Scientists have not identified the gene that drives both humans and animals to collect things, but if collecting watches is your bag, here’s a list of ten basic rules.
1. Beauty first: If you must choose between accuracy and beauty— choose beauty. Cosmetics are far more difficult to correct than mechanicals. Watch parts can be ordered new, made, or scavenged, but dials, hands, case parts, and bracelets are much harder to find.
2. Have a theme: Whether your interest lies in Heuer Chronographs of the 1970s or early dive watches, having a theme will help you focus. Don’t be afraid to add an item that is outside your theme; you can always trade it off.
3. Become an expert: Read everything written about your interest. Unknown facts pop up in strange places. Build a reference library. Follow the market trends. Auction results help determine current values. If eBay is to be helpful, learn to use advanced search features that show completed sales. A first bid, “Buy It Now,” or current bid is meaningless, unless the item sells.
4. Share your knowledge: The goodwill generated by sharing insight, spare parts and recommended repair advice will come back to you tenfold. Joining an organization like the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (nawcc.org) is a great way to network.
5. Be patient: A great mechanic listens, charges a fair price, and perseveres. Not all problems are solved the first time, but most can be solved in an orderly, organized fashion. Depending on the complexity of the watch, factory service may be necessary, though it’s almost always slower and more expensive.
6. Watch out for fakes: Wrist watches have become incredibly collectible, and the quantity of faked watches rises with demand. Learn to spot “Franken-Watches”—generally built of real components by a grave robber. There are all levels of fakes, from crude knock-offs to sophisticated re-creations that would, and do, fool the experts.
7. Know with whom you are dealing: The Internet is an ocean of items and data, but beware the sharks and the scammers; don’t be the next victim. Your credit card company, eBay, and Pay Pal all tend to give the buyer the benefit of the doubt and will often go to bat for you.
8. Follow your passion: The more you love the things you buy, the longer you’ll enjoy them. When the time comes to sell or trade, your feelings will be communicated to the next buyer. Consider origin and history, and trust your instincts. Buy watches that sing to you.
9. Prize patina: Watches with patina and character are more desirable than restored or over-restored ones. Pretty, original dials that aged gracefully are better than refinished, overly new-looking ones. The same goes for the rest of the watch.
10. What if it breaks? Before purchase, consider product failure. Two parts of a watch that almost always fail first are the strap and the crystal. Find out if replacements exist, or, if the originals are unobtainable, if generic parts will fit.
And remember, Mickey’s big hand is for the minutes.