Each Watch Tells a Story
By Su JiaXian
© February 2008
Rarely does one come across a watch collection as remarkable as the one that follows. Ranging from a Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie pocket watch to a Citizen Eco-Drive “grande complication”, this group of timepieces is quite simply astounding.
The owner is an unpretentious and sincere gentleman whose taste, coupled with his knowledge, has resulted in this amazing range of watches. He has kindly agreed to speak to the PuristSPro and shares his thoughts on collecting, auctions and even the famous Patek Philippe boutique in Geneva.
This interview took place in December 2007 in the Singapore offices of the anonymous collector. All photos are courtesy of the anonymous interviewee.
SJX : Tell us a bit about your collecting philosophy.
ANON : Well, one of the nice things about watches is each watch you collect has the story behind it. Each has its own story and whenever I pick it up I remember the story. Getting the watch is the final part, but the journey to get it, that’s actually the most fun. When you’re sitting and waiting for it to arrive, you’re anxious, you did the research, that’s very exciting.
SJX : I’m sure many will agree, it’s the search that is often the most fun.
ANON : Yes. It’s also good to limit yourself, in all things, not only watches; if you can get things too easily, too quickly, the value is not there. So even if you can, sometimes you shouldn’t buy something. If you can stretch it out, postpone it, that makes it more enjoyable.
SJX : You own a sizeable collection yet you travel very frequently. How do you manage to wear all your watches?
ANON : I travel a lot, and often for long periods, so I usually take 2 or 3 watches with me. I made a rule that I don’t wear a watch for more than a week.
SJX : You have to wear the other watches; you can’t neglect them. (laughs)
ANON : Exactly! They’re like little children. (laughs) So the fun thing is that when I travel, I take 3 or 4 watches with me and I can wear one watch a week. Then when I get back home, you get excited about all the others because you haven’t seen them in a long time; it’s almost like every time you go back you’re getting a new watch! So that’s a benefit of travelling.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5101 10-Days Tourbillon
SJX : I heard you recently picked up a watch that for many is the Holy Grail, the Patek ref. 5101 10-day tourbillon, during one of your trips to Singapore.
ANON : Yes, I bought it with this [Urwerk 201 Blackshark] right after Tempus.
Urwerk 201 "Blackshark"
SJX : It took you a long time to get the 5101, didn’t it?
ANON : Ah, the story of the 5101. It started back in 2004 when I first had the opportunity to buy it. Back then I said, ‘No way would I spend that much money on a watch!’ (laughs)
Ref. 5101 profile
Then in 2005 or 2006, I had another opportunity here in Singapore. [The salesman] showed it to me and I really liked it. How much is it now? The price has gone up since 2004, by 20% or so. Again I said ‘no way!’, since I could have gotten it cheaper in 2004.
Finally this year, the shop said we’re getting a 5101, are you interested? I said OK, I’ll take a look first. I went, I took a look and finally I had to take it. I already liked the watch the first time I saw it; this is the third time and you know what? No choice. And I ended up paying even more than I would have in 2004 or 2005! (laughs)
But it taught me something, and I’m sure everybody will tell you - never say you’ll never pay a certain price for a watch - that becomes infinitely flexible.
Ref. 5101 display back
SJX : So how did you get from saying ‘No way!’ to buying both the 5101 and the Urwerk 201?
ANON : Well, when I was a kid my father [wore] Casios all the time. You know the ones with all the gadgets and stuff? I like gadgets so I used to have those.
Then I went to college and I had a watch that was connected to the atomic clock. It was really cool but then the strap fell off, so then I would keep the watch in my pocket. Then my friend bought me a real pocket watch for my birthday; one of those quartz pocket watches. I never really wanted [a watch] on the wrist. Then I graduated and J (a close family friend) got me this one [mid-size Nautilus], but even then I was not really interested in the whole watch thing yet.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
So then there was a wedding of his niece-in-law, where I met T, J’s brother-in-law. As we talked I looked at his wrist and asked, ‘What watch are you wearing’? Turns out it was wearing the Patek 5110, the world time. He explained the functions to me and I said to myself - this is better than a digital watch! With digital watches, you have to press many buttons [to] many times to switch to a different time zone - you can calculate faster in your head! But this Patek, you just look at it and there’s only one button.
I said I would like to get one, so he called up a dealer and they had one left. I went to the shop the next day and took a look. What’s it going to cost? After discounts, about sixteen [thousand] US [dollars].
What? (laughs) I’ve never spent so much in my life! In college I barely spent a couple of thousand a semester and here it’s a sixteen thousand dollar watch? But you know what, it’s a great watch and it’s going to be perfect for travelling, so I bought it.
