial, you should first figure out what kind of watches you’ll want to keep in your collection. We’ve grouped together seven watch types that would make for a well-rounded collection below, complete with three prime examples for each.

Dive Watches

Masters Of The Deep

Easily the most popular style of watch for men, dive watches are the renaissance man of the watch world. They’re tough, they look great, and they work in every situation. Dive watches are defined as watches that feature a high level of water resistance, typically at least 200m. They should have a screw-down crown that aids in their aquatic adaptability, and they should feature a dive bezel — either an exterior one or an interior one — that rotates in one direction and allows the user to time a dive… or, you know, laundry. They also must feature great lume so they can be read easily in the murky depths of the ocean.

Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 600

If you’re looking for a dive watch for around $1,000, Christopher Ward’s perennial favorite Trident should be on your radar. With fit and finish that punches well above its price point, an absurd 600m water resistance in a svelte 12.95mm “light-catcher” case, a fully-lumed ceramic bezel, a quick-adjust bracelet clasp, and three available sizes, this could be the perfect diver for a lot of collectors.

Case Size: 38, 40, or 42mm
Water Resistance: 600m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $895+

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Entering into luxury territory, you have Tudor’s outstanding fan-favorite. A smaller and more vintage-themed version of Tudor’s Black Bay diver, the BB58 harkens back to the Tudor and Rolex divers of the 1960s but with modern technology and reliability. Classic crowd-pleasing styling, a universal 39mm case size, and subtle vintage cues help make this one of Tudor’s most popular watches.

Case Size: 39mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $3,700

Rolex Submariner

For many budding watch collectors, this watch represents their Holy Grail. The definition of a “nice watch” for many people, Rolex’s seminal dive watch is perhaps the most recognized watch in the world. Its design is basically perfect and works in any situation, which is probably why it’s been copied so frequently over the decades. The Sub is an unquestioned classic, and since it’s made by Rolex, it’s also an investment that should last a lifetime.

Case Size: 41mm
Water Resistance: 300m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $8,100+

Dress Watches

Feelin’ Fancy

The most classic style of men’s watch is unquestionably the dress watch. Practically all men’s watches prior to the invention of dedicated sports watches in the mid-twentieth century would fall under the dress watch category if they were released today, which may be why modern dress watches tend to be more classically styled than other watch varieties. Dress watches are typically smaller and more understated, with a lack of ornamentation and complications (though some complications, like the moonphase, are inherently dressy). They traditionally were made of precious metals like gold, but these days it’s at least as common — and much more affordable — to find dress watches cased in stainless steel. Generally, the rule when it comes to dress watches is the simpler and smaller it is, the better.

Tissot Heritage Visodate Powermatic 80

In recent years, there has been a big move toward vintage reissues among the big Swiss brands — and that’s especially true when it comes to dress watches. The genre peaked in the ‘50s and ‘60s — probably because people actually dressed up back then — and few companies have done a better job of resurrecting their mid-century style than Tissot. The brand recently revamped the popular Visodate with their Powermatic 80 movement that offers an impressive 80 hours of power reserve.

Case Size: 42mm
Water Resistance: 30m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $650+

Frederique Constant Classic Moonphase Manufacture

If you’re not into the mid-century look because even that’s too modern, then two classic dress watch features you should be looking for are Roman numerals and a moonphase complication. This piece from Frederique Constant offers both in an extremely classy package. The powdery silver-colored dial is beautiful, and the in-house manufactured automatic movement is a nice high-end touch at a relatively low price.

Case Size: 42mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Automatic Moonphase

Purchase: $2,595

JLC Reverso Classic Monoface Small Seconds

There are classic styles, and then there are singular design icons. The Reverso is the latter. Initially invented as a sports watch for polo players back in 1931 as a way to protect the watch’s crystal during matches, the Art Deco icon with the rotating case is now regarded as one of the world’s finest dress watches. And with 90 years of illustrious history behind it, you can be sure that this JLC will never go out of fashion.

Case Size: 45.6 X 27.4mm
Water Resistance: 30m
Movement: Manual-Wind

Purchase: $6,750

Chronographs

Start Your Engines

“Chronograph” is basically just a fancy word for “stopwatch,” and it is one of the most useful watch complications out there. Chronographs generally have subdials that track the minutes and sometimes hours of the stopwatch, with the center seconds hand functioning as part of the chronograph and being controlled by pushers on the side of the case. This watch style has long been associated with the world of motorsports, with race car drivers commonly donning funky chronograph watches in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Basically, if you want people to think you’re cooler than you are, wear a chronograph.

