Selling Watches To Buy Watches: One Collector’s Story
Wouldn’t it be splendid to have everything your heart desired? Imagine, as a collector, having the resources to buy each and every watch you wanted without ever having to sell any of your existing collection.
Well, it’s a nice fantasy but it’s not going to happen for me, nor I expect for all but a very few of the collectors I know. And besides, I’m not so sure that the experience of “selling to buy” isn’t actually a significant part, albeit a bittersweet one, of the collecting experience.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve gone through four identifiable waves of selling to buy. As I developed my notes for this article, I actually surprised myself with the number of pieces I’ve sold over the years, including many I’d love still to own today.
I must confess that as I putting these words onto the page I also experienced a bit of trepidation: while it’s great to write about “Why I Bought It,” it’s perhaps a bit less flattering to those involved to confess, “Oh, by the way, I sold it.”
So, as we get underway, two modest requests:
- To those makers whose watches I’ve sold, don’t hate me! I’ve loved every one of these watches in its time and done my best to see that they found other loving homes.
- To other collectors and readers, please don’t judge me too harshly! You may shake your heads at some of my choices, but I hope that you find my thought process and lessons learned informative as you build your own collections.
Transition one: changing tastes
Early on, my watch buying preferences centered on Jaeger-LeCoultre (see Jaeger-LeCoultre: A Collector’s Gateway Drug And Ongoing Pleasure). In the early 2000s, I also struck up relationships with two local authorized dealers who introduced me to the worlds of Parmigiani and Ulysse Nardin, leading to a number of purchases.
Around 2005, something wonderful happened: largely through the kind offices of friend and indie advocate Tim Jackson, I became aware of the fantastic world of independent watchmaking. At the same time, through online forums like The PuristS my eyes were opened to pieces like the Audemars Piguet Equation of Time and Vacheron Constantin’s skeletonized watches.
Over the next few years, the face of my small collection changed quite a bit. Out went my Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duoface and Art Deco, along with one-time must-haves like a blue-dialed Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer and a Panerai Ferrari Chronograph (in my defense, all that I can say about that watch is that I did own the matching car, more about that later).
Through 2010, incoming pieces included two from Peter Speake-Marin (the Shimoda and his Fighting Time collaboration with Kees Engelbarts), an ultra-thin skeletonized Vacheron Constantin, the aforementioned Audemars Piguet Equation of Time, two Habring2 watches, and the capper, a pink gold Observatoire from Kari Voutilainen. I also took the opportunity to trade up within my Jaeger-LeCoultre assortment, buying a pre-owned Reverso Repetition Minutes.
If you’re keeping track, you may already have noted a clear cheat: starting with each wave of selling and buying, the total value of my collection went up! For me (and I suspect for many others) selling is only a partial offset to buying; but at least it keeps us in the game.
Transition two: going bigger with the indies and A. Lange & Söhne
At SIHH 2011, more or less out of nowhere, I informed my watch buddies that I planned over the next year or two to sell a significant number of “smaller” pieces in favor of a set of more important watches.
As it turned out, I kept to my word: within 18 months, I had sold my first two Speake-Marin pieces, my remaining Ulysse Nardin watches including the lovely Monopusher pictured at the outset of this article that I still ache for from time to time, my pink gold JLC Memovox (still kicking myself about that one), my Parmigianis, and one of my Habring models.
Through 2013, I restocked with some “bigger” watches within some of these brands (for instance, a Habring Doppel 2.0 and Speake-Marin Thalassa) and also added notable watches from the independents and A. Lange & Söhne, many of which form the core of my collection today: the Masterpiece Chronograph II from Kari Voutilainen, Vianney Halter’s Antiqua, a Grönefeld One Hertz, both a Datograph and a Double Split from A. Lange & Söhne, and a pre-owned Philippe Dufour Simplicity.
During this period, while there was still a mix of new and pre-owned pieces in the additions to my collection, the center of gravity shifted a bit toward the pre-owned side, which enabled me to buy a larger number of fine watches than would have been the case had I insisted on all freshly-minted pieces.
Transition three: no pain, no gain
For me, the third phase of swapping began around 2014, by which time I was posting on a regular basis here on Quill & Pad, making my track record of purchases more visible through the “Why I Bought It” series.
Some truly wonderful watches joined the fold during in 2014 and 2015, including an early F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain and a Journe Anniversary Tourbillon “T30,” Romain Gauthier’s Logical One, an Upside Down from Ludovic Ballouard, Vianney Halter’s Deep Space Tourbillon, a Breguet Reference 7727 10 Hz chronometer, and a white gold A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual that I’d spent four years convincing a pal to sell to me.
Unexpectedly, I also stumbled across the opportunity to acquire what for me had been a real object of desire: Invention Piece 1 from Greubel Forsey (see Why I Bought It: Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1).
History will tell whether the timing of my purchase of the Greubel Forsey was optimal, but I simply had to have it, and as a result difficult choices had to be made. Deeply lamented departures included my Datograph, the Journe T30, Grönefeld One Hertz, Speake-Marin Thalassa, and Voutilainen Observatoire (the sale of which was characterized as no less than “a tragedy” by our editor-in-chief).
As much as I hated to sell those pieces, the process did help me to understand some of my decision rules as a collector, which included the following.
- I was willing to sell the Datograph as I kept the Double Split and Datograph Perpetual, which for me represented more advanced examples of A. Lange & Söhne’s chronograph expertise.
- With the addition of the Deep Space and Greubel Forsey, I was suddenly tourbillon-heavy; and as much as I would still love to be wearing the T30, I felt that the Tourbillon Souverain was a more essential representation of the Journe legacy.
- As the owner of another superb Voutilainen piece, I was willing to let the Observatoire go; had I not bought the Chronograph, I don’t think I’d have sold the Observatoire.
- Love is sometimes fickle: I found that I wasn’t pulling the Thalassa or One Hertz out of the box to wear on a regular basis.
Transition four: re-balancing and new frontiers
Over the past year or so, the shift has continued as I decided to nudge the balance of my collection more toward major brands (without abandoning the independents, as a couple of pending “incoming” pieces will demonstrate) and also began to pick up the vintage and classic watch bug (see A Contemporary Watch Collector Goes Vintage).
On one monumental weekend last November, I added three landmark pieces: the Patek Philippe Reference 5370P split-seconds chronograph (see Why I Bought It: Patek Philippe Reference 5370P), the A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Merite Tourbillon (see Why I Bought It: A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite Tourbillon), and a remarkable vintage Patek Philippe Reference 1526 perpetual calendar in pink gold.
That’s a pretty heavy load! To enable these acquisitions, some sales were needed:
- The Breguet was the first to go: a lovely piece, but see “love is sometimes fickle” above.
- Next out was the Vianney Halter Deep Space, dropping my tourbillon count again and at the same time keeping me in the game as a Halter owner with what I consider to be Halter’s most important piece, the Antiqua.
- My car. In Economics 101 I think we called this category cross-elasticity, but I did actually sell my Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano as part of financing these watches.
- If “not buying” can be considered selling, I did also cancel an order that I had placed for a wonderful perpetual calendar watch that I really wish I had kept – but then again, you can’t have everything!
Lessons learned: selling to buy
While I’m sure that there’s a certain amount of rationalization in these musings about selling to buy, perhaps there are a few useful lessons as well.
- For most of us, at some point we will need either to conclude that we are entirely happy with our collections or that we need to sell to buy.
- When you’re looking at a major potential acquisition, think about which watch in your current collection you’d consider selling to have the new one. If you can’t think of one, do you really need the new piece?
- If you’re tempted to buy back an example of a watch that you’ve sold (and I am, especially with the Jaeger Memovox, Voutilainen Observatoire, and Journe T30), ponder exactly why you felt you could give it up in the first place.
- Try to be clear about your own rationale for choosing pieces to sell. For me, these include a desire to own pieces from multiple top makers and a variety of complication types, a preference to own one great piece over two smaller ones, and an explicit view of my desired portfolio mix (fun vs. investment vs. patronage).
- If you’re not wearing it, it might be time to sell it.
