Recent grumblings on social media expressed concerns from certain disgruntled “watch family” members about in-house vs outsourced movements and components, brand transparency, even the overuse of star ambassadors to up the prices on first-hand purchases. Seasoned connoisseurs, it seems, are little affected by these minor tremors, steering their course based upon years of experience that have (almost) always included both first- and second-hand buys, while more recent collectors tend to look towards out-there pieces from independents, with an occasional exception. Five collectors from around the globe open up to tell us how their collections started and how they evolve. Their stories are accompanied by their photos of the “if there could only be one” watch.
United Sates – Robert M. Brenner, M.D., physician from Greater Boston
Robert M. Brenner, M.D. has owned “a few dozen” timepieces since developing a serious interest in watches in the late 1990s. He received his first mechanical watch – a 1675 Rolex GMT Master – from his father in the 1980s. When in the mid-1990s a family friend introduced him to a Ulysse Nardin San Marco Repeater and a Breguet Tourbillon, “that exposure set me on a path of horological discovery,” he explains. “The period corresponded to the beginning of Internet relating watch content, and I found TimeZone, read as much as I could about watches, and got caught up, if not obsessed with them”. Parallel to this, “Lange was having its modern resurrection, and when I saw a Lange 1 on the cover of a watch magazine, I was mesmerized. It looked so dramatic from a design perspective, quite distinct from what the Swiss manufacturers were doing at the time. The movement finishing was sublime, and on the wrist, the pieces had a heft and density that made them feel very special.”
Lange has been a favourite ever since; Dr. Brenner has owned 15 A. Lange & Söhne watches, including a Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” in rose gold with enamel dial, as well as a number of other limited-edition and collectable pieces, from Lange but also Rolex, F.P. Journe, Laurent Ferrier, and Vacheron Constantin among others.
Is an in-house movement a necessity? “In-house has some importance, but it’s not a deal-breaker or a requirement for me. The Lemania 1142 was not a problem for me when used as the movement for the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 Limited Edition in steel. That said, while I respect ‘workhorse’ movements such as the Valjoux 7750, they don’t captivate me in quite the same way others do.” Brenner offers good advice that was given to him back in the 1990s when he was considering his first Lange timepiece: “I wanted a Lange watch, and was going to start with a 34 mm Saxonia, because that is what I could afford at the time. I was encouraged, however, to wait until I could buy instead the larger and now more iconic Lange 1. Which I did, avoiding the frustration of finding myself down the road with a watch that was not my first choice and not satisfying over the long term.”
The stories behind the watches
His priorities have changed over the years, with family, sports cars, photography, music and fine wines now sharing time with his watch collecting. “There’s no question that I bought some watches thinking I might sell them in the future,” he explains. Today he enjoys a Richard Lange Boutique Edition in white gold, and a Rolex Submariner 114060 “because at the end of the day, I have only one wrist for a watch and two scenarios to satisfy – 1) for my appreciation of fine timepieces and 2) for a durable watch for everyday wear.” The Rolex 1675 from his father is still with him, and will be passed on to his son one day. “A larger watch collection is a luxury, and today, my narrow two-watch collection keeps me happy. It’s exactly what I want: time-only watches that are well-made and very legible. And if it could only be one fine timepiece, it would be from Lange. This is my fourth watch from the Richard Lange collection. It doesn’t shout, it’s conventional in terms of design, classic, a stunning movement with no complications, and has a second running hand that’s central. The focus is on time-keeping and chronometry for the sake of chronometry, coupled with the highest levels of finishing. An observation watch for the wrist. Perhaps it’s because I’m a physician, a scientist; that is what I like and want in a watch.” But there’s more…
“The fact that Lange, with its own hairspring, balance wheel, escapement, and high-quality finishing, is trying to do on an industrial scale what Philippe Dufour has done on an individual basis, is important for me. Equally as important is the relationship I have with Lange representatives and dealers, and with Swiss Watch Repair on Madison Avenue. Ad campaigns, promotional activities and dinners aren’t that important to me; I like to know the story behind my watches, the people who design them and create them, and the watchmaker who is at the ready to help me care for them.”