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.
France – François-Xavier Overstake, founder of equationdutemps.blogspot.com
It was his American grandfather’s pocket watches that inspired François-Xavier Overstake to learn more about objects that tell the time. Today, this Paris-based insurance executive shares his passion for watches on his blog. He may describe himself as a “modest collector compared to others”, his collection nevertheless includes pieces from A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, IWC, Urwerk, Rolex, and more. How does he choose? “It’s not so much about a colour or a shape as an overall aesthetic that is coherent with the movement,” he explains. “They say the older you get, the more classic your tastes become. In my case, it’s the opposite. My tastes have evolved. I’m more confident about what I like, which encourages me to take greater risks where aesthetics are concerned. One example is my Urwerk UR-103.08 TiALN.”
He’s developed a close relationship with brands, “perhaps because I also have my own blog, but even before that, with Lange, for example, I first visited them in 2005”. He’s on equally good terms with the ‘bigger’ brands – “I know the teams, and the human dimension is important” – as he is with independents.”It grows into a personal relationship, as with Speake-Marin, De Bethune co-founder Denis Flageollet, or F.P. Journe, for example.”
“What counts is quality”
What about in-house? “A vast subject!” Echoing Mark Fleminger, he tells us that “Swiss watchmaking was originally an industry of outsourcing; it was founded upon that. It’s in its roots. No-one really questioned “in-house” or not until about 20 years ago, when “manufactured in-house” became almost a requirement for certain collectors. The brands complied, the watches became more expensive, and some suppliers came up against real financial problems. I have difficulty defining a ‘manufacture movement’. Is there no outsourcing? Are there no outside consultants? Whether it’s in-house or not, what counts is quality. We should come back to simpler themes, with a coherent movement that delivers quality, reliability, and timekeeping precision. Let’s not forget that a watch is made to give the time. The vast majority of people who buy a watch for an anniversary, a wedding or a graduation want a beautiful watch with a movement that works well. They don’t care if it’s in-house or not. The same applies to many collectors, who might like to buy a certain brand because it is respected and prestigious. Does a Patek watch with a Lemania movement have less value than a Patek with a Patek chronograph movement? Of course not.”
Overstake feels that for certain ‘geek collectors’ who follow forums and are extremely well-informed, an ‘in-house movement’ can be important. But he certainly isn’t one of them. “I think there are several stages, and perhaps I have evolved from that one. Every day we learn. I follow contemporary watches – not vintage, otherwise I don’t know when I’d find time to sleep! Keeping up can be hard. It used to be that novelties were released at SIHH or Baselworld; now there’s something new every week. To come back to in-house or not, it’s not all that transparent. When a big company’s annual report tells you that ‘the brand performed according to its objectives’, you learn nothing. It’s as vague and non-transparent as it can be. This is why I think that, as a client, you have to be detached from all these stories about in-house or not. You have to come back to the simple things: the aesthetics, is it well-made, is the movement coherent, is the price right for me? When I answer yes to all these questions, I buy it.”
Exclusivity with style
As for the history of a brand, “what it did 100 years ago counts, but it’s more what it’s doing today that interests me.” This collector likes exclusivity with “a style, a presence, something that’s as pleasing to look at as it is to use. I have to appreciate the movement but this can’t be the only decisive factor. The dial is the first thing I see. At Lange, I find all of this.” He also prefers manual winding for the enjoyment of “interacting with your watch.”
He concludes with some guidelines, adding that “you can find interesting watches at all prices. There are interesting watches at €200 and uninteresting watches at €20,000 or €30,000. The important thing is to take pleasure in your watch. Everybody can find something within their budget. Just find your direction and don’t become frustrated. Forget about whatever’s complicated or not transparent, and come back to simple pleasures.”
While other collectors made the difficult choice, François-Xavier Overstake insists it is absolutely impossible for him to pick ‘only one watch’ and, pleading that he has two wrists, goes for his Urwerk UR-103.08 TiALN and for his A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph.