Watch Collecting Regrets? I’ve Had A Few, But Not Too Few To Mention: They Include Selling Too Soon And Failing To Buy
As the “resident collector” here at Quill & Pad, it’s my job to bring the perspective of someone who, like other enthusiast collectors, has to make some very practical choices about what watches to buy, not buy, and sell in order to scratch the collecting itch and fulfill certain ownership goals without completely blowing past the total spending on watches that I can afford.
You can like everything, but you can’t buy – or keep – everything!
Inevitably, the choices involved lead at times to regrets; along with many of my pals, the sadness is much more often about pieces we sold too soon or failed to buy rather than pieces we are sorry about buying in the first place (although there are a few “what was I thinking” buying moments for all of us, I am sure).
For me, there are three categories in the “regrets” pile:
- Watches that, even now, I shake my head about when I think about having sold them.
- Pieces that I miss, but might not kick myself too hard about if my buddies didn’t tell me “you were nuts to sell that one” every time one of them is mentioned.
- Some watches that were there for the taking, or might have been available with more effort on my part, that are either gone forever or I may have passed by in my collecting interests but would have loved to own at some point.
The biggest regrets don’t necessarily come from the watches with the biggest price tags!
When I began making my list for this article, the piece that immediately came to mind was a Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox in pink gold, seen below in one of the photos I used to post it for sale on the watch forums.
So why did I sell?
As with most of the pieces I highlight here (and the longer list I discussed in Selling Watches To Buy Watches: One Collector’s Story), I was consolidating my collection to move up to a smaller number of more valuable pieces and had to make some tough choices.
This particular piece made its way on to the sell list for a few reasons, including its relatively modest diameter (around 36 or 37 mm if memory serves) relative to its height, the emerging patina on the tritium elements, and the “one thing” that I used to convince myself that a sale was in order: a small uneven section in the texture of the dial (not visible in the photo above and darn near invisible except at a certain angle in certain light) that nonetheless drove me nuts.
Nonetheless, the massive gold case and buckle, the majestic sweeping central second hand, and the Memovox complication were things that I instantly missed. And as a dressy and affordable regular wearer, this watch definitely filled a useful role in my overall assortment.
A watch a bit higher up the scale that also left a void with its sale was my Voutilainen Observatoire, also in pink gold. It was the watch that really marked my move into serious independent collecting, and I still think that its combination of anthracite-colored markers, silver dial, and pink gold case is the very best of any Observatoire I’ve seen.
The Observatoire made its exit as I was pulling together funds to afford my Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1 (see Why I Bought It: Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1), and at the time my thinking was that I already had another, more complicated Voutilainen watch in my watch box and that I wasn’t finding as many occasions to wear colored gold dress watches as I had previously.
And, as with the Memovox, there was that “one thing”: in this case the massive effort required to turn the crown to wind up the Observatoire’s Peseux 260 movement each day, which I was able to convince myself was an irredeemable flaw as I worked up the courage to sell the piece.
Since then, “my” Observatoire has been through a few other owners and I’ve actually had the chance to buy it back – at about 60 percent more than I sold it for. While “selling at the wrong time and price” is not on my list of regrets criteria, the whole insult-to-injury aspect of being asked to pay a big premium for a watch that I wasn’t happy I sold in the first place did put me off!
One of the great aspects of having watch buddies is the opportunity to bust their chops good-naturedly about the choices they’ve made to buy, sell, wear, praise, and criticize various watches.
Of course, one must be prepared to get as well as give in these conversations, and my pals haven’t been hesitant to criticize my decision several years ago to sell the truly lovely Ulysse Nardin Monopusher Chronograph, a piece that I also miss quite a bit.
In addition to its classic good looks and relatively unusual complication, the real appeal of this piece is that its movement was developed by none other than Franҫois-Paul Journe. When push came to shove in a consolidation effort, though, that wasn’t enough to keep this one in the mix: the “one thing” with this watch was its relatively low level of dial and (particularly) movement finishing.
