What Watches Should A Collection Begin With?

Oliver H. from London, UK asks:

Hi, I've just kick-started my collection of Swiss timepieces with a 2013 Panerai Luminor Base Logo (PAM00000), though I wouldn't go so far as to classify this watch as a "divers watch" since there is no rotating bezel, I consider this watch somewhat under that category due to the marine background of the brand. I'm aspiring to acquire an aviator-style timepiece like a Breitling next to add some diversity. I'd also like a classic dress watch, something that is more timeless in style and not so "sporty" for formal events.

This brings me to my question: when it comes to a beginner watch collector or any lover of Swiss timepieces, what styles, type or brand and model of timepieces would you recommend is a must in any collection?

Max, here. Hard questions since there are many paths to decent beginner collection. However, since you seem to enjoy your PAM, I'd suggest the following starting principles and additions based on my own experience when starting collecting:

1. go slowly. Enjoy each piece before adding new ones. Research, research, research (read aBlogtoWatch and other independent blogs and forums) each new brand and watch you are thinking about

2. every watch loses value once you buy it. There are rare exceptions, e.g., Patek and some Rolex and some rare other brands but that's about it. In 20 years could be a different story, however, who knows if one has 20 years, so buy for today because you enjoy each, unless you are super wealthy... Not sure that's your case.

3. based on 1 and 2, the main principle is to buy what you love. The watch you can't wait to wear because you love the style, the design, the brand, the material, the color, the history, etc. So again do your homework.

So based on these principles, I added most of the following to my collection when I started. My PAM (321) came later and I started with a Rolex GMT IIc. So, for you, I'd suggest the following to get started:

1. Rolex Submariner steel No Date. If you like the cyclops then the date Submariner is fine. If you can afford to buy gold, I personally would not, but the white gold with blue dial is cool by me.

2. Since 1. covers the diver's category, a good other one to have is a chronograph. For that I agree with your choice of Breitling. I have the Navitimer B01 and love it, so that would be my first choice. The Chronomat model with the B01 movement is also a good one. It's more expensive but can be used as a diver's watch and has versions in 41mm and 44mm and does not have the slide rule if you don't like that.

3. As a dress watch, there are many good ones but as you start and I figure you want to take your time, let me suggest the following depending on your price range: a) under $5,000 then get a NOMOS Tangente or Tangomat Datum, b) $5,000 to $10,000 get a Rolex Datejust steel or Cartier Tank steel (stylish and dressy, various models and sizes available), c) $10,000 to $15,000 then get a JLC Reverso (steel or best gold but might be a tad more than $15,000) or better a rose gold JLC Master ultra thin which should be in range, and c) $15,000 to $20,000 get a Patek Calatrava gold (any color) or Vacheron Patrimony gold (any color) --- for the later, the price range might mean you get an old new stock model or slightly used, and that's fine. Any Patek from a reputable authorized dealer should be as good as new.

Finally, while I hesitate to recommend buying on eBay and some online stores, I think part of the fun is finding the best price around. Just make sure you do your research on the merchant as much as you do your research on the brand and model you plan to buy.

Hope this helps. Have fun. Cheers.

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  • P Oktori

    Very good advice to the question posed, which in my opinion is a rather ludicrous one. You should buy a watch because you love it, not to immediately start a collection. People who think of a collection before they buy their first watch are probably in need of counselling. I think a much better and more interesting question to ask is: what should be the second watch I buy? 
    just my two cents worth…

    • olifac3

      P Oktori I did mention in the first sentence that I already have started my collection with a PAM000, you didn’t read it properly.
      Everybody has their own dreams or ambitions for their passions or hobbies, mine is Swiss timepieces. So what’s wrong with planning ahead or setting yourself with a goal for the next watch? That way you can have a clearer idea on the path of what you need to do (or how long) to reach the amount of money required to buy them.

      • MarkOs

        Like you I am at the stage of having purchased my first “proper ” watch. A Breitling Superocean Heritage. I still find myself drawn to dive style and have been looking on line (repeatedly) at a UTS 1000M v2. Further into the future I have my eye on a JLC reverso, then in distant future a Patek.
        Personally I dislike Rolex , I have looked a Panerai models, how did you pick that one as your first?

        • olifac3

          MarkOs I was particularly drawn to Panerai due to their heritage. Also their design is quite unique. It’s not highly recognised as much as a submariner, but is known among those who really know and appreciate watches. 
          I think Panerai are speculated to phase out the use of ETA movements and go all in-house made.If that happens, such models like the PAM000 and PAM005 would probably rise in value, not that I plan on reselling my first Swiss timepiece anyway.
          In an aesthetics perspective, I think I just really loved the simplicity of the design: bold yet understated. Consequently I rather dislike the PAnerai Contemporary range as I believe the Arabic numerals, magnified date window, and power reserves ruin the bare essence of Panerai which the Base models in the Historic Luminor and Radiomir range display so wonderfully with their manually-wound and complication-less movements.
          As Max advised, I’ll be looking at a chronograph next, having sighted a Breitling as my next addition. I also agree with your view on Rolex, though I would/could buy one from an investment point of view rather than genuine interest.

  • triplekia

    The way I do it is usually gather the pictures of watches that I’m interested with and look at them everyday. Those that don’t keep me hooked after few days I just ditched them. If after few weeks I’m still falling for whatever left then those are the ones I’m gonna buy.

  • Fraser Petrick

    I started my collection with a Timex Expedition at $65. Next month, another Timex at $75. See where this going?