It was all downhill from there. After that I started doing some research into all this. That’s when I heard about the perpetual calendar. I thought to myself, that’s a great concept. You wear the watch and you don’t need to ever change it till 2100. At which point it makes you wonder what’s going to happen in 2100! (laughs)
Anyway, that was in 2002. Most of the first watches I had were Pateks. I looked through the Patek catalogue and I liked the 5040 [tonneau-cased perpetual]. We had checked all the big dealers - everywhere - nobody had it. Finding it was completely random, one day we were walking and found this [small shop] had one! I got that for about thirty [thousand] US [dollars], after discounts.
SJX : At today’s prices that’s a bargain!
ANON : That’s a steal. But back then, it was 30 thousand dollars on a watch! I thought that’s ridiculous - how can you spend so much money? The slippery slope.
SJX : Did your pace of buying pick up as you grew more interested in watches?
ANON : I have two years which were big years for watches, this year  and 2004. You know what they say about opportunity? Well in 2004 it was like that, opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.
J went up to Geneva for some work and I got a call from him. ‘They have a 5050!’ After discounts it was forty-two thousand dollars. I thought, ‘That’s a lot of money for a watch!’ I was not sure, but I thought I’ll buy it and keep it as an “investment”.
At that time, they also had the 5101 [tourbillon]. What’s the price? Two hundred thousand francs, or something like that. What! Who would pay six figures for a watch! No way! Forget it man. I could cure cancer with that! (laughs)
Audemars Piguet Star Wheel "Two Faces"
The other face
So the 5101 disappeared but I got the 5050. That year I also got the IWC perpetual and also a Starwheel pocket watch [by Audemars Piguet] - all of these opportunities. So I ended up buying a good amount of watches in 2004. 2005 for me was very slow, I bought only one watch because I didn’t want to spend any more money. I told myself, ‘That’s it; I’ve got all of them’.
2004 was also when I first went to the auctions, that’s where I got the 3979 [minute repeater] and the Patek pocket watch.
From left: Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie, Audemars Piguet Star Wheel Two Faces, Patek Philippe Triple Complication
SJX : The grande sonnerie pocket watch?
ANON : No, that one was this year. That one [in 2004] was a perpetual, split-seconds chronograph with minute repeater.
In 2004 that’s when I actually first heard the minute repeaters, and since then I’ve heard a lot of them. Some say it’s just the Patek brand, but with the minute repeaters, I can really tell the difference.
SJX : Let’s pause at the minute repeaters for a while. Which is your favourite? Of those you own.
ANON : I have three, the 3979, the pocket watch from 1926 and the grande sonnerie [pocket watch]. The 3979 is really musical; it’s just a small watch but it sounds so loud.
Patek Philippe Grande Sonnerie
I went to Basel when Jaeger first came out with the big repeater [Master Minute Repeater]. So I went to take a look and I was wearing the 3979. They came and they wanted to show [the Master Minute Repeater] to us.
I was trying to be polite, but J said to compare it to my Patek, let them listen. That thing was huge but this little thing [the 3979] sounded about the same [in volume], and it sounded so much better.
The other ones [the pocket watches], they sound louder and deeper, but you hear a bit of the buzzing. The grande sonnerie sounds very good, but it probably needs to be serviced. It’s from 1914; it went to the Geneva observatory and won second place and all of that. When I went to Geneva, Patek said it’ll probably take about 3 years for them to do it.
It might need servicing but it's still extraordinary
The issue is that when I first got the 3979, I sent it in to get repaired. You know how it is - it took a while. I also learned from that experience that if you send in a Patek Philippe, especially a complicated one that cannot be done here [in Singapore], it is cheaper for you to actually fly to Geneva and give it to them there, rather than pay a huge sum here [for the local distributer to do it]. It took almost a year for Patek to do it and I could have bought a watch with that amount. But when it came back it sounded so much better!
SJX : In the end, it was worth it.
ANON : Definitely.
SJX : As a connoisseur of repeaters, what do you think of the Vacheron repeaters? Many regard it as being the closest, if distant, rival to Patek.
ANON : Well from what I remember, Vacheron and Patek were both considered equal many years ago. I’ve heard one of those a while back when I was in Geneva. This was a couple of years ago, maybe in ’04. One of the stores did have a minute repeater and they did bring it out and they did let me listen to it. It was… OK.
Hundred years ago Vacheron and Patek were on par. When you go to the auction, the prices are similar, for Vacherons from a hundred years ago.
SJX : Correct, the quality was very good. Most agree the decline started in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s during the quartz crisis when Vacheron was acquired by a Mid-East investor.
ANON : I can imagine.
SJX : They fell behind during that period, but since Richemont took over they are focusing again on high complications.
ANON : I hope they start making a recovery. Then actually it’ll be a good deal. That [the brand image] will come with time, to equal Patek.
SJX : Are you searching for another repeater?
ANON : The watches that I collect, I like to collect for a particular reason. I didn’t have an annual calendar, so I found one I liked and I got it (points to the 5396).
Copyright February 2008 - Su JiaXian & PuristSPro.com - all rights reserved
Comments, suggestions, and corrections to this article are welcome.
This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2008-02-17 10:36:27