We talk watch collecting, limited-edition releases, and vintage appreciation with horological historian, John Reardon.
In the international watch scene, the insight and guidance of experts like John Reardon influence decisions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Formerly international head of watches for auction house Christie’s, Reardon has assembled an extensive knowledge of modern and vintage watches and recently set up Collectability, an online sales platform dedicated to the timepieces of Patek Philippe.
What first drew you to watches?
As a young teenager, I was brought into the world of watches by volunteering at the American Watch and Clock Museum in my hometown of Bristol, Connecticut. I fell in love with the fact that watches and clocks were the true intersections of art, technology, history, and fashion.
What’s the most common mistakes people make when they start a collection?
I see many collectors buying what they are told to buy rather than what they want to buy. The ‘group-think’ mentality is driving everyone to buy the same things at the same time, especially today with the rise of social media. Huge sums, for example, are being paid for the Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A and other watches, modern and vintage, are being completely ignored. You should start a collection equally with the heart and mind (and wallet of course) and should not buy something just because everyone else wants it at a given time.
So how much of a role should passion play?
Passion plus knowledge is the ultimate equation. If you love something and take the time to learn everything there is about it, you will only enjoy the experience and the object more. No one needs to collect watches… we do this for pleasure and collecting is driven by passion and obsession at the end of the day.
How does Asia sit in terms of watch collecting and should we be looking close to home or far and wide for new additions?
Asia is now at the top of the watch collecting pyramid. The most important modern and vintage collections are almost all in Asia today. Asian collectors have brought watch collecting to a new level. New scholarship, new discoveries, and the means and understanding to invest huge sums of money into the category have made Aisa number one in the watch collecting world and I expect it will stay this way for many years. The pipeline of new vintage discoveries of watches is generally coming from America and Europe, while modern watches from Swiss makers are being sent directly to Asia in significant numbers.
Do all watch brands increase in value and do they do so equally?
In terms of value retention and growth, the answer to this question is constantly changing. No one can predict what is next in the market and new trends constantly emerge. In my opinion, the safest bet is Patek Philippe with modern and vintage examples. Time has proven that Patek Philippe can weather almost any storm and buying the best of the best seem to always come out on top. That said, I am constantly shocked by the growth in value in the vintage Rolex world. With the best-preserved examples of the world’s top watchmakers continuously on an upward trend, there seems to be no end in sight. We are starting to see consistent results of watches bringing art world prices at auction.
What are the sure fire brands that should be in any self-respecting watch collection?
Every important collection needs to have at least one Patek and one Rolex to begin. However, the direction collectors choose is highly personal. A Greubel Forsey collector, for example, may only want to stay within his wheelhouse while a vintage Cartier collector may want to only buy what he or she knows and loves. For every person, the answer is different and I respect collectors at every price point. I have seen collections of vintage Seikos valued at under US$20,000 that impressed me more than a US$20 million modern watch collection due to the fact that the collector has poured their heart and mind into the collection.
Should we be looking for iconic pieces or more unique watches from those brands? Does obscure equal value in the watch collecting game?
I suggest collectors look outside of the box and to find examples of watches that exist in small quantities. The more unique the better. Keep in mind uniqueness can be defined also by the back story. Provenance, condition, or even the fact that a watch was bought to honor an important personal achievement or milestone all make a watch unique.
Are watches like comic books and need to be pristine to retain their value or is a little weathering appreciated?
If watch collecting ever evolves to pieces being all kept in plastic boxes in a vault, then the passion is dead and we are only trading in commodities. I prefer to see watches worn and enjoyed. There is nothing quite like a group of collectors engaging over a chat with their favorite watches on their wrists. Keeping watches in amazing condition is important but it is not the whole story.
What are the best places to seek out new additions? Should we be buying new or second-hand through dealers or auctions?
There are so many ways to buy and sell watches but one rule applies: build a relationship with a trusted source. There are many missteps one can take when delving into the world of watch collecting, especially vintage and pre-owned. Buying from an authorized retailer is always the safest bet with modern watches and buying from known and established dealers is the best way to go with vintage. With auction houses, buyers should beware. Make sure to study the unpublished condition reports ahead of any bidding and try to attend the preview if possible to see potential purchases with your own eyes.
Should we try to theme our collections based on a style – sports watch over vintage for example – or on a particular model or brand?
Personal preference should rule the day in terms of collecting. Whether your passion is for early sports watches or modern day tourbillons, buy what you love and become your own expert.
With so many limited-edition timepieces being released how do we recognise an instant classic?
The concept of limited editions is getting a bit boring to me these days. Seemingly every new release is limited edition. When I compare to vintage offerings and see a watch that is truly unique, a modern watch made in 100 examples seems far less special and interesting to me.
What pieces would we find in your own collection?
I personally collect Patek Philippe pocket watches and 18th century English longcase clocks. For me, the definition of vintage (commonly assumed to be 20 years or older in watch collecting circles) goes back a bit further!
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