The Life of a Collector How to Buy Your Second Watch

So, you finally made the leap and bought that Rolex Submariner, Omega Speedmaster Professional, or Breitling Navitimer? Congratulations, you bought an all-timer and a living legend.

But while the process of buying a first luxury watch often feels like the trailer for a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster (i.e., “If you see ONLY ONE MOVIE EVENT THIS YEAR”), the process of becoming a true collector – buying your second watch – can be as daring and unconstrained as independent film. The second watch becomes your gateway to exploring everything from the back catalogs of great brands to the outré offerings of micro-manufactures.

Making the Right Second Watch Decision

With the exception of gifts and inheritance, most luxury watch enthusiasts start their pursuit of the hobby stressed about making the “right” choice. This takes two forms.

First, there is a tendency to concentrate on well-established mainstream brands. Even when individual budgets permit immediate indulgence in the dizzying peaks of haute horlogerie, new buyers often find comfort in the knowledge that their first great leaps of faith will be protected by a mainstream brand’s years of proven products, immediate recognition by other watch owners, and, if fulfillment doesn’t follow, an established resale market. Names like Rolex, Omega, and Breitling – often noted as the “Big Three” – carry the marquee value in this theater.

Second, first-time buyers have a tendency to search for the “essential brand XYZ timepiece.” For example, even a new buyer seeking to start beyond the mainstream of the Big Three will tend to look at Audemars Piguet and see the Royal Oak as a safe bet; he’ll look at Blancpain and see the Fifty Fathoms; a Lange 1 awaits across the border in Glashütte.

The logic obtains across almost all luxury maisons; even an ambitious collector who starts with a boutique brand such as F.P. Journe is more likely to spring for the certainty of a Chronometre Souverain than the polarizing visual pyrotechnics of a Centigraphe.

The aforesaid scenarios will ring familiar for many luxury watch owners, but this standardized initiation often serves as a rite-of-passage that spurs new buyers to a grander stage; collecting. New doors to experimentation open, and, to continue our film theme, this is where the star that lands the franchise superhero role gets to moonlight in experimental art house flicks; the second watch becomes a liberating choice.

Staying Within One Brand

Many owners will choose to stay within the brand with which they started. The most enduring and focused watch collections generally center on a theme, and “brand” is a splendid example of a theme. If a first-time buyer pulls the trigger on a steel reference 116610 Rolex Submariner, a staggering array of options remain even if the nascent collector decides that he bleeds Rolex green.

Consider how many different directions this “Rolex theme” could take: new models, styles, metals, and complications await. Vintage beckons. The second watch can be a minor or major departure from the first.

A minor thematic departure would be a two-tone Submariner – hypothetically, reference 116613 in yellow gold and stainless steel. In general, the two-tone Rolex aesthetic is considered a very particular taste and one with strong 1980s and 1990s cultural overtones. It isn’t a look that wears well with all attire, and it can appear as awkward in reserved New York company as it looks to be in its element among the denizens of Miami Beach. But when the owner of a two-tone Submariner already owns the steel reference, he’s assured of having at least one full-steel watch that nails the role; there’s no need to worry that his gold/steel Sub might not be suitable for all audiences

A major departure from the original steel Submariner – while sticking with the Rolex theme – could be a complication, a dress watch, or a vintage selection. Despite its price and size, a reference 116680 steel Rolex Yacht-Master II might be the most practical Rolex chronograph. Having memorized the Rolex lineup during his initial Submariner search, a newly-minted collector might reach the conclusion that the Y-M II’s programmable 0-10 minute countdown timer is more versatile than the crowded sub-dials of a Daytona. After all, Rolex’s regatta timer can keep track of the short intervals that define daily life; break time between meetings; fish tacos on the grill; the kids’ spells in time-out.

Choosing Different Styles

Naturally, the 44mm Yacht-Master II is flamboyant, bold, and can be cumbersome with formal sleeves. Its size and complexity doesn’t scream “Rolex” in any traditional aesthetic sense. But as a second watch – a weekend watch – the Y-M II might be the best supporting actor to a collector’s starring steel Submariner.

Character actors have their place in Hollywood, and your second watch can be just that. Rolex’s Cellini line rarely enjoys equal billing alongside the Oyster Professional watches, but all Cellinis epitomize the red-carpet persona. As Rolex’s formal watch lineup, Cellini offers the same grade of materials and finish with a sense of occasion worthy of a black tie awards gala. Rolex makes very few watches that can compete on equal terms with a simple Patek Philippe Calatrava or Girard-Perregaux 1966 automatic, but a Rolex Cellini Time reference 50505 is one of them.

Thin, discreet, and available exclusively in precious metals, the current Rolex Cellini lineup offers the Rolex die-hard a legitimate gentleman’s option with the genteel refinement to dramatically diversify its owner’s collection. Even if a person were to cap his Rolex collection at two watches, a steel Submariner and a rose gold Cellini Date would offer an option for every conceivable occasion. But the Cellini range has more prima donna tendencies than the hardy Sub; with a maximum water resistance rating of 5ATM/50-meters, a Cellini doesn’t do its own stunts.

While sticking to the all-Rolex script, it’s important to consider the appeal of vintage options for one’s second watch. When choosing a first luxury watch, new buyers tend to look for a mechanical Swiss version of Robert Downey Jr.; all the bugs have been worked out, he’s versatile enough to succeed in a courtesan or action role, he’s widely respected and seems to work non-stop filming [mostly Marvel Comics] movies. Vintage watches, by comparison, are the aged Jack Nicholson of horology: still highly regarded but less versatile than in a bygone youthful prime.

Vintage Watches

Vintage watches require buyers to accept compromises and educate themselves for the sake of protection; this simply doesn’t happen to buyers of new watches at authorized dealers. A 40 year-old Rolex reference 1680 “Red Submariner” generally shouldn’t be used anywhere near water, will require service at a vintage specialist, and may entail handling restrictions in light of its aging case, dial, bracelet, and caliber. For these reasons, few watch buyers choose vintage watches as their first watches. In most instances, new owners simply want a watch that works and minimizes their worries; a minimal headache from decision to purchase is key in this situation.

But given more time to learn about vintage, become authoritative on the references of interest, inspect many examples, and vet the range of vintage sellers, a collector may choose a vintage reference as his second watch. So what if that Mark II-dial Red Sub shouldn’t join you for a swim? That veteran is at its best in a starring role at your local RedBar meet, photographed with a macro lens for your favorite online watch forum, or standing out from the crown at your Rolex-intensive office. Let your late-model Submariner handle stunt double duties at the beach and the pool.

The foregoing is nothing more than a primer for future collectors. Mono-brand collecting is only one of many potential avenues for an enthusiast to explore en route to a second watch. One’s search for a second watch is a gateway to collecting and cause to begin thinking about a collection theme. This is the time to start considering the roles you would like your watches to play in your life, discard many of the rigid assumptions and anxieties that may have guided your first watch purchase, and begin thinking about your collection as a cast of characters able to star in the unique roles that you envision.

About Tim Mosso
Tim Mosso is a lifelong watch enthusiast and historian. He is an active member of the online watch community and his passion for watches is second to none. As a self-proclaimed watch nut, he loves to bring his knowledge of horology across all different platforms.

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