It’s the stuff watch collectors’ dreams are made of: Acquire nearly every timepiece your heart desires and build a special place to house them all so you can enjoy looking at them any time you want. The thing is, for Abbas Y. Behbehani, this dream is a reality.
He admits that he owns about 1,000 watches, noting that he hasn’t really cataloged them all yet, though he keeps meaning to get around to that. He also spent several years working with safe and watch winder company Buben & Zorweg to create a special room in his house where the watches “live” and where he can spend time enjoying them.
“The room, which took almost three years to complete, is big enough to house all of my watches, and some of the display cases can be reconfigured with flat drawers that can hold more, so it is expandable,” says Behbehani. The large room is a windowless concrete structure with a safe door (hidden by a wood door) for entry.
Custom-designed for him when he first started building his home in Kuwait, the area is approximately 14 x 6 square meters (approximately 150 x 64 square feet), and is complete with a seating area, a library and room for some of his precious clocks. The watches are displayed via watch winders and a variety of holders, as well as hundreds of drawers. Behbehani says he got the idea from an ad for Buben & Zorweg that he saw in Robb Report. “At first, I was just going to have them build me a safe, but then they suggested I make a special room. It was a great idea and it is so nice to relax in. My friends want to come and sleep in the room,” he jokes.
And who wouldn’t? The room is home to one of the largest collections I have ever seen of Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Rolex and other brands. All of the watches Behbehani owns are white gold or platinum and many have a recurring theme of blue, his favorite color. He has even had a number of watches specially made for him, including a couple of Patek Philippe timepieces that boast blue sapphires and a Harry Winston Opus 9 with blue sapphires.
“My favorite watch is a Patek A5971 perpetual calendar with a blue dial and blue sapphire bezel and lugs. This is the only one with this color treatment and with sapphires on the lugs. I still have the original drawings for that watch,” says Behbehani, noting that he bought that one in 2006. He also had a blue sapphire-encrusted Nautilus made for himself. His other favorites include a platinum skeleton Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and a custom-made Vacheron Constantin world timer in platinum.
Unlike many collectors who keep their watches locked up, Behbehani likes to wear his. “I have too many, so I can’t wear them all, but I try,” he quips. “I buy them because I love them; I don’t want to sell them. For me what is important is that it has a simple design and is readable. I don’t like complications that are too difficult or confusing to look at. The complication should be on the inside, not the outside.”
Behbehani also says that he is not necessarily partial to the big brands or the expensive brands. “I just buy what I love, I would wear a Seiko if I liked it enough.” He also notes that he rarely, if ever, sells a watch.
So, what drives his passion? Behbehani says that he isn’t really sure why he is obsessed with watches, but thinks it stems from his childhood. Growing up, Behbehani says his father and his uncles were all in the watch importing business, so he was surrounded by watches at a young age and started traveling to Baselworld with his father in 1985.
“I grew up around watches; I would go to my father’s shop after school each day and stay with him until he finished work,” recalls Abbas. “In the beginning, I was buying simple watches, maybe with a date on them. But the first time I bought a complicated watch, was in the early 1980s. I saw a picture of a perpetual calendar from Audemars Piguet. I didn’t know how it worked, but I loved the pictures, and when they explained how it worked, I bought it.”
That first Audemars Piguet perpetual calendar watch with blue dial laid the foundation for his love of complications. He says that to this day, 35 years later, the perpetual calendar is still his favorite complication.
At the moment, Behbehani is partial to Patek Philippe, but the love affair had to grow on him. “In the beginning, I didn’t like the look of the brand because it didn’t seem modern enough for me, but the more I started studying it, the more I liked it,” he says, noting that he has more Patek Philippe watches in his collection now than any other brand. “It’s sort of like a song you hear for the first time and you don’t like, but the more you listen to the lyrics, the more you like it.”
Was there one that got away? The platinum Nautilus, first series. “I didn’t act fast enough and by the time I said I wanted it, it was too late. Now I try to buy every Patek I want as fast as I can.”
As for the independent watchmakers, Ludovic Ballouard, Kari Voutilainen, Gröenfeld, Manufacture Royale and Greubel Forsey, among others, have caught his attention. “For me, it is also about the people behind the brand. If they are good people and I like the watch, I buy it.”