August 2021 14 Min Read

How Five Collectors Under-30 Approach Watches

By Randy Lai

All too often, the English truism about ‘time and tide [waiting] for no man’ is trotted out in service of business or politics. Really, we ought to be using it in our discussions about watch culture in the 21st century. Following a survey involving some 5,800 consumers in 11 markets around the globe – conducted as part of the Swiss Watch Industry Study 2020 – Deloitte observed that, despite the ravages of the pandemic, appetite amongst international consumers for high-end mechanical watches remains strong. When given a hypothetical budget of CHF 5,000, the firm’s researchers determined that “the majority of our consumer survey opted for a luxury watch”. That in and of itself isn’t exactly revelatory, but when one starts to look at demographics those pronouncements become infinitely more interesting. “Taking age into consideration: 61% of millennials and 65% of Generation X would also opt for a luxury watch…[suggesting] that luxury mechanical watches still seem to have a bright future.”

In short, the latest numbers serve to reinforce what many of us already knew: that the craft of horology (and the industry that supports it) cannot thrive without the participation of the under-30s. Luxury consulting firms often speak in broad generalisations about these groups, bandying about buzzworks like ‘customisation’ and ‘sustainability’. The truth, as we’ve discovered first hand, is a little more complicated. Pretty far removed from the stereotype of impulsive and conspicuous consumers, we spoke to five collectors under the age of 30 who are well on their way to becoming pillars in the online watch community. Though each is in possession of a, shall we say, substantial social media following, the crux of our discussions centred on their individual attitudes towards collecting. Some were pragmatic in their values whereas others endorsed a more cerebral approach; one or two even held charmingly old-fashioned notions about the romance of mechanical watchmaking – as you’ll see below.

Mateo Rossi

There are likely few collectors under the age of thirty who better embody the cosmopolitan, globetrotting esprit de corps of watch culture than Mateo Rossi. Having grown up between Shanghai, Melbourne, Singapore and his native France, Rossi has spent the past half-decade bearing witness to the passions that unite – and indeed, divide – horologists from all over the world. A year after diving headfirst into the world of mechanical watches (like many, his first ‘serious’ watch was a gift from his father) Rossi established Le Paris Watch Club in 2017. Membership is by invitation only – with a clear emphasis on the social element that is implicit in sharing and celebrating such an eclectic selection of brands.

Though the Paris Watch Club’s profile is full to bursting with superlative imagery – think skeletonised Royal Oaks and Daytonas sporting Eastern Arabic numerals – Rossi takes a surprisingly level-headed tact to his own collection. Below, he explains how even in watchmaking one can have too much of a good thing and gives us some brief context for the work he’s been doing on an exciting new project – unekual.

Rossi's Root Beer Rolex, a rarely seen variation on the classic traveller's watch, courtesy of Mateo Rossi.

“From a young age, I’ve always been a collector: whether it be coins, stamps, or nowadays watches, my mentality has always been to focus on quality as opposed to quantity.

“I try to look for pieces which are rare and in the best condition possible – but for obvious reasons – that are under most collectors’ radars, having not yet caught the public eye. Being very aesthetically driven, these qualities are important to me; but I’ve also come to find that when a watch is too rare and in too good a condition, it becomes nearly impossible to wear – for that reason, I look for a balance of quality and wearability.

'This is exactly what I’ve been lucky enough to find in ref. 3970J. This example is a first series that was offered to me by a very dear friend, and I love how well preserved it is despite having been worn by the previous owner. The hairline scratches show it’s been well taken care of - yet enjoyed. It’s also quite under the radar as not a lot of collectors know about the elusive first series with the two-tone dial and snapback case back. I just love it!

A first generation Patek Philippe ref. 3970, courtesy of Mateo Rossi.

“It’s a shame so many people tend to forget to enjoy their watches. Today, there’s a lot of pressure from social media or the false hype attached to certain references. I do wish collectors would learn to genuinely appreciate what’s in their own collections, rather than simply lusting over the most ‘Instagrammable’ timepieces. The piece I enjoy wearing the most that embodies this attitude is the GMT-Master II ‘Root Beer’ (Ref. 126715CHNR). It’s a Rolex that most people don’t really consider, in fact, numerous collectors I’ve met hadn’t even handled one in the metal beforehand. I managed to buy mine during the pandemic. Bucherer had three of them in stock, just staring me down at all times. Upon my fourth visit I finally budged, and to this day, it’s one of the very few impulse purchases I’ve made that I never regretted.

“Most people think of the ‘Root Beer’ as being too gawdy, but nevertheless I enjoy it: I like the weight, the hue of the proprietary rose gold, and the beautiful ceramic bezel. It’s a watch I hadn’t planned on purchasing, yet it’s since become one of my favourites in the collection (it certainly gets the most wrist time). There’s just something so indescribably special about a professional series Rolex in solid gold.