- Cheat on the rules if you must, but try to be honest with yourself. For instance, right now I’ve been telling myself, “It’s really not a good time in the cycle to sell, but it’s a good time to buy.” Well, okay, but when “now is not a good time” turns into “I never got around to selling,” that can be a real problem.
- If you find over time that your collection seems to be made up mostly of “keepers” and it’s very hard to part with any of them, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
But most of all: enjoy! Happy hunting and feel free to share your own experiences with “selling to buy” in the comment section below.
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[…] more pieces I’d love to own. At the same time, as I’m now in the “selling to buy” mode (see Selling Watches To Buy Watches: One Collector’s Story) each auction requires some soul searching: are any of those shiny watches so tempting that I’d […]
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I have never regretted selling a watch. It makes me wonder if I’d be as happy with 5 watches as I am with 15.
Interesting perspective, Hal — would love to hear your further thoughts on the topic!
Read this article and can’t help thinking, this guy comes across as an ill informed archieluxury type who’s high on red bull! He really is clueless or as some sort of shopping addiction. This buying addiction is far from what I would call a ‘healthy obsession’.
Congrats, Michael — the moment I sent this article off to our editor-in-chief I made a guess on how many comments deep in the responses someone would troll it. My guess was two, so you have fulfilled a valuable role here!
Maybe I’ll go out and buy a watch to celebrate 😉
Dear Gary, I can assure you my comment was not intended to troll, but re-reading my post, yes, it’s not the most affable comment. A touch full on for a Friday evening. I don’t blame your response. Then again it would be a boring place if we all nodded in agreement and patted each on the back for every opinion we share on a public forum! At the end of the day- buy what makes you happy and please don’t give a damn about what people think of your watch buying choices and opinions on such matters, because I sure don’t- I appreciate you sharing your views in the article nonetheless!
Here’s hoping to no ‘troll comments’ but ‘yes’ to a lively and exuberant discussion.
All the best.
Many thanks for taking the time to write back, and for the much more affable tone! Agree with you on the need for lively and exuberant discussion, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you on future articles!
As always very much enjoyed your article, very informative and thoughtful. Although as a “collector” operating on a different (price) level compared to you, I found the points raised in your article apply to every collection (at least mine), no matter the price of the watches.
Thanks again, and looking forward to your next contribution.
Thanks, Marc — your experience certainly parallels that of almost all the collectors I talk with, so I figured it was time to put these thoughts out there and see if they struck a chord with you and others as well.
I appreciate your kind words and look forward to hearing from you on future articles as well!
I too have had “sellers remorse” when I sold a watch to upgrade my collection. I long for the Patek 5127 that I sold to help finance my Patek 5146. I lust for a platinum Lange Datograph, but can’t bring myself to sell my rose gold TimeZone to finance it. My Patek AD is getting me a 5711 Nautilus, and I gave up and am just going to raise cash to pay. This hobby is a sickness!
Indeed! I completely understand the process you describe — and by the way, I’d love to have a rose gold Lange TimeZone at some point. Just need to figure out what to sell to afford it!
It was a pleasure reading your story and history, Gary. No matter on which price level we collect, it is always the same: no one can afford everything they like to keep, so we have to “flip” watches. After flipping watches for about 12 to 13 years, I decided to go “pro”. 7 years later in the game, I am confused and thinking to go “private” again. I am not sure and have not yet decided which way to go.
Watches can be an “addiction” for some of us. Which maybe explains why someone “trolled” you above as for most people our behaviour may be considered compulsive???? We simply cannot stop. Like cigarettes or alcohol for some people, we crave watches. So I can understand you very well, but comprehend that people cannot follow us and our thought processes.
Manufacturers tend to believe they only should sell to “final consumers”, people who will never sell a watch. That is completely unrealistic. When I started to trade professionally, that was exactly what I was dreaming of: to only sell to people who keep everything. I found out that is not how life or watch collecting works. A valuable lesson.