Lorier Gemini

In just a few years, New York-based microbrand Lorier has established a consistent and easily identifiable design language that borrows inspiration from some of the greatest watches of the mid-twentieth century. For the brand’s first chronograph, they looked to classics from Rolex, Heuer, Breitling, Universal Geneve, and others to create a seriously good-looking and surprisingly affordable mechanical chronograph.

Case Size: 39mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Manual-Wind Chronograph

Purchase: $499

Farer Bernina

Like Lorier, British-based Farer is another microbrand — albeit a larger one — that has crafted their own unique style in only a few years’ time. For Farer, that style is all about bold colors that are combined in unexpected ways, and one of their best expressions of this is on this racing-inspired chronograph. The Bernina’s combination of a white dial and ceramic bezel with red accents and subtle blue highlights is simply something that you won’t see anywhere else that looks fantastic.

Case Size: 41mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Manual-Wind Chronograph

Purchase: $1,995+

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional

The only watch to rival the Rolex Submariner in terms of fame and universal wearability has to be the Speedy. Forever known as the first watch worn on the moon thanks to its role in the Apollo 11 mission and subsequent NASA flights, the world’s most famous chronograph works pretty well here on Earth too. Its classic black and white styling and wearable case shape famously allow it to work brilliantly with any type of strap, and the newly-updated co-axial Master Chronometer movement is a serious technological feat.

Case Size: 42mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Manual-Wind Chronograph

Purchase: $6,300+

GMT Watches

Travelin’ Man

Many watch collectors would probably cite the GMT as their favorite complication, due to the romantic images it conjures of world travel during the Jet Age. GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time, and in the world of watches it refers to a complication that utilizes a fourth hand to track a second timezone. This second timezone is usually tracked on a 24-hour bezel that may or may not rotate, and the first instance of such a watch was the Rolex GMT Master, which was invented in 1954 at the behest of Pan Am for their international pilots. These days, GMTs are popular as travel watches, as they allow the wearer to simultaneously see what time it is both at home and at their current location with a glance at the wrist.

Baltic Aquascaphe GMT

It’s difficult to create a new GMT watch that honors the history of the complication without coming off as a blatant ripoff of what’s come before, but French microbrand Baltic has managed to thread this needle perfectly. The GMT version of the brand’s popular Aquascaphe dive watch gives us the recognizable 24-hour bezel in some unique and attractive colorways but largely leaves the original vintage-style formula of the base diver intact. In short, it’s a winning formula.

Case Size: 39mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Automatic GMT

Purchase: $1,105

Grand Seiko SBGN003

Most watch collectors gravitate toward mechanical watches, particularly at higher price points, as they appreciate the craftsmanship and charm of a tiny machine on their wrist. But this quartz Grand Seiko should not be discounted. It’s powered by the brand’s venerated 9F high-accuracy quartz movement, which is handmade by two expert craftsmen, fully decorated with the same care as an automatic movement, boasts loads of mechanical-inspired tech, and is accurate to within at least 10 seconds per year.

Case Size: 39mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Quartz GMT

Purchase: $3,200

Rolex GMT Master II

Rolex invented the four-hand GMT watch in 1954, and they’ve been setting the pace in the segment ever since. Forever the travel watch by which all others are measured, the current incarnation of the GMT Master II has morphed from a utilitarian tool watch to a flashy luxury showpiece, but it remains as useful as ever. With a Pepsi-colored Cerachrom bezel and stylish Jubilee bracelet, GMTs just don’t get any better than this.

Case Size: 40mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Automatic GMT

Purchase: $9,700+

Field Watches

In The Trenches

Field watches first came about during WWII as easy-to-read, no-nonsense timepieces that could be put through the wringer. And that’s largely what they remain today. Given their simplicity, field watches are almost like the dress watches of the non-dress watch world. They generally only feature easy-to-read numerals, often without a date, and usually with an added 24-hour scale for military time. They are wholly lacking in the decoration department, and generally feature a decent amount of lume for nighttime missions. If you’re into simple and casual style, you really can’t go wrong with a field watch.

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Hamilton’s Khaki Field is widely considered to be the prototypical field watch, with progenitors of the model having been worn on the wrists of American GIs during World War II. Today’s version of the watch is as classic and rugged as ever, with a hand-wound mechanical movement with 80 hours of power reserve, a matte-finished stainless steel case, and a sapphire crystal.

Case Size: 38mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Manual-Wind

Purchase: $495+

Monta Triumph

If you’re looking for a field watch that leans a little more modern, then you can’t go wrong with this offering from St. Louis-based/Swiss-made Monta. The microbrand’s reimagining of the classic field watch boasts 150m water resistance, 7 layers of anti-reflective coating on its sapphire crystal, a fully articulating quick-adjust bracelet, and legitimate luxury-level finishing throughout.

