Watch collectors can be an obsessive bunch. Once they’ve identified a timepiece they want, they will often go to great lengths to acquire it — just ask the six people who shared their stories with us below. Between writing essays to authorized dealers, stalking Japanese watch forums or constructing elaborate plans to delude their significant others about their expensive hobbies, they’ve resorted to next-level tactics to obtain their prized wristwatches.
At the heart of these collectors’ tales is a truism about watch collecting: The stories are the point.
“You could have a $30 Timex,” says Jarrod Cooper, founder of Neighborhood Watch Club, a Los Angeles-based collector group, “but if your granddad gave it to you and you brought it to a watch meetup, it’d be the hit of the show.”
David Sharp, Glasgow-based head of RedBar UK
“Chaykin is a Russian watchmaker who’s designing and making watches at the high end of horology. Back in 2017, he came out with a watch where the face of the watch was a cartoon character with the eyes telling the time, one eye being the hours and the other being the minutes, and the tongue being the moonphase indicator. When you look at it, it makes you chuckle, but then you look a bit deeper and you realize it’s a serious watch with serious watchmaking skills behind it.
“When he launched it, he did 99 pieces in a stainless steel case. When I first saw it, it amused me, but I didn’t immediately try and get one. Then it sold out very quickly, and got a little bit more mainstream press. And then there was such demand, Chaykin decided to do the same piece in titanium, in 88 pieces.
“That’s when I started to do a bit more work to find out where I could get one. He had a website in Cyrillic. Other than his own site, the only place I could find anything about buying it was a company called the Limited Edition in the UK. It seemed to be a specialist broker for brands that didn’t have other retail channels. I think I found them on Instagram and sent them a direct message, but never got a reply.
“This was around late 2018, early 2019. I then dropped them an email and heard back from this guy Pietro, the owner. He said he had a piece in titanium that was new and one steel piece that was pre-owned, albeit as good as new. I can’t do vintage because I don’t like the idea of it not being perfect. I’m into the new piece. I said I’d like to look at it. He was based in Northampton but said he’d come and meet me at this member’s club in London.
“I remember gelling with him almost instantly. We sat and talked nonsense about why we love watches for a good couple hours. Eventually, he empties his bag, and out comes the box. He’d worked out what luxury actually is, at least to me: It’s not that false, High Street boutique for Louis Vuitton or Hermès, where they’re fawning over the customer, ‘Yes sir, no sir.’ Rather than doing the whole delicately unboxing thing, he just kind of slid the box across, and said, ‘Have a look.’
“It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. I wasn’t super stressed for years trying to find this thing, but it was the culmination of a nearly two-year journey of first seeing it, to thinking about it, to moving along to try and get it. Everything fell into place. It’s one of these watches where there was never an official suggested retail price for it. When the first ones went on sale, they were all selling for about 8,000 euros. Then with the steel on the secondary market, they were garnishing 15,000 to 20,000 euros. It was a seller’s market. Pietro said, ‘What feels fair to you?’ I work in sales so I know all the tricks. I told him, ‘I’m not going to offend you by saying I want to pay 8,000 for it, but I had in my head something in the 10ish neck of the woods.’ He said, ‘How about we settle on 11?’ That was more than a fair deal.
“It was just a good sale, and everyone could walk away feeling happy. I did a bank transfer instantaneously. He handed me the watch, I put it in my bag, and we ordered some more drinks and carried on drinking. Since then, we’ve become really good friends. I told him about RedBar in the UK, and he’s come along to RedBars in London and Glasgow. We actually commissioned a very small run of 13 pieces of a Chaykin watch that’s being made just now. He works with Raketa, another Russian watchmaker and we’re going to St. Petersburg together in October, to see the Raketa factory.”
Henry Flores, New York-based founder of the Classic Watch Club
“My watch is the 1977 Rolex Double Red Sea-Dweller MK4 1665 — the last reference before they started making the Great Whites. I went to a RedBar meetup a few years ago and a friend of mine owned a 1665 Great White. I just loved it. I love chunky watches. It stands tall on the wrist, it’s got a helium escape valve on the back, the superdome crystal. It’s the quintessential Rolex tool watch. He was selling it and I couldn’t afford it. So I thought, let me just wait.