One of the toughest things for me in looking back has been trading pieces that are exceptional. And I have had a fair share, some of which later on made records at famous auction houses. I never expected this. And I have one piece, which I regret up to this day and know I will never ever find again. Deep in my heart, I cannot close the chapter, but to the outside, I pretend I closed it. I have a huge picture of it hanging in my bedroom, which greets me every morning. Kind of a consolation… hmmm, not really…lol
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Boris, and for sharing some of your private experiences and feelings — while as collectors we have this “sickness,” the emotions involved are nonetheless quite real!
I’ve tried to stop looking at the changes in value of pieces I have sold — it can only drive me crazy…
What about your Rolex GMT Batman Gary? Unless I’ve missed it within the article otherwise I don’t think it has been mentioned?
I know on a whole it’s totally not on the same level as your other legendary collection but as a Rolex die hard fanboy I can’t help not mentioning it haha. Or unless, you’ve only mentioned the heavyweight pieces and all the lesser ones like Rolex and stuff are all omitted (see? I do read your articles to remember the Batman! Haha)? : )
I have some friends who just buy without selling. My two cents are they are missing part of the watch collection experience to let go of pieces you less like due to change in taste. I’ve been a flipper before and within the short 5 years of watch collecting journey having been through around 100 watches. Bought then parted with pieces like Panerai and Omega I finally know what watches my passion truly lies with (Rolex Patek Lange and Seiko) and now my collection remains much more stable. I’m glad that I’ve learn this sooner than later to limit the damage to my wallet on losses.
Don’t worry — I still have the Batman — along with many of the more reasonably priced watches I’ve purchased over the years!
As for your buying and selling, 100 watches in 5 years is a substantial number, to be sure! This article contains the great majority of the pieces I’ve sold over a 25 year period, so I don’t really think of myself as a flipper — in fact, before writing this article and counting up the sold watches I would have told you that I am a “buy and hold” type of collector.
It is great to find your passion and be able to focus in on specific types of watches — but the thrill of the chase and joy of the purchase are still there!
I’m always intrigued to get such an honest insight to the activities of a proper collector. It’s funny how well publicized one direction of traffic always is as opposed to the other! Thanks for sharing both lanes with us, Gary.
I don’t like to judge collectors’ decisions, this isn’t the stock market, it’s love first. However, I am inclined to agree with Elizabeth on the Observatoire! R
Thanks, Ryan — collectors who never sell are pretty rare birds, but one rarely reads about how collectors think through the need (or desire) to sell.
I do miss the Observatoire, for sure! Just to show you the type of considerations that can factor in, however, I never did like the ultra-stiff winding action of the Peseux 260 movement in that watch — and I know other former owners who feel the same.
That’s not to say that I might not eventually buy another one!
Good point – it’s got a pretty aggressively positioned click – I was quick to dismiss it from my top five this week!
I’m still at the Parmiagiani and UN stage and will probably be staying there but still I buy and sell to round out the 12-20 watches I wear. I don’t consider myself a collector but instead an enthusiast because to me a collector is someone who is more concerned about owning than wearing.
I looked in awe at what you’ve owned and sold, as they are in most cases the pinnacle of available watches in the world. The top of the mountain.
My question is, in such rarefied air, does one hoard and buy, to be the only guy to own these magnificent pieces, or do you genuinely love and wear them for their beauty and craftsmanship? Are they special occasion watches and you wear your uncomplicated Rolexes and Pateks on a daily basis or does one reach a point where financially you treat them like any other watch?
I’ll let Gary answer for himself but here are a couple of quick thoughts:
1. However you consider yourself, 12-20 watches will make you a collector in most eyes.
2. The vast majority of collectors of very high-end watches take great pleasure in wearing their watches, just as you do.
3. People collecting (or buying to wear) Swatches and Omegas are likely to be looking at Parmigiani and Ulysse Nardin in the same way you are looking at Gary’s collection. It’s been my experience that a collector’s budget has little to do with their motivation.
4. If, and this isn’t a recommendation, you reduced your collection to 2 or 4 pieces, the reduction in quantity is likely to give you the option of stepping up in quality. It’s just a question of what gives you the most pleasure.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions here.
