Collective: How Silicon Valley Is Trying To Perfect Collector Groups

Collective: How Silicon Valley Is Trying To Perfect Collector Groups

You might not know this, but the high-tech world of Silicon Valley is into watches in a big way.

By Josh Shanks

When Bay Area tech execs Asher Rapkin and Gabe Reilly first met each other in the 7th grade, they probably had no idea they would one day have careers in Silicon Valley, let alone become serious watch collectors. Back then, it would also be inconceivable that the duo would make their own watch with one of Switzerland’s most renowned chronograph makers, Zenith.

Watchonista recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rapkin and Reilly in Los Angeles. Our mutual friend Rob Caplan from Topper Jewelers set up the meeting, and after speaking with the three gentlemen, I came away with a renewed faith in the future of watch collecting.

Collective’s Origin Story

Our story begins within the confines of Topper Jewelers Burlingame Store, where Rapkin is a long-time client. After multiple chats with Caplan and attending a variety of Bay Area meetup groups he knew a change was about to come.

As Rapkin says, “What became very, very clear from seeing the Bay Area community, in general, is that the [collector group] tent has only been getting exponentially larger over the last two years. But, with a few notable exceptions, it's also gotten harder to find places where you can build a community that isn't necessarily tied to hype but passion. Sometimes when you go into a shop seeking to find other fans or you join a dinner, it's often about who's able to score that explicitly hot piece. Not necessarily what it was that attracted people to watchmaking in the first place.“

Thus, Collective was born. While the members-only group is still in its infancy, its ranks are already filling with watch enthusiasts from all walks of life from creators, to executives, to Seiko 5 collectors. Collective is about one thing, the pure love of watches and watchmaking, no fluff, no machismo, no ego, simply watches.

When I asked Rapkin what his goals were when building this community, he replied, “With the membership, we don’t wish to exclude anyone, but rather we want to make sure that people who are part of it [Collective] are folks that are driven by a passion for watchmaking. We’re not looking for those with a desire to look at watches as say a fundamental investment.”

Asher continued, “So that means that if you have a modern Seiko 5, that's awesome. If you're the Greubel Forsey collector, that's awesome too, but we also don't set a taste bar. Meaning, one of those [the Seiko or Greubel Forsey] is not inherently better than the other, and they are just completely different executions of a fundamental idea of watchmaking.”

The Zenith x Collective Chronomaster El Primero C.01

With day jobs in marketing, Rapkin and Reilly had been toying with the idea of doing a watch long before the Collective was born. As Caplan explained, “When we started doing limited editions back in 2015, Asher bought the first one (a white dial Nomos Tangente 38) as a present for his father. From that point on, he's had an increasing interest in the way that different brands explore themes and design. The interest he has expressed in watchmaking has been higher than anyone else I've met.”

Driven as collectors and through a collaboration with Topper Jewelers, the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero C.01 was born. A watch that mirrors the minimalist designs of Silicon Valley yet packs all the punch you’ve come to expect from Zenith’s El Primero.

Rapkin, Reilly, and Topper Jewelers all played a role in the design and development of the El Primero C.01. Reilly explained his approach to design this piece, “We said to each other, what if we could develop an El Primero that we would buy, what would that look like? We started from a place of what if we really stripped things back and refined it and approached this design the way a Silicon Valley product designer would approach product design.”

The El Primero C.01 is sized at 38mm and powered by Zenith's automatic El Primero 4061 column-wheel chronograph movement. From the very beginning, the team at Zenith led by Head of Design Romain Marietta and Collective sought to strip away all non-essential elements and produce a minimalistic tool watch.

From the alternating satin and polished surfaces of the case to the unique satin-brushed pushers, the attention to detail on the El Primero C.01 is astounding. Perhaps what strikes me most is the matte white dial with contrasting light grey markers. It's a subtle element that makes the watch look like something out of a Steve Jobs fantasy.

The now sold-out El Primero C.01 Collective Edition was produced in a series of 50 pieces and available exclusively to Collective members. The watch will ship in January 2020 and is priced at $6,850 USD.

What’s next for Collective

My next question to the gentlemen of Collective was, what’s next? Several of the more prominent collectors I’ve interviewed believe that, for some, the passion for watches has taken a back seat to commercialization. Everybody wants to be part of a scene, but as some of my interviewees lamented, many are doing it for the wrong reasons.

When I asked Rapkin and Reilly if they had any intention on generating revenue from Collective, Rapkin replied, “I think any good product or service whether we are talking about a collector group or any service-oriented business, first and foremost has to decide what the fundamental service they are providing to their membership or their customers. If the service is to monetize them, and that's it? Then, that's not a whole lot of value. So, part of the reason why we're interested in having a broad scope of collectors is that we hope that we will learn from them, and they will learn from us.”

“Do we anticipate that there will be opportunities for brands to come and work with us and talk with us? Yeah, totally. But, our initial plan in doing this was not to set out to create new opportunities for sponsorship. So, no, that's not the fundamental plan. Largely speaking, the business model is tied to the pieces that we are developing, not monetizing the membership. And I think it's fair to say that's where we want to stay.”

Initially, Collective membership will be limited to 50 at launch. The group plans to do select events, watchmaking dinners, and get-togethers. There will be a dedicated community on Facebook that will bring all members together. True identity is critical to the founders of Collective.

Lastly, once a year, Collective is going to create a unique piece for the group. These watches will be called 'C Series.’ The first piece is the El Primero C.01. What’s Topper Jewelers' role in Collective? Caplan explains, “One of the reasons that we want to support this new group is that the people behind it want to create a sense of community. And the community that is going to be created is going to be distinct and unique. I like that it's focused on the creation of unique pieces and I really like the design aesthetics and creative point of view of the founders. They are great to work with. Topper is centered on community, and we think Collective will add to the landscape”

I asked Rapkin and Reilly if they intended to increase numbers beyond 50, to which they replied, “We've batted around ideas about growth because one thing we are aware of is we intend to and want to grow this, but we want to be careful that we don't grow it to a point where we get to a place of diminishing returns. For example, if Collective had 1,000 members in the Bay Area, it would defeat the purpose of having a group of people who all know one another, so we're discussing ways in which we can keep different areas capped while still building community in those areas too.”

For more information on Collective, visit their website HERE.

For more information on the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero C.01, visit HERE.

(Photography by Watchonista)

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