“O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than… a collector. Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.”
― Walter Benjamin, German philosopher
What can you know about a man based on the watch that he wears? You could most likely tell something about a person based on their watch, but the more accurate stories are the ones that come from more than just one watch. Walter Benjamin perfectly describes how a collection can tell much more about an individual than a single watch ever could. A collection of watches is also a collection of stories about a person, a family, or even an era.
Let’s look at some collectors and what moves them.
Second, some collect watches as an investment. They speculate on watches becoming popular and therefore increasing in market value. There is an easy way — Rolex — but it’s more interesting to choose watches from brands other than Rolex that collectors think will increase in value over the years.
Lastly, there are of course many collectors that love to collect watches because they appreciate the technique, design, and story behind them. Oftentimes this is triggered by a personal story that has inspired them to start a collection. If we zoom in on this group, you will find a specific type of collector that collects just one watch in every possible variation. We’ll focus on a couple of collectors’ favorites that are very sought after and see what makes these timepieces so special.
The Rolex Submariner has been the subject of many remarkable stories dating back to even before its official introduction in 1954. In October of 1953, the Institute for Deep Sea Research in Cannes issued a report on tests it had conducted with the watch which stated that there were no signs of corrosion and no signs of leaking during testing. It’s these practical advantages that not only made the watch suitable for divers, but also made it perfect for people who desired a watch that could take a beating during sports and/or everyday wear.
Over the years, there have been many popular versions of the watch amongst collectors. Some examples are: the Submariner ref. 6538 worn by Sean Connery in the James Bond movies Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball; the Submariner ref. 5512 which was the first with an increased 40-mm case size, the wording “Superlative Chronometer, Officially Certified” on the dial, and crown guards; and ref. 5513 which featured an updated crown guard design and introduced a new movement for the watch.
Many collectors would also like to get their hands on what is known as the Red Submariner with reference number 1680. From 1966 to 1973, Rolex produced Submariners with red text on the dial; these have become the holy grail for many collectors. In order to get one of the aforementioned models, you will have to have deep pockets, because they don’t come cheap.
Another diver’s watch that has become very popular amongst collectors focusing on one watch is the Panerai Luminor. Panerai has a history that dates back to 1860, but it wasn’t until 1936 that the Italian company introduced prototypes of their Radiomir model used by the frogmen commandos of the Royal Italian Navy. In 1950, the Luminor was introduced as an evolved Radiomir and was characterized by its crown-protecting bridge.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the Panerai watches became available to the public. Until that point, the company had only supplied the Royal Italian Navy with their watches, but the sizeable iconic watch and its remarkable story made it an instant success. Enthusiasts and collectors of the brand — also known as Paneristi — started trying to get their hands on older Radiomir and Luminor models that were used by the Italian Navy.
Especially popular are old Panerai models that use the Rolex Cortebert 618 movement. Collectors have studied the Panerai watches with this movement in great detail and concluded that five different versions of the movement were used, each differing by very small details. Getting your hands on one, let alone all five, would certainly be something special.
Other highly sought-after vintage Panerai models are ones powered by the Angelus 240 movement, which replaced the Rolex 618 movement. Panerai switched to the Angelus movement because it had an exceptional power reserve of eight days, a feature that is still prominent in today’s Panerai watches.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
Lastly, there is the Omega Speedmaster Professional, or the timepiece that became known as The Moonwatch, the first watch worn on the Moon. When Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in 1969, he was wearing a Speedmaster Professional; you could not have asked for a better story for a watch. The initial introduction of the Speedmaster took place in 1957 and over the last six decades, the watch has become an absolute icon.
From 1957 to 1968, the Omega Speedmaster was powered by the calibre 321, a very popular model amongst collectors today. In 1968, Omega replaced the 321 movement with the calibre 861. Many collectors also seek to add a Speedmaster Professional with this specific movement to their collection.
Other collector favorites are the Speedmaster Professional Apollo 11 anniversary editions that come out every five years and the special Snoopy editions released in 2003 and 2015. You’ll likely have to put some effort into getting one of those.
These are just three of the many watches that have become very popular with collectors. What do these watches have in common? Their remarkable stories and therefore unique place in watch history. It seems only logical that these watches are in high demand, but it would be too simple to conclude that it’s only the story of the watch that makes people collect it. It’s also the collector’s personal story that inspires them to collect these watches in the first place. That’s the story you’ll find in these watches, just as Walter Benjamin said.