“Of course, my passion for elegant, perennial timepieces has finally evolved into something more with the launch of unekual in 2020 – a platform that focuses on bringing together young collectors by a process of collaboration between travel, fashion, gastronomy and the watch world. Collecting watches can be so serious and esoteric, and I hope that this will become a resource for showcasing the fun side of this curious little hobby we all share.

Jaclyn Li

Known widely in the online community for her naturalistic approach to shooting dials and impeccably honed taste, Li is part of a growing wave of young female collectors rebuking horology’s popular perception as a ‘boys' club’. The 23-year-old Canadian, who splits her time between Harvard University and The Waiting List podcast, was first bitten by the proverbial collector’s bug when she was a teen: collecting inter alia an assortment of sneakers and ceramics.

A quick look at Li’s socials reveal a collector who is mature beyond her years. She does of course own the requisite pieces that are catnip to the hype patrol – it’s difficult not to pick one’s jaw off the floor after noticing she has both a Crash ‘Radieuse’ and Ref. 6239 ‘Paul Newman’ – but most enthusiasts will immediately recognise an overarching energy that runs throughout her collection. A lover of shaped watches that are highly focused in their geometry and size, we were intrigued to hear why Li tackles the pursuit of collecting with the same mindset as that of somebody working a potter’s wheel. In either case, it’s the subtly distinguishable details that make “a big difference”.

Li's Patek Philippe ref. 3970, courtesy of Jaclyn Li.

“My approach to watch collecting echoes the pottery-making process, chiefly requiring four qualities: patience, self-understanding, an eye for detail and open-mindedness.

“Running with this metaphor, the first (and perhaps most exhausting) step to making ceramics is the ‘wedging’ of clay. During this process, air bubbles are eliminated through repetitive kneading. When clay is improperly wedged, said bubbles aren’t expelled and in some cases might ultimately even destroy your creation. Ergo, to wedge clay properly is an act that requires significant strength and patience. The same can be said of watch collecting, having enough patience ensures that no decision is taken rashly and in so doing you avoid painful, oftentimes costly mistakes.

“After the clay is properly wedged, it’s throwing time. There is a world of possibility on the potter’s wheel: all one needs is clay, their two hands, a sponge and bucket of water. The question is, what do you make? It’s at this stage that self-understanding proves the most crucial, as in collecting. Often, I’ll reflect on my personal appreciation for the natural world, and of the qualities therein I deem important. Being discerning helps me become more selective, all while uncovering more about how my tastes might evolve.

“Once you’ve decided the general shape of your vessel, you can begin adding certain embellishments, pronouncing its character with a touch of clay here or there. This is when I always try to bear the third quality of pottery in mind – being detail orientated. Whether throwing clay or adding to the collection, what intrigues me most are small nuances: the curve of a lug or finishing in a vintage dial. Striving for ‘quality of detail’ is another aspect of watch collecting that is immeasurably important.

“Last and certainly not least, once I’ve unloaded the vessel from the kiln, I prepare myself mentally for the unexpected. As in watch collecting, being open to the possibility of twists and turns throughout one’s journey is what keeps many of us going.”

Alessandro Fanciulli


With a followership that includes not one but dozens of the watch world’s own veritable colossi – among them, names like Christian Selmoni and John Goldberger – one could be excused for pondering aloud, “who the hell is Mr. A”? Known in the real world as Alessandro Fanciulli, the 25-year-old Italian is co-founder of Avocado Vintage, a quirkily named dealer of antique timekeepers with a “heavy focus on quality, rarity, and design”.

Admittedly, in 2021 there is no shortage of watch collectors who have ‘broke bad’ to become self-proclaimed ‘super-dealers’, but even a brief appraisal tells you Fanciulli is the authentic article. Across a decade of collecting, he has sourced some objectively rare timepieces – think a Beta 21 with lugs or Vacheron Constantin’s Ref. 2215 Royal Chronometer – in the process, nurturing a perspective that stands in stark contrast to the serial flipper’s banal, myopic nature.

Fanciulli in Geneva back in 2019.

“I began collecting watches 10 years ago, when I was still a teenager. Almost half of my conscious life has been dedicated to the study and pursuit of these mechanical marvels – I initially had no clue how far down the ‘rabbit hole’ they’d lead me. Over the years, horology has led to some incredible discoveries on a scholarly and interpersonal level. Aesthetic preferences and a love for beauty cannot be taught in school. To me, collecting has transcended its popular reputation as a ‘simple’ means of accumulating material wealth to become something akin to a way of living: through a prism of beauty (which flows into a wider context of art and cultural life) I’m able to achieve better self-understanding. I think the Hawaiian notion of Kaohinani – “a gatherer of beautiful things” – encapsulates this concept very well, spiritually and physically.