“Flash forward two years and a good friend decided to buy a Double Red Sea-Dweller; the 1665 was his grail. I was helping him vet it, and I fell more in love with the reference. He bought it from the estate of the original owner, and I called dibs on it. I grew my collection, sold a few pieces, got a new job. Suddenly, my buddy Scott is selling off his collection during the pandemic and I just pestered him. He finally agreed. I went up to the Palisades to pick it up. We met on Father’s Day of 2020, and I bought it.
“I paid $37,000 for it. At the time, I consulted a couple guys like Eric Wind and Geoff Hess and they told me those things don’t go up that much in value, they’re so niche. I bought the watch because I love it and if it goes down in value, so be it. And it’s now valued at $55,000 to $60,000.”
Jarrod Cooper, Los Angeles-based founder of the Neighborhood Watch Club
“I was looking for a vintage Seiko ’62MAS’ Ref. 6217-8000, essentially the first dive watch they released in 1965. This one was released with a crown that was quite small and divers couldn’t use the crown if they had gloves on. After two months, they released a different, bigger crown version, but this is the small crown version, from the first two months of production. It’s 37 mm.
“In 2017, Seiko released a reissue of this model — essentially exactly the same watch but it’s larger, almost 40 mm. It looks the same. I picked one of those up and read into it more, researched all the different models and when I came across this vintage piece, I started researching until I found the right one.
“I wanted to get something as original as can be. To find that is quite a task, especially these days. I was able to come across one in Japan a few months ago, and make a deal with a guy and get it shipped over. It was on a Japanese forum. It was quite an effort to go back and forth and organize shipping — I had to keep translating everything — but there are so few of them, and so few in nice condition, they really just don’t come up often.
“I paid around $3,200. A normal collector would say, ‘I would never pay that,’ but to someone who’s into Seiko, I feel like it’s cheap.
“From start to finish, it probably took 10 days to get it. But it was the process of trying to find one and one that hadn’t been tampered with. The Japanese really like new things, so you don’t find Japanese watches that are beaten up, as they should be. I like that I can put it on and not worry about it being scuffed or scratched. And it’s got a story behind it. People who like watches can see it’s been somewhere, it’s done something. To the general population, it’s just an old Seiko. But to a watch collector, it’s special.”
Morgan King, Los Angeles-based Rolex collector
“The story behind the Rolex 6240 RCO acquisition is an interesting one. Being a completist of all things, I had at one time collected all of the stainless steel Paul Newman model variations: 6239, 6240, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 and 6265. This story is about how I got the most coveted Paul Newman variation dial: the RCO.
“It’s called the RCO because the dial is printed Rolex Cosmograph Oyster. Which is much different than the white dial counterpart of ROC (Rolex Oyster Cosmograph) you see on the usual screw down pusher of the 6263, 6265 variation. My dear friend Eric Ku of 10pastten approached me one day and said, ‘Hey dude, you have most of the stainless steel Newman Daytonas but you’re missing one….do you want to complete the collection?’ I immediately said yes!
“Eric knew of a collector that owned a 6240 with the RCO dial. The seller was in Hong Kong and had agreed to sell it at a certain price — almost four times the price of what a Newman cost at the time! But as we all know, I’m crazy so naturally I said yes! I wrote a check for the full amount and mailed it to Eric and waited patiently for my precious RCO to return to me. All the wheels went into motion and Eric was expecting the watch to be Fedexed over to him so he could inspect it and personally hand deliver it to me. A few days go by and I’m frantically waiting for any sign that the watch has been shipped. But nothing. So like any addict that is looking for his next fix, I call my dealer and he doesn’t pick up. I’m thinking, ‘Uh oh, he’s run off with the money.’ But wait, this is the famous and honorable Eric Ku! He wouldn’t do this! Especially, to me!
“After a few hundred more missed calls and reaching his voicemail, Eric calls me and tells me the awful news: The seller had a change of heart and didn’t want to sell. OK, I thought to myself. As a collector, I can understand that. After all, you don’t want to upset the Watch Gods (watch karma can be a b****).
“After rationalizing this in my head, I calmly accepted my fate and told Eric that I completely understood and would like my check back. Immediately, I could hear Eric’s head start to turn. Give back his money? No way. ‘Let me see what I can do one last time,’ he said. A few hours go by and Eric calls me again and tells me ‘OK, it’s settled, I’m going to Hong Kong.’