To this day I can’t look at the plated slots on those movement screws without feeling a bit put off, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling separation pangs each time I see my buddy’s pink or white gold examples of this reference at one of our regular watch gang dinners.
Then there’s the F.P. Journe Anniversary Tourbillon T30, issued in a limited edition of 99 examples by Mr. Journe to celebrate his thirtieth anniversary as a watchmaker (see You Are There: F.P. Journe Tourbillon 25th Anniversary Event In New York).
When I saw the first photos of this watch I was so taken by it that I begged any and all friends with Journe connections to help me acquire one, and I was eventually successful. And by looking back at the wristshots in my iPhone photo files, I’m reminded that this watch was a frequent presence on my wrist while I owned it.
I hated selling this one as part of my Invention Piece 1 acquisition campaign. Ultimately, the “one thing” that helped me to work up my courage to sell wasn’t the two-tone gold and silver case (which I love), the tendency of the silver portions of the case to develop a dark patina, or the intentionally simple and blocky movement finishing, but something on the dial side.
Some of the filled, engraved indices on the dial were not quite filled in with ink, and others exhibited unusual color casts of green and magenta that caught my eye whenever I inspected the watch closely.
Whenever this watch is discussed among my watch buddies, the sentiment is always “I can’t believe you sold that one!” And most of the time, I can’t believe it either.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda
When it comes to regrets, however, it’s perhaps better to have owned and sold too soon than never to have owned at all!
It’s easy, I suppose, to rue the ones that got away; but in each case, the situation at the time with regard to available funds, other recent purchases, or even other recent sales that made me wary of plunging money back into new acquisitions drove me to hold back.
Sometimes, the regret is about a watch that comes to market once in a while and would have been a great piece for me at one time but doesn’t fit my current collecting goals. A good example here is the ultra-flat Audemars Piguet tourbillon, seen above on my wrist in a particularly alluring (to me, anyway) mother-of-pearl version.
In other instances, it’s a watch that I’d never crossed paths with before and that I’m unlikely to see again, like the “ultimate beater” Audemars Piguet perpetual calendar chronograph in platinum and on a platinum bracelet that I passed on at a ridiculously low auction price a couple of years ago.
And once in a while there’s a piece I’ve hunted for a long time and would still love to have, but just can’t justify spending the money on when it does pop up, as happened just last night when I decided to pass on a gorgeous example of the Agenhor-developed Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight in Paris that sold for a solid price at Christie’s.
Finally, there are the true landmark watches that I either let slip through my fingers or might have had with more effort.
On two occasions in years past, I’ve had leads on examples of Philippe Dufour’s Duality whose owners were sniffing around about selling – and in both cases I allowed the very large price relative to the size of my collection at the time to keep me from a no-holds-barred attempt to hunt them down.
Now, of course, the Duality is completely out of reach for me barring a total collapse in its value, which I’m certainly neither betting on nor hoping for.
“The one” that got away for me, though, was another Dufour watch: the No. 1 sonnerie pocket watch he made for Audemars Piguet.
In April of 2012, Sotheby’s announced the auction of the very first Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch made by Philippe Dufour for Audemars Piguet and signed by the master himself under the dial. I had already heard both wristwatch and pocket watch examples of the Dufour Sonnerie chiming, and the large volume of the pocket watch makes for a sound that is, if anything, even more heavenly than that of the wrist examples.
At the time, I was in the midst of a longstanding series of client engagements in Korea as part of my day job and as it happened was going to be flying to Asia at the time of the auction. I placed what I felt to be a very solid absentee bid, and upon landing found that I had missed out – by a single bid.
It’s not quite every day, but on most days, I look forlornly at the spot on my desk where that watch would have been hanging on a display stand, sweetly chiming out the passage of the hours and quarters, and let out a long sigh.
Such is life and collecting! I’m fully aware that selling off or missing out on buying expensive doodads is by no means life’s greatest tragedy, but the emotional ups and downs of our hobby are for me part of what makes it so interesting and ultimately rewarding. I’d love to hear some of your own stories of sales and missed opportunities in the comments below and wish you happy hunting!
Also published on Medium.