Thanks for your comments and intriguing questions, Michael. Ian made some excellent observations in his response, and I’ll add my two cents here:
1. I’ve taken to calling myself an “enthusiast collector” — I denied being a “collector” for many years but at some point I had to recognize that I was building up a pretty substantial assortment! I do take your point on wearing vs. owning — as a collector I do differentiate myself from what I call “investors” who have much more of a financial view of timepieces than I do.
2. One thing that is a matter of principle for me is that I wear all of my watches! In fact, my very first article here at Quill & Pad was about “If you can’t afford to wear it, you can’t afford to buy it.” For me the distinction between daily wearers and special occasion pieces is more about appropriateness for the occasion — for instance, I don’t think I’ve ever worn my Greubel to a client meeting, as it’s too attention grabbing; but I actually do wear my Dufour Simplicity fairly frequently on business. I also do have a silly ritual of wearing one of my “top” watches each week on my Friday night pizza pick-up run!
3. Your question about hoard and buy vs. love is a particularly interesting one — I think that I am pretty fundamentally a “watch guy” who buys and wears what he loves, but at the same time (with my recent purchases of the vintage and modern complicated Pateks and the Lange Pour le Merite Tourbillon) I have begun to gravitate to what I consider to be truly significant watches. That said, there are many magnificent watches (for instance the Patek Ref. 1518) that don’t float my boat — for me it’s still about passion for the specific piece, as I think it is for you and collectors at all price points.
4. Ian’s point about selling 15 watches to buy 4 is pretty much what I went through in my first major wave of selling, and it enabled me to own some pretty amazing pieces — that said, the “fewer bigger vs. enjoyable variety” choice is strictly up to the individual.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment and query!
Enjoyed your article, Gary! I too believe and practise “selling to buy”. While in an ideal world I would have kept all, I can’t say I’ve regretted selling any. All I need to do is look at the current jewel of my collection.
What does get to me though, is seeing the prices of my previous pieces soar AFTER selling them (examples include the RO Jumbo and the FPJ Chronometre Bleu). But as with most things it’s hard to time the market…
Exactly! My adage is that if someone wants to make money buying watches, they should sell when I buy and vice versa — timing the market has not been a strength of mine, to be sure.
I’m sure it was painful to sell the RO Jumbo and FPJ Bleu — both great pieces that I would love to own at some point! Sounds as if your crown jewel was well worth it though — congrats!
Hi Tickingnotes, as the person who happily bought your Chronometre Bleu, I assure you that I was absolutely delighted that you sold it to buy the German watch 😉 And I can see that you’ve bought another German watch (and that one is truly an icon, congrats!). So here we are – I have a FPJ, you have two of those German watches, and we are both absolutely pleased with our purchases. “Selling to Buy” was a win-win for us! 🙂
Great to see more stories emerging about happy homes for some “sold to buy” pieces — thanks for sharing yours here!
Gary, as the current owner of your old Voutilainen Observatoire, I’m very glad you do sell to buy. Please consider selling your Voutilainen Chrongraph to fund future purchases! Best, C
Obviously it went to a good home, so I guess I can downgrade my “tragedy” comment! Enjoy it in the best of health!
Thanks, Christian, and thanks for providing a good home for that splendid watch! If you do decide to sell at any point you know how to reach me…
Such a well-written and thoughtful essay. While it’s true a vast majority of us can’t have them all. You nibbled at one of my favorite “lessons learned,” while turning over more than 300 watches in my 20-years was a WIS. The REGRETS! No matter what we sell to acquire another watch, at some point, we end up smacking ourselves in the head and exclaiming “what was I thinking?”
Of course, some watches look great on the screen, the magazine, the table or what have you, but on the wrist, they just don’t cut it. Ok, so you move on. Then for whatever reason, there’s a picture, an article or just a meander through your old photos and you are instantly filled with regret. Of course, not every watch you ever sold, but for me there’s at least 10-15 that I’ll not only never see again, but even if I hunt for years, I’ll never find. Now some watches, I’ve sold and purchased again (Pam 29 and 106, Lange 1 Soiree), but others (Roger Dubuis WG Sympathie, vintage Memovox with Lapis Lazul dial and even a huge Gruen Curvex Driver), that are just gone, gone, gone!