“Having had the pleasure to meet a multitude of great collectors (often with highly defined collecting ‘pathways’) pushed me to find my own niche. That in turn made me realise how unpredictable my taste can be – something that I’m totally cool with. I never want to stop evolving or limiting myself in an arbitrary way. Consequently, today my collection runs the gamut from 18th century pocket watches to contemporary pieces from independent brands. That said, I can definitely see an evolution in my own experience; growing to appreciate watches that I first found overrated – I’ve since come to realise that the Royal Oak is pretty much the perfect wristwatch – as well as coming to terms with great designs that I no longer feel the obligation to own.

“The concept of ‘ownership’ is something that I’ve had to unlearn and re-understand. For instance, take this Rolex Ref. 2417 from 1935: the spectacular case construction, a salmon dial fitted with Radium numerals and hands-set (unusual for such an elegant watch from the period) – all elements that I love, together in a single watch. Having survived unscathed for 86 years, you cannot really ‘own’ such a piece – it belongs to itself. Instead, my responsibility is to preserve it in meticulous condition until it’s passed onto the next custodian; and yet I relish the notion of being its bearer for a little while. That’s in stark contrast to a watch like my birth year Explorer (Ref. 14270): the fact that I’ve really beat it to all hell makes it that much more a part of my personal story.

A pair of pieces from Vacheron (&) Constantin, courtesy of Alessandro Fanciulli.

“Nowadays, I tend to get excited about the watches that are ‘un-ownable’. That’s usually because they are in a class of one – just like this stainless steel pocket watch from Vacheron & Constantin (as the company was historically known). Dated to around the same period as the aforementioned Rolex, it features rose gold inlays and a black dial engraved completely by hand. A unique creation by the Geneva maison, this watch embodies all the artistry and savoir-faire of traditional Swiss watchmaking and epitomises a lot of what has gone unexamined by the broader market. Relative to their aesthetic magnitude, pocket watches offer incredible value, and brands like Vacheron – especially whenever they collaborated with esteemed Art-Deco watchmakers such as Verger Frères – focused heavily on making some of the most incredible examples around.”

Jaeho 'Jay' Chang

With a feed full of small, round-cased watches and fulsome tweeds cut by the Korean clothier B&Tailor, it feels appropriate to label Jaeho Chang a classicist. The 26-year-old Korean is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford; and when he’s not researching the development of “oesophageal pathologies” (say that quickly five times) can be found online, advocating for a return to the days of the sub-37mm-diameter watch.

Evidently, one singularly consistent aspect of Chang’s interest in watches is how they cohere with his broader aesthetic sensibilities – notably, in relation to personal style. It’s for this reason, that he gravitates toward vintage watches: placing a premium on case diameter, refined dial executions, and wearability. In a room full of academic collectors, those who often sequester their pieces away in safety deposit boxes (and with them, any sense of spontaneity), Chang’s attitude feels refreshingly down-to-earth – something one can never have too much of when confronted by such complex machines.

“I’m an ‘aesthetic’ collector, which is just a nice way of saying I tend to promiscuously buy whatever I like. I do have a few specific areas of interest though: vintage Ulysse Nardin and gilt dial chronographs from the 1930s-1940s, though I’m happy to go beyond those when I see something interesting. As a result, aside from big purchases which require extended periods of saving up, my watch acquisitions have come rather unprompted.

“One of the highly essential factors is that the watch must sit well on my wrist, as I do in fact wear all of my watches. As someone with a relatively slim wrist, I tend to focus on collecting pieces that are between 30-37mm in diameter. I absolutely adore the more elegant look and fit that these smaller cases provide.

“One piece that’s truly representative of what I like is a small vintage Ulysse Nardin Calatrava, which I’ve dubbed the ‘UN96’. It shares the same diameter (30.5mm) and coin-edge bezel as the more well-known Patek Philippe Ref. 96. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the dial’s design is absolutely superb (it’s interesting, without being flamboyant). I wear it on a period-correct vintage bracelet – an accessory I’m delighted to say really ‘completes’ the look.

Three very early Reverso examples, courtesy of Jaeho Chang.

“At the recommendation of a dear friend, I picked the watch up from a famous dealer during a trip to Osaka (who is also an avid Ulysse Nardin collector). Even the process of acquiring it rankles as a fond memory – because the dealer spoke barely any English, we completed the transaction in near silence. At the time, I recall thinking I’d overpaid for this diminutive time-only from a relatively niche brand. Fortunately, it quickly became one of my favourite pieces and nowadays, I consider it to be a watch that ‘ticks all the boxes’: the case is in a simple, yet inimitably elegant Calatrava shape; the dial is rare and attractive; condition is nice and original; and there are some lovely stories to go along with it.