“I didn’t hear from him for about two weeks. The collector had gotten cold feet because he knew he wouldn’t be able to replace the watch. I understood. As a collector, you understand if someone doesn’t want to sell their watch. But Eric was very persuasive — he had his reputation to uphold. So, eventually, I got the watch.
“There are 12 in the world, eight with collectors and four are circulating. When Christie’s sold that watch for $1 million, I got a lot of texts from people who thought it was mine that had sold. I was at Disneyland — and was actually wearing it.
“The only way I’d sell it is if somebody paid me four times its value. If someone said, ‘I’ll give you $4 million for it,’ I’d hand deliver it.”
Adam Craniotes, co-founder of RedBar Group
Adam Craniotes’ Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Alarm Navy SEAL Beverly Hills Boutique Incursion Edition“My story is about the Master Compressor Diving Alarm Navy SEAL Beverly Hills Boutique Incursion Edition from Jaeger-LeCoultre. (I just call it a JLC Navy SEALs Diving Alarm Incursion).
“The watch was launched in 2010 at SIHH. It used the Memovox complication, JLC’s mechanical alarm. I wanted this watch. The question was, how was I going to get this thing? First of all, it was only available through the Los Angeles boutique and retailed for $14,000. Problem was, my wife. I like to say she has a dim view of this hobby and the amount of money that goes into it. I had the money — I had sold a couple watches. But to her, if something is sold, that money should be used to further the family’s cause, not to buy another watch. So I couldn’t tell her I had this money.
“A good friend, Luke, also wanted the watch but was in a similar situation, so we concocted a plan wherein he would buy both watches, pretending it was one watch and he’d tell his wife he was doing it for me and that I was going to pay him back immediately. We’d have the watches delivered to him. The plan was to have cigars and scotches and celebrate the whole deal.
“The day comes, the watches arrive, I show up at Luke’s house, meet his wife, smile sheepishly. We get out to the backyard, take the watches out of the box. He’s got no. 14, I’ve got no. 10. We’re beside ourselves. We’re smoking, we’re drinking. Then his wife comes out and sees there are two watches, not one. Right then he was busted. But I’m still safe.
“Fast forward, I’ve got my watch, I’m wearing it (my wife doesn’t know one watch from the other — as long as I’m wearing it, she just thinks it’s one I already own). But my son busted me. He always took a keen interest in my watches — he was not quite 4 years old at the time — and would give them nicknames. We were at brunch and I was wearing the new watch, which my son called ‘Daddy’s music watch’ because of the alarm that sounded like a school bell ringing. ‘Can you play it?’ he asked. ‘I want to hear it.’ Of course my wife’s looking at me: ‘What music watch?’ My son’s like, ‘Daddy just got it.’ I was busted again. She doesn’t know the difference between watches but she knows the difference between a good watch and a not-so-good watch. I couldn’t pretend I’d paid $50 at the mall for it. She never raked me over the coals, but it was clear she had me.
“But it was a watch that the second I saw it, I knew it had to be on my wrist. I love watches with stories. The watches that will go with me to the bitter end have a story. When I look at this watch, I think about that night, how clever we thought we were.”
Iris Ko, anesthesiologist in Southern California
“In April 2016, right after Baselworld, Omega came out with the blue Speedmaster limited edition, the ‘Blue Panda,’ CK2998. It was supposedly hard to get, so I asked my dealer in South Coast. I’d never bought an Omega before. They told me I needed to establish a client profile and asked if I could answer some questions: ‘What is your personal interest (i.e., sailing, golf, travel, fine dining)?’, ‘What is your profession?’, ‘Do you own any Omegas?’, ‘Is there any story between you and Omega?’ and ‘Why did you choose the CK2998?’
“I wrote them some stuff, talked about what I do, my hobbies. ‘I don’t have an Omega but James Bond wears one, the Moon watch history, blah blah blah.’ Three or four months later, I got the watch. Turns out it wasn’t that hard to get because I ended up buying two of them, one from another dealer. I sold one and still have the other. Since then I’ve collected every limited-edition Speedmaster, and I don’t wear any of them except the Ed White I got last year.
“I have 60-something watches in my collection now. This pandemic just accelerated it. I need to pare down. But I haven’t worn a watch since I had surgery on my hand last month and I’m feeling ok. It’s freeing and less burdensome. I still look at my Speedmasters. I wind them. I like having a set. Maybe I’m a hoarder? I don’t know. But in the meantime, I’m having fun.”