On watch collecting: an alternative to “buy what you love”

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”

– Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization

“Buy what you love” is one of the watch community’s most common prescriptions against being swept away by never-ending social media hype. In theory, it’s a simple and straightforward aphorism. In practice, it’s actually quite difficult to apply.

How does anyone know what they truly love? Maybe it’s through accumulation – a speed-dating approach to knowing what one likes. Or maybe it’s more of a monk-like, reflective practice to find some harmony between the inner Self and aesthetic desire. It’s easy to fall into a Cartesian crisis of consciousness when you think too hard about these things.

The truth is, social media is an undeniable influence on the watch community’s tastes, and by extension, its purchasing decisions. I know this from my own personal experience. Despite being a a card-carrying indie collector, I’ll catch myself unexpectedly wandering toward a Rolex Daytona or Patek 5711 on a semi-regular basis. Would I ever do that without Instagram? I suspect not.

Buy the future you want to see

I want to propose an alternative to “buy what you love.” Something more concrete and tangible, something easier to work with. In doing so, I also want to try to connect our purchasing decisions to something greater than our own individual indulgences.

This is my new mantra: “Buy the future you want to see in the watch world.”

When we buy a new watch, we’re doing more than merely acquiring an object for ourselves as individuals. We’re sending the strongest signal any company or watchmaker can receive about their work. These are businesses after all. Some watchmakers or brands may hold steady on their convictions, but sooner or later, they will have to follow where the money leads them to survive.

Whether we intend to or not, we’re always influencing the watch community’s future. Every purchasing decision, every social media post, and every hashtag is a nudge in one direction or the other. Some of those nudges help break the vicious hype cycle, while others help re-produce it.

To explain what I mean, let’s look at a concrete example of something I’ve observed in the independent watchmaking world. As mentioned, I am the most familiar with this space; I’m sure there are many other examples among the bigger brands that could apply.

Rexhep Rexhepi’s Chronomètre Contemporain and Urwerk’s EMC

What do these two, polar opposite watches have in common? They show how the watch community’s tastes re-produce the same aesthetics and watchmaking, boxing the watch world in.

Rexhep Rexhepi didn’t truly explode in popularity until the Chronomètre Contemporain (CC). It’s the most classically styled watch he’s produced thus far. I find it fascinating that only in traditional design does a young, ultra-talented watchmaker truly grain notoriety as a legend in the making.

On the flip side, I find it equally remarkable when esteemed Urwerk creates their most innovative timepiece to date (the EMC), and receives only mild reception. Even now, that timepiece still flies under the radar of the most die-hard horology enthusiasts. My thesis is, the most forward-thinking timepieces in every era are lost to widespread, conventional tastes – anything too fresh is waved at from afar but never fully embraced.

Though I admire the CC and am happy to see Rexhep Rexhepi (and his brand, AkriviA) gain more attention, I would never buy it. It’s clear that Rexhep is a world-class watchmaker. Nevertheless, I don’t think the watch world needs more recognition for classically styled, time-only watches. Of course, this is an ideological stand and I assume not everyone will agree with it. I also understand that the more conventional a given watch is, by definition, going to have much broader appeal. But I encourage collectors to really think about what future we want to see for the watch community. And put money where our vision is.

Investing in watch culture

If individual taste is too easily influenced by social media hype, then “buy what you love” will only perpetuate the existing cycles. Currently, consumer taste keeps things the same more than it drives change. This is fundamentally why I think buying what you love is a dangerous game for the community as a whole – it’ll unlikely move us beyond what already exists.

We’re all familiar with the ways in which watches have become financial investments. With “buy the future you want to see”, buying watches can become cultural investments, where each purchase serves the cultural development of the greater community rather than private financial return.

Perhaps then, we’ll see more innovative forms of watchmaking flourish.

Another day with the beast,

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