The average consumer likely regards a watch as something that tells the time and little else. At their most basic, a wristwatch is exactly that, and nothing more. It’s a portable clock, and over the past 100 years, most people have worn one at one time or another but likely haven’t given them a lot of thought.
Horologists, or watch/clock aficionados, feel differently, of course. These are people who are fascinated with devices that tell time and they often have collections of them. You might find collectors who own dozens, or even hundreds of wristwatches, and each of them has a story to tell.
Each individual collector, however, has their own interests and motivations and if you’re new to the hobby, you might not even understand what sorts of watches that people collect, or why they collect them.
There are a wide variety of watches out there and hundreds or even thousands of companies have made them over the years. It’s true that many makers simply manufacture timekeeping devices, usually made with inexpensive Chinese parts, and those are made to tell the time and do nothing else. These watches can often be purchased for less than $10 and are of little, if any, interest to collectors.
Other types of watches do interest them, however, and here are just a few of the different sorts of watches that people might collect:
- Pocket watches – While largely out of favor with the public now, the earliest watches were those designed to be carried in the pocket. Many of these were quite intricate and featured cases made from precious metals, along with sometimes unusual mechanical complications.
- Mechanical wristwatches – Originally, the only wristwatches were the mechanical variety. These had to be manually would every day and if not would regularly, they would stop. Mechanical watches are still made today, and high end models are surprisingly reliable in their ability to keep accurate time. Many high end mechanical watches also feature additional complications, such as the date, the day of the week, the phases of the moon, and more. One elaborate complication is a tourbillon, a device intended to help keep accurate time while offsetting the effects of gravity on the watch.
- Automatic wristwatches – Automatic wristwatches are an extension of mechanical ones. A moving weight within the case winds the watch as it is being worn, making manual winding (which can still be done, if needed) largely unnecessary. Many automatic watches also include elaborate complications.
- Quartz watches – While most watches sold today have quartz electronic movements, the first such watches are now nearly 50 years old and are themselves rather rare today. They were also quite expensive when new, which means that they sold in fairly small numbers back when they were first introduced. While people who collect vintage quartz watches are a small subset of watch collectors, some of these early models can sell for quite a lot of money when they turn up for sale.
- Famous brands – Many brands of watches are long-established and are famous in their own right. Collectors often become attached to specific makes of watches, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Bvlgari, Chopard, and Audemars Piguet, to name just a few. Each of these makers has made hundreds of different models over the years and some are relatively common and others are quite rare.
- Ultra-limited edition models – Many watches are made in limited editions, but some are produced in quantities of well under 100. When produced by famous makers, these watches always attract attention from collectors and often make tremendous investment items.
- Precious metals – Some high end watches feature cases made from precious metals and may include jewels, such as diamonds. A few newer models may have their cases milled from sapphire. All of these models were expensive when new, but can sometimes be a good value when acquired used.
These are just a few of the different types of watches that interest collectors. Obviously, each collector has their own interests and motivations and you will likely never find any two watch collections that even remotely resemble one another. Collectors do like to share their stories and interests, however, and even collectors of mechanical watches might find a collection of early quartz models to be interesting, even if they have no interest in collecting such items themselves.
That’s the beauty of collecting anything. The collector gets to decide what they’re going to collect, the extent of their collection and why they’d like to collect. Regardless of the reasons, it’s all interesting and fun.