Case Size: 38.5mm
Water Resistance: 150m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $1,700

Longines Heritage Military

Many of the brands these days issuing “heritage” models don’t actually have any amount of heritage to speak of, but that’s not the case with Longines. The 189-year-old brand has bucketloads of outstanding watches in its back catalog, and it was a military watch from the ‘40s that served as inspiration for this well-crafted stunner. The patinated speckled dial and heat-treated blued steel hands make this retro timepiece a real head-turner.

Case Size: 38.5mm
Water Resistance: 30m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $2,150

Pilot’s Watches

Flying High

There are several different kinds of watches that are intended for pilots, from slide rule-equipped chronographs to extremely busy wrist-worn flight computers. But, generally speaking, the term “pilot’s watch” refers to Flieger watches or watches that are inspired by the style. Originating in WWII, Fliegers established that pilot’s watches should be extremely easy to read at the quickest of glances, with large dials, clear markers, bright hands, and a large crown that’s easy to manipulate with gloves. The style has remained a hallmark not because pilots still use them (though some probably do), but because their look is so timeless.

Laco Aachen

When it comes to the Flieger style of pilot’s watches that originated in the 1940s, there are just a handful of brands that really get them right. Just five companies were approved to make them upon the style’s conception in WWII, with heavy-hitter luxury brands IWC and A. Lange & Söhne among them. But budget-minded German brand Laco was also included on that shortlist, and today the company makes the most affordable authentic Fliegers around.

Case Size: 39, 42mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $410+

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date

It may not be a Flieger, but Oris’s Big Crown series has become an icon in its own right. With its coin edge fluted bezel, cathedral-style hands, fourth-hand date complication, and, naturally, its big crown, this is a pilot’s watch with loads of personality for those who are looking to pick up something that’s a little outside the box but still feels classic.

Case Size: 40mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $1,750+

IWC Big Pilot

As we mentioned, IWC was one of the five original manufacturers of Flieger watches, and they have since transformed the design into their signature Big Pilot’s Watch. The oversized flying instrument offers maybe the best readability and ease-of-setting of any analog watch in existence, thanks to its oversized case, bold and clear hands and indices, and massive conical crown.

Case Size: 43mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $8,400+

Beater Watches

Rugged & Ready

Every watch collection needs a good beater watch. This is a watch on the more affordable side that you won’t mind scuffing up a bit. They are engineered to take a beating and generally look better once they’ve got a little dirt on them. A beater can be almost anything that you’re comfortable knocking around, but it generally should feature some shock protection, a high level of water resistance, dependable timekeeping, and a case that can take a few dings here and there.

G-SHOCK DW5600E-1V

The breadth of G-SHOCK’s catalog is bigger than you think, with the Casio subsidiary offering everything from smartwatches to $8K luxury watches these days. But the brand will likely forever be known as the maker of the ultimate beater watch thanks to the classic DW5600 series. The no-nonsense digital watch is meant to survive whatever you throw at it thanks to its trademark anti-shock system that made G-SHOCK a household name.

Case Size: 45mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Quartz

Purchase: $70

Seiko 5 Sports

For years, the Seiko 5 line has marked the entry point for new watch collectors for one simple reason: they’re great watches for not a lot of money. Known for their robust build quality, dependability, and universally attractive styling, the Seiko 5 line offers more bang-per-buck than almost any watch in the industry. And while the line’s latest incarnation, the Seiko 5 Sports line, has marked an increase in price, it’s also marked an increase in quality, with better movements and finishing.

Case Size: 40, 42.5mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Automatic

Purchase: $213+

Luminox Original Navy SEAL

If you’re looking to really put your watch through the wringer, then you can’t go wrong with the timepiece of choice for the world’s toughest military unit. With a case and bezel made from carbon-reinforced polycarbonate, a tempered scratch-resistant mineral glass crystal that won’t shatter like sapphire, 200m water resistance, and Luminox’s self-powered luminous treatment that glows for up to 25 years, this trusty sidekick is built to hold up during even the toughest missions.

Case Size: 43mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Quartz

Purchase: $395

How To Find A Good Watch Repair Shop

Collecting watches is the fun part — the real work begins once you have the timepieces in your possession. Watches, especially those of the mechanical persuasion, require maintenance. Parts will break and need to be replaced, and even the most babied timepiece will need professional servicing at least once every 5-7 years. So before you find yourself in a desperate situation with a non-functioning member of your new collection, have a look at our guide on how to find a good watch repair shop.

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