Yes, we evolve as collectors and appreciator/enthusiasts, yet still, of all the memories, the regrets are the ones that I just can’t shake. It would probably be a fun exercise to publish an article of the biggest regrets, sort of a “Where are they now?” story and see if I could make them appear once again. Thanks Gary for such an insightful and enjoyable piece.
Hi Larry — you certainly speak with the voice of someone who has been there and back! Great to hear that you found another Lange 1 Soiree, as I always liked that piece of yours — I can imagine that some of the others hurt, though…
Great idea to try to develop a “Where are they now” story — I’ll have to put that on the list! I already have a “regrets” idea bubbling but with a different underlying theme — may have to broaden that as well.
Thanks for writing, and I’m very pleased that you enjoyed the article!
Great article Gary! I would comment but everything I would have said has been said in the comments already, most of which have only added to the insight and enjoyment of the article itself? Thanks for sharing your experience!
Thanks so much, Bruce! I agree with you that it’s a big addition when fellow collectors and enthusiasts share their own experiences and comments — we have the greatest readers in the world, and it’s great to hear from you and others!
An enjoyable and useful article, thank you.
You have such wonderful photographs of your watches. I wonder, does that leave you with the feeling that you have a momento to enjoy, or do they make you long for some sold pieces all the more?
You make some very practical suggestions. Your test for working out whether to acquire – what will it replace? – reminds me of my favourite Hodinkee Talking Watches episode with Matt Jacobson. “One in, one out”. The Comex made way for the Patent Pending Sea-Dweller, and so on. It’s great advice. One could argue that if you are always ‘trading up’ that it is easy, but I’m sure there comes a point where seeing something go is too hard, no matter what might be coming in potentially. Matt described that as having ‘slayed all his dragons’. He felt head finished, and there we were looking at the end of the game.
That might well be a nice state to reach. I don’t know, as I have the collector’s itch. I wonder if some of it might not be ‘better’, but simply ‘new’: that learning about the watch, admiring it and enjoying it is in some cases meant to be transitory. (Your ‘love is fickle’ point). And then there is the hunt. It’s why if anyone drew up their dream watch list and was then presented with it, that would somehow come as a disappointment. There is the act of ‘conquest’ in that you finally got your Dato Split Perp.
On the ‘health’ side of it, I try not to view any piece as ‘foundation’, or ‘keeper’. I could tell you which piece I would hold on to ’til last, but I’m prepared to let it go. Once they are gone obviously you can no longer enjoy wearing them. But those beautiful little machines go on giving pleasure, to whoever owns them now, and the pieces others felt hard to let go are now being enjoyed by you.
Thanks for these great observations, Linden. I do feel a bit as if I am at the point of having moved “up” about as far as I am going to go and being at the stage of considering swaps of like for like in order to meet the desire for “new” rather than “better,” as you suggest.
Good idea on avoiding the mental frame of “keepers” — I have a friend who swears he will only sell his Duality when the money is needed for another tank of oxygen at the nursing home, but I get the idea!
Finally, on the topic of photos one of my regrets is that with some of my early pieces (e.g., the Reverso Art Deco) I don’t have any good photos to reflect upon. It is pleasant to look back at some of the photos of my departed pieces, but there are some “what was I thinking?” moments about past sales that they spur as well!
Thanks again for writing!
I’ve read many of your articles on your purchases especially the Pateks so first let me say you have a very haute collection and not a normal one I might add. But even you have limited resources and that’s what prevents all of us from buying and holding forever. However I am always in search of the perfect watch for my wrist constantly and with so much brand variety available one cannot possibly find their perfect watch until they purchase and own they watch to determine whether it fits their perfection. Since there exists no perfect watch, the cycle of replacement (selling to buy) will continue until death or at least until we give up on this hobby altogether. Which as we all know will never happen for any of us. My 2 cents.
Thanks for your comments, William! I know many collectors who claim that they have finally found exactly the “right” watches and that they will no longer buy and sell — but they are always mistaken! Completely agree with your 2 cents.
Best regards, Gary