Not everyone in Silicon Valley is rocking an Apple Watch. In fact, if you run into a member of Collective Horology, a close-knit and highly secretive watch-collectors club born in the country’s technology epicenter, you might spot anything from a vintage Patek to a new high-horology piece to something even more rare: an exclusive collaboration with a major watchmaker.
Collective founders Asher Rapkin and Gabe Reilly, Facebook’s director of global business marketing and creative product lead, respectively, began their watch journeys the old-fashioned way: through family. Rapkin was inspired by his grandfather’s gold Omega Seamasters, while Reilly obsessed over his brother’s obviously fake Rolex “Coke” GMT-Master—bought, he says, from “a guy selling ‘Rolexes’ out of a briefcase outside Bloomingdale’s.” But when the childhood friends found themselves working together at Facebook, talking watches with fellow enthusiasts in private watch forums, they realized something was missing from their online community: human connection.
The group started as an attempt to bring together like-minded local collectors in the real world. It expanded, by invitation only, via Rapkin’s and Reilly’s personal connections and introductions by existing members, and by 2018 had become an official entity branded as “Collective.” (The current roster comprises 55 watch aficionados, a tightly guarded list that includes Academy Award–winning directors, start-up founders and Grammy-winning musicians.) But at a certain point the club realized that, even for its boldfaced names, snagging the latest limited editions could be a pain—which was one reason Rapkin and Reilly decided to create their own.
Collective now has three exclusive watch collaborations: the steel Zenith Chronomaster El Primero C.01 with a minimalist white dial; an engine-turned meteorite dial timepiece from American watchmaker Joshua Shapiro; and the steel H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds Rotating Bezel C.02 with a green fumé dial. “Being able to create an organization where you don’t have to reload a brand’s webpage at 12:01 a.m. for a shot at an incredibly expensive watch is something that makes our members very happy,” Rapkin says.
“They wanted to combine an iconic movement with a contemporary design,” says Zenith CEO Julien Tornare. “The approach was so in line with our strategy that I couldn’t say no. The 50 pieces sold out very quickly, and I’m still in touch with some of the members.” Likewise, the J. N. Shapiro watch, which was limited to 10 pieces and cost between $21,500 and $31,775, depending on case material, sold out within 48 hours.
“These are a young generation of collectors, and Silicon Valley, obviously, is a dream region for us, where we weren’t previously well known,” says Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie. “They have the age and the mindset of the people we are trying to reach.”
Collective is also discouraging the type of toxic discourse that now defines online culture. The duo wanted to create a private community where “there’s plenty of debate [but] it’s never done rudely,” Rapkin says. “And we thought the glue that could hold that together was through the other half of the organization, which is about collaborating.”
Admissions for new members, which is based on an application process that began this year, opens with each launch of a new collaborative watch. While Rapkin and Reilly want to maintain a level of exclusivity, the pair insist acceptance is not about elitism. “We have Seiko collectors and others that collect Greubel Forsey,” Reilly says. “We focus on a few key questions: Are you already a member of a community? What is it that draws you to collecting? What is it that you feel you will bring to the Collective community?” Which means if you have a valuable perspective—not just a well-stocked vault—Collective just might accept your friend request.