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.
Middle East - Léa Claude Sfeir, head of Sfeir vintage and of the F.P. Journe boutique in Beirut
From the Middle East, based “between Lebanon and Dubai”, Léa Claude Sfeir’s studies and experience in the watch and jewellery industry paved the way to her position in the family business today, where she runs both Sfeir vintage and the F.P. Journe boutique in Beirut – which her father, Claude Sfeir, opened in 2014. An internationally renowned collector, gemmologist, and jewellery and watches expert, as well as a consultant to private investors and auction houses alike, Claude Sfeir is also a member of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève judging panel.
Ms Sfeir explains how “after studying interior design in Beirut, I moved to Florence to study jewellery design. Following that, I had the opportunity to apprentice at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons [the Middle East’s leading retailer of luxury watches and jewellery] in Dubai, where I worked with prestigious brands such as Harry Winston and Patek Philippe. I then returned to Lebanon to join the family business.” Her appreciation of watches began when she was very young: “I used to accompany my father to auction houses in Geneva when I was only 10 years old, and was already fascinated by this world. In my teenage years, I would visit the gold souks and markets of Dubai, discovering rare gems and acquiring NOS [new old stock] watches.”
Starting with Rolex
Her very first watch was a gift from her father in the early 2000s. “It was a Rolex Explorer I in steel and is still my favourite.” And when acquiring a watch today? “I study it closely. It has to look attractive to me. I usually like round-shaped watches with a very sober and simple exterior.” She often looks for a chronograph movement. “The brand and the history don’t really matter as long as the functions work.” Perhaps it’s her feminine appreciation that makes her add “strap colours and stitching are details that count a lot for me too.”
She’s quick to acknowledge that she “was lucky to have a father who appreciates craftsmanship and sobriety. I’ve learned to appreciate vintage pieces but also some modern masterpieces by ‘independent watchmakers’. I’m amazed by their work: every single part of the watch is handcrafted, and it’s an immense pleasure to be able to wear such a piece.” Her private collection is “a humble one that consists of some vintage Rolexes and some F.P. Journe pieces. I can’t wait to have my own Philippe Dufour watch one day!”
Among her favourites is the F.P. Journe Chrono Bleu Byblos with an openworked dial “revealing the guilloché base plate inside a tantalum case. It was produced in a limited series of 99 pieces for the opening of the tenth F.P. Journe boutique worldwide, in Lebanon, and was named after Byblos, the ancient Phoenician port city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the historian, Will Durant, “Byblos is the oldest of all cities.” It’s always a question of time…
United Arab Emirates – Melika Yazdjerdi, Senior Marketing & Communication Director of Seddiqi Holding, Dubai
Like Léa Claude Sfeir, Melika Yazdjerdi is an industry insider, but for different reasons. She is Senior Director of Dubai-based watches and jewellery retailer Seddiqi Holding, as well as Director of the successful and educational Dubai Watch Week. And yet she had never paid much attention to watches until she joined Seddiqi Holding several years ago. “Their passion for horology is such that anyone alongside them develops a deep-rooted respect and appreciation for handcrafting and watchmaking” – an art she describes as nearing perfection.
While Ms Yazdjerdi doesn’t consider herself to be a collector, she has developed her personal tastes – “I’m a big fan of vintage watches, especially from the 1940s and 50s” – and owns a number of interesting pieces. She loves mechanical watches, “especially in yellow gold and mainly from the 1970s”, and bought her first vintage watch, “a 1970s AP Royal Oak”, in 2010. She also owns a Gerald Genta jumping hours timepiece. The brand is secondary for her. It is the watch itself that counts, whether for aesthetic or sentimental reasons. One of her prized possessions is a Gc watch from the 1990s, gifted to her by her husband, “that is absolutely beautiful. I receive many compliments on it!”
I think transparency is one of the most important factors, along with after-sales service and customer recognition.
Her years spent at Seddiqi Holding have provided her with insights that concern both the manufacturers and the end consumer: “My own priorities have evolved; I now have a better understanding of how the industry works and the historical struggle of watchmakers. As for what customers want, while the history of a brand, its image, the functions, and in-house manufacturing are significant, I think transparency is one of the most important factors, along with after-sales service and customer recognition, especially for a new timepiece.”