“My 1931 Uniplan Reverso is equally deserving of an honourable mention. I firmly believe that early vintage Reversos still represent excellent value in the vintage collecting space: the design lives up to its ‘iconic’ reputation, in great part, because of its wearability. They’re surprisingly versatile too: I feel neither under or over-dressed whenever I’m wearing one. This Uniplan features a black dial with Art-Deco numerals that were handmade in hard enamel – a characteristic of only the earliest examples. As is so often the case with vintage Reversos, the caseback is also engraved ‘HD’ (probably the initials of its first owner). Still the flagship product of Jaeger-LeCoultre – never mind that it’s technically the first example of a bona fide ‘sports watch’ – I’m hard-pressed to deny that the Reverso offers tremendous value for money.

Perth Ophaswongse

Yet another creature of the “pathological contrarian” persuasion – as our previous interviewee Phil Toledano so aptly puts it – Ophaswongse is the photographer, blogger, and enthusiast behind Edinburgh Timepieces, a social media account dedicated to watches at multiple points on the price spectrum. Now a law student at Queen Mary University, Ophaswongse still carves out time to contribute to the online watch community in a substantial way: beyond photography, he has written extensively on a variety of issues that loom large in today’s horological landscape (e.g. how different social media platforms shape the discourse between watch enthusiasts) and is an active member of the RedBar chapters in London and Edinburgh.

Though high-minded and scholarly when publishing anything to which he must put his name, Ophaswongse’s personal ethos of collecting – a combination of words, he tells us, that he finds fairly amusing – is surprisingly chameleonic. Tied down to neither the ‘vintage’ nor ‘modern’ camp (oftentimes flitting between the two), his own watches reflect a mentality that is, beyond love of a good time-only, not yet set in stone. Considering the vast array of brands, complications, and stylistic variations he’s handled on Instagram, that openness to change can only be a good thing.

“Few phrases in life ring as pretentious to me as ‘a philosophy of watch collecting’ but if I had to assign one adjective to my collection, it’d be ‘contrarian’. For the most part, I enjoy searching for pieces that are unusual and underappreciated. Unsurprisingly, over the years that means I’ve developed a particular fondness for independent brands and the classic neo-vintage designs of the ‘Holy Trinity’.

“Inevitably, the contrarian nature of my collecting habits means that what I’m looking for changes continuously. As I found my preferred category of simple, time-only watches becoming increasingly mainstream I felt the urge to look toward the more eccentric. That said, the mere fact that a certain watch was becoming popular wasn’t sufficient to deter me – I still liked what I liked, if you take my meaning – but at the same time, I was beginning to discover the appeal of indie brands like Urwerk and De Bethune. Although these brands offered a perspective on watchmaking that was vastly different to what I’d already encountered, many of their models still satisfied my desire for simplicity. Unfortunately, the market at-large decided to catch up not long after, making these brands a good deal less desirable (not to mention, less affordable).

The F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu is the watch that Ophaswongse believes best represents his personal style.

“Bearing that in mind, the watch that’s most representative of my style is the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu. One anecdote I’m guilty of repeating ad infinitum has to do with its affordability: at the time that I was saving up to fund it, the piece cost as much as a pre-owned ceramic Daytona. The irony wasn’t lost on me: even though the brand was a known quantity amongst ‘serious’ watch collectors, what is now often considered its most popular offering was seen by most people to be equivalent in value to a Daytona. I like to think that the watch’s condition and the role it plays in my collection also attest to my contrarian personality. It’s no exaggeration to call it my ‘daily wearer’: the multiple dings and scratches – likely anathema to most Journe collectors – prove that.

“Of all the watches I’ve collected, the most unexpected is the Tudor Submariner (Ref. 9041/0) I bought, dated to 1979. Sure, it’s emblazoned with a shield rather than the infamous Coronet logo, but hardly any enthusiasts would call it an underappreciated watch. Still, the quirks lie in its provenance: I discovered it in Tokyo whilst travelling; and spent a very anxious 15 minutes going back and forth with Paul Russell (an expert on all things vintage Tudor) for his help in evaluating the watch. It transpired that this was a rather rare variation which had only been produced for one or two years, combining snowflake hands with the classic round Submariner lume plots. Fun fact: that configuration closely mirrors the one utilised for modern Tudor Black Bays.”

We would like to thank all of the young collectors who took part in this article, sharing with us their uniquely Millennial approaches to this hobby.