Wine Collectors vs. Watch Collectors: Closer Than You May Think
So, I was at a wine-tasting event a few months ago – some heavy-hitter collectors, some rare bottles, some good food. The conversation was easy – shared passions provide plenty of lubricant, after all. Then, just over an hour into the event, we got up from the table to fill our plates.
That’s when I noticed one cheery fellow reaching toward the cheeses with his left hand. His sleeve rode up just a bit. And, well, I couldn’t help myself. “Tell me what you’re wearing,” I said. I did not have to explain this question. It was a vintage Rolex Top Hat, just the thing for a casual evening of pleasure-seeking. He was proud of the scratches and the touch of a patina (which, if one wants, could be gently ground out).
You can imagine where this went next: Out of the dozen oenophiles at the event, there were three truly serious watch collectors, with another five additional attendees owning at least three watches. Those latter pieces had been acquired for various reasons, like a retirement celebration or landmark birthday. Which is to say, they were acquired for the same reasons wine collectors buy wine: for special occasions.
I get that. To me, the single real difference between the two pastimes is that wine shared with friends will run out. With your father’s Patek, sharing will only increase the enjoyment.
Watch Guy: Watchonista Contributor Josh Hendizadeh, a former auction house watch specialist who began collecting vintage watches decades ago. However, now he is starting to include modern watches in his collection.
Wine Guy: Charles E. Johnson, an Atlanta attorney whose wide-ranging tastes run from hard-to-find Northern Rhône gems to cult California blends.
As I looked over the transcripts, I sometimes had to remind myself which fellow was which. Each pursuit has its secret knowledge, its specialized terms, its holy grails. But the differences were meaningful too – and those distinctions put into relief the very special unique aspects of the hobbies.
CEJ: I know people who have made fortunes in wine as an investment. But don’t ever get into wine as an investment. I think that buying wine as a commodity is risky and ponderous.
There are just better ways – even crypto. You can do it on your computer; nobody has to ship anything to you, and it can’t go bad if it’s not stored at the right temperature.
JH: Most vintage watch collectors have one philosophy: buy the very best example of what you love without cutting any corners in terms of quality. For this reason alone, collection values can increase substantially with a single pur-chase.
Collectors may feel uncomfortable wearing many of their watches, especially in big cities. In fact, this issue has gotten so bad for some that vintage collectors have now bought select modern watches – because modern should be replaceable, right?
CEJ: There are a couple of complex parts to buying wine for profit. One is buying the right wines. But the other is provenance, and that’s the whole ballgame. That’s everything, especially when it comes to selling.
For instance, ex-Chateau bottles (which have had no other owner) are worth more than all other bottles that have been aged in a private collector’s wine cellar because ex-Chateau bottles have been stored where they were made in ideal conditions and not released until you buy them. That’s why they cost the most.
JH: Another issue many collectors are going back and forth with is when to sell and when to keep. But condition is the most important factor – allow me to explain.
Picture two Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi Reference 1675s. “Watch A” is in perfect, crisp, unpolished condition with an amazingly patinated dial. “Watch B” has been polished or remains beaten up, but its dial has been re-finished, and its “lume” has been re-applied.
Given these conditions, “Watch A” will be worth, to the right collector, between $20,000 and $30,000. Meanwhile, despite being the very same model, “Watch B” will likely only be worth a measly $5,000 to $7,000.
CEJ: I’m very devoted to cult California maker Sine Qua Non. I get Sine Qua Non in beautiful wooden cases that are screwed shut, and then I get Sine Qua Non bottles that are just individually wrapped in tissue and put in a box. The latter are the ones I drink.
I’ve never unscrewed any wooden box of Sine Qua Non that I’ve ever bought. They’re all stacked up in my wine cellar because I figure, if I leave them that way, then if I ever either decide to sell them or donate them to something, they’re way more valuable.
I don’t buy them as an investment, but there’s some chance that, one day, they’ll be worth more than I paid for them.
JH: When people “fall in love” and start collecting a specific brand or category, like vintage Rolex Submariners, they are often doing so for scholarship purposes. There is curiosity about the natural aging process, logo differences, font and formatting, dial layout, types of bracelets, and even extra text on the dial (like retailer-signed watches). This is what a focused collector will often pursue.
However, sometimes, collectors find they are still buying vintage watches of the highest quality despite not wearing them. It’s at this point that they should take a step back, evaluate, and come to terms with the fact that perhaps they now view these watches primarily as an investment opportunity.
CEJ: One very important collector I know made tens of millions of dollars of profit on his wines because he bought perfect Burgundies. He bought perfect high-end everything in massive quantities and never touched it because he had so much wine that he only touched the wines he wanted to drink in the moment.
He wasn’t doing it in a calculated way to make money, he was doing it because he was just an obsessive wine purchaser and happened to be wealthy beyond belief. But he is a rarity because he could afford to build the storage needed to accommodate his collection. That is simply not the case for most of us.
JH: Having a big watch collection is akin to having a large collection of art hanging around your home: I can be amazing to study and fun to look at, but it can easily slip into overkill.
Some collectors will collect everything from G-SHOCKs to Paul Newman Daytonas to Roger Smiths. These people truly love all watches and usually try to rotate regularly so they can wear everything. However, broad collecting can get dis-tracting and serves no other purpose than to satisfy a true love affair with all watches.
In contrast, the specific collector, on the other hand, will only wear a handful and keep the rest of the collection for scholarship. Specificity collecting usually delivers an end goal of learning more while loving the watches, whereas with broad collecting, one just loves nonchalantly, so your collection can easily get a bit out-of-hand and unwieldy.