    • olifac3

      Fraser Petrick Seemingly you appear to be one who just doesn’t need a Swiss timepiece. I undersand most Quartz watches have their virtues, but Swiss timepieces are unparalleled in the artistry, complexity, and the history of horology which comes with it. When somebody buys a Swiss watch they buy it not so much for what it is, but for what it represents too.

      • Fraser Petrick

        olifac3 Fraser Petrick I own an Omega Seamaster. Does that count?

      • Fraser Petrick

        olifac3 Fraser Petrick Them’s fightin’ words! Give me a shopping list of deadly accurate mechanical watches under $4000. If I win the lottery I will bow to your wisdom and buy your recommendation.

        • olifac3

          Fraser Petrick olifac3 It appears you misinterpreted my words in its entirety. I said, and I quote: “you ‘appear’ to be one who just doesn’t ‘need’ a Swiss timepiece.” At which point in that sentence did I belittle your decision of Timex watches? And gathering from your sarcastic tone and vagueness in your first comment, you can’t blame anybody to think you’re unappreciative of Swiss timepieces, which would also raise the question why were you on this blog to begin with.
          Also, neither did I mention anything about mechancial watches being more accurate than quartz, those were your words, and your words alone. I only said that Swiss timepieces were unparalleled in artistry, complexity and history. Everyone who knows a little about watches know that quartz movements are more accurate than the best mechanical timpiece.
          Furthermore, you posing the completely unrelated demand to find a “shopping list of deadly accurate mechanical watch under $4000” is utter nonsense.

        • Fraser Petrick

          olifac3 Fraser Petrick With my wrist properly slapped I’ll stand in the corner till I can be a good boy.

  • johnellard

    Have to disagree with the dress watch (b) options, date just is just not cool anymore its so 70’s/80’s and cartier is too femme. A better route would be a nice 38mm Omega Aqua Terra in blue (skyfall) or the Rolex Explorer 39mm both are more modern and don’t belong on a used car-sales mans wrist. Just my opinion of course 🙂

  • Jef_in

    I know that there’s tons of watches that I would not be able to afford,  but it should not stop me from collecting watches that still gets my attention.  I would typically go for mechanical, specially automatic watches compared to quartz watches.  Why?  Because in my mind they would last longer than the quartz watches.  Then add pedigree to the collection.
    I am ok with vintage and second hand watches, as long as they are accurate and presentable.  No use getting a cheap branded watch – second hand that  can’t tell time.  You would still be better off with a quartz watch.
    Slowly I gravitate to Omega and the Swatch groups offerings,  though I still lust for a Tag – Monaco – Steve McQueen’s model or even the re-release.  Maybe when I win the Lotto.

  • JohnCreed

    I find the old advice “buy what you love” to be a very sound principle. In my case I have developed a passion for vintage chronographs from the 1930’s-1950’s so my collecting is leaning towards this theme. I am especially fascinated by those watch companies that had the resources to build their own in-house movements and dream of having all of the watches on this list (Excelsior Park 40, Angelus 215, 217, Minerva 13-20, Movado (albeit modular) M90, M95, Longines 30CH, 13ZN)- have managed to get three on this list so far ! 🙂
    Also have developed a passion for vintage watches that may not be rare but have very well made movements so am on the hunt for an IWC Cal 89 😉
    The important this thing about our hobby is to have fun 🙂 and in my case at least the hunt is just as enjoyable as owning them…Good hunting !!!

  • Barney Frank

    The first piece of advice for any new “collector” would be to avoid the advice of what I like to call watchholes. These are the people who have no clue about reality or what it means to want something and have to save for it. They’re quick to recommend Patek, Vacheron and Audermars without any appreciation for what it means to buy a Steinhart Ocean One while you save for your Submariner.

    For my two cents, if you’re starting a collection start with brands you know, trust and like AND try to gravitate to watches that have some history. My foundation would include an Omega Speedmaster, Breitling Navitimer and a non chronograph Tag Monaco. If you have $10-12k to spend these three are exactly where I’d start as they offer you the biggest bang for your buck as well as offer you a great deal of versatility.

    For the Speedmaster I’d focus specifically on model 3570.50 as this is the closest watch you can get to the original moon watch (keep in mind it was discontinued in 2014). This is a sporty casual watch you can wear everyday for almost any occasion. Read up on the history of this watch, it’s actually fascinating.

    The Navitimer, I would specifically focus on the B01 movement which is the new in house movement Breitling came out with in 2009/2010. Made popular by pilots in the 50’s, this is a solid man’s watch and comes with a 5 year warranty. It’s guaranteed to get you attention and has the versatility to be worn for most occasions.

    Finally, the Tag Monaco without chrono offers you a reasonably priced dress alternative the others don’t while at the same time having a rich horological history. Although this watch is known for its staring role in Le Mans with Steve McQueen and for being the first automatic square chronograph created, few people know it’s also the first square water proof watch. I recommend getting the non chrono because it’s about $2k cheaper than the chrono version and offers you a dress alternative while still holding true to being the first square automatic water proof watch ever created.

  • Happy

    Research, go to watch stores, pick them up, try them on. Read reviews. After all that, what 2 or 3 watches really excite you? What watches do you say, I’d love to wear that, over just – I’d love to own that. (that fit your budget) These are the watches you should look for.

    Go for quality, not quantity. My budget puts me in the Rolex, IWC, Omega, Zenith, Breitling, Panerai arena. Preowned of course. Someday I’d love to make a Fifty Fathoms or Overseas purchase.

  • Chris

    A while back I started a site to address this specific scenario. The primary issue new collectors face is the lengthy research process, especially if they aren’t aware of the rich histories behind all the brands they’re choosing between. While its far under the budgets discussed, for somebody *just* starting out, I’ve built this for them: http://www.venturio.us/watches