Jon Carter’s Passion for Rare Bourbon

Video: Collectors Collect – Jon Carter and His Passion for Rare Bourbon

For this installment of our Collector’s Collect video series, we meet Jon Carter – attorney, watch collector, and curator of one of the finest rare bourbon collections on this side of the Appalachian Mountains.

By Barbara Palumbo

Born in northern Louisiana, Jon Carter came from humble beginnings. The only child of a divorced couple, his mother moved Jon to Atlanta when he was two years old to be close to his grandparents while she returned to school.

After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Jon attended North Carolina’s prestigious Duke University, where he studied biomedical and electrical engineering, before moving in 2005 to pursue a law degree at New York University. It was only after Jon began law school that he got his first nice watch, kicking off his career as a collector in earnest.

But how does one get to the point of collecting anything? For Jon Carter, it was part family affair and part troublemaker mentality. “I come from a family of collectors,” explained Carter. “I started collecting quartz watches as a little kid. I don’t know what it was, but something about timepieces fascinated me.”

From Cereal Prizes to Serial Numbers

Jon grew up seeing his grandfather wearing a Seiko pilot watch in the 1980s, which he feels is a large part of the reason he was bound to get his own, telling Watchonista: “I started collecting watches that you could get out of cereal boxes or ones that, if you collected proof of purchases, you could mail those in, and they would send you some crappy plastic watch, but I LOVED those things!”

Carter added, “Little did I know that in the future I’d become interested in watches again, albeit these would be very different from the digital watches made of plastic from my childhood.” In fact, it wasn’t until Jon became a resident of New York City that he revisited his boyhood fascination.

Jon explained how he rediscovered his love of watches: “One day, I wandered into the Tourneau [now Bucherer] TimeMachine store on 57th and Madison. I had just started looking around and chanced upon an Omega Aqua Terra with the old 2500 movement and a black dial.

“I just thought it was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. But I was still in law school at the time, and even though I didn’t have any money, I knew I had to figure out a way to get this watch. So, I got it.

“At the time, I told myself, ‘I’m going to get it, and this will be the one nice watch I get, then I’m done.’ I think it was three weeks later that I was looking at another watch I ‘had to have.’ And since that day, I haven’t stopped. It’s been a growing collection ever since.”

The Crossroads of Watches and Whiskeys

It isn’t uncommon for a native of the South (or the North, for that matter) to want to attend the Kentucky Derby, which Carter did for the first time in May of 2010.

While he was there, he decided to tour a variety of some of the bourbon distilleries in the area. “At the end of the tours, there were tastings of not only the spirits on many a liquor store shelf but also some rarer liquors only available at those distilleries,” he explained. “I was fascinated not only by the process of making it but also by the varied complexities of whiskeys that I was able to try. I realized then that I wanted to learn more, and that was how that rabbit hole started.”

After getting his lips on whatever whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes he could via tastings – often in the form of “flights” – wherever he could get them, Jon quickly realized how few rare bottles existed in the US, which is when he began purchasing them for his personal collection.

“I started picking those up when I could and giving them a try. Some of them turned out to be great, while others were not so great,” Jon reminisced. “Still, I thought collecting them would be something cool to do, especially when there’s a good story behind the bottle.” This a sentiment that will sound familiar to anyone who has spoken to a watch collector for more than a few minutes, especially one who focuses on vintage timepieces.

Another area where Jon feels that whiskey and watches intersect would be craftsmanship: “I love the fact that whatever is on your wrist or whatever is in your glass is a unique expression of the vision or the passion of the person, or people, who are making it.”

Plus, in both cases, the trades have been around for ages.

For watch collectors who may want to get into the hobby of collecting rare spirits, Jon believes the pain you feel for the gain is also somewhat similar. “Over both fields, there are a lot of things that will sound familiar. One of those things is that there are retail prices, and there are market prices for collectibles,” Jon explained. “Like certain watches, collectible spirits can sometimes be very difficult to find, especially at reasonable prices.”

Finally, when the 40-year-old attorney has a particularly good day at the office, he will celebrate by occasionally combining his two obsessions: “I may come home and pour myself a single-barrel bourbon, often Blanton’s; it is my first love when it comes to bourbon and has become increasingly difficult to get. Then, as I’ve taken to doing these days, I will put on my latest acquisition. It is an Omega Aqua Terra Worldtimer, which reminds me of places I’ve visited in the world, but also places I’ve yet to visit but would like to, and, to me, that’s a perfect moment.”

To hear more about Jon Carter’s watch and rare whisky collection, visit the Watchonista’s YouTube channel.

(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)

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