To continue our series of interviews about collectors’ watches that they could never part with, we feature Gary G; a collector of all things independent, unusual and classic. Not only does Gary collect, but he also writes articles for Quill & Pad, as their resident collector, offering insights into the world of high-end watch collecting. We met with Gary recently in Geneva to find out which of his impressive collection was the piece that could never be sold.
Let’s kick things off with the first watch you ever owned…
The very first watch that I owned, which has been lost somewhere along the way, was a mechanical Timex Marlin. My parents bought it for me when I was 9 years old, and I wore that thing every single day for, I don’t know, maybe ten years.
Timex recently re-issued one of their old mechanical pieces right?
Yes, in fact it was this exact model. They reintroduced it in its original form, using the original tooling for the case and other elements; It must be the first mechanical watch they’ve made in 35 or 40 years.
It’s definitely a step in the right direction…
Absolutely, it seems like they’ve offered it as some sort of special experiment. I bought one immediately when I heard, and it’s only $199.
What kind of movement are they using in that?
It’s some sort of ‘made in China’ movement, as opposed to the American made movement that featured in the original.
So, how did that watch go missing?
I don’t know, but I wish I knew where it was. You know how it goes, you move, move again and there’s a box in a drawer and somehow it just manages to go missing.
What was the first that you bought for yourself?
Well, the first one I bought for myself, was when I was around 15 or 16 years old and was involved with a student concert band playing a musical instrument which had been asked to tour through Europe, and one of the stops on the trip was Lucerne, in Switzerland. The organisers took us to the Bucherer store, right there at the end of the lake, and I had around $50 spending money for the entire trip, and I spent $42 on a watch [laughs].
I still have that watch.
What was it?
It’s a Bucherer-branded, chronometer-rated, steel-cased, blue-dialled watch. I remain very fond of blue-dialled watches to this day, as you’re very much aware…
It’s a very 1970s looking watch; I love it. I remember while I was buying that watch, a friend of mine who clearly came from better circumstances, had been told by his father that there was only one watch brand worth owning, and that was Rolex, of course [laughs].
[laughs] Of course, what else…
He had $200 to spend, so he bought a Rolex.
Is is fair to say that you’ve never been a particularly huge fan of Rolex?
Well, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. I ended-up buying one a few years ago, just because, you know, why not…
And how did your tastes develop from the Bucherer?
After I began working, I decided to buy myself a Cartier Tank, which is ridiculously small by today’s standards, but my wife likes to wear it. After that I discovered Jaeger-LeCoultre, and I would say that’s what really kicked watch-collecting off for me. You know, my theory is that there are various entry points for people to become ‘ collectors’, Rolex is clearly one of them and I think Jaeger-LeCoultre is another, and that was my path. The Rolex thing wasn’t so much that I hated the brand, or didn’t respect what they do; they make a fine watch, it keeps great time, bulletproof and nicely made for the price-point. For me, Jaeger was just so much more interesting in terms of complications.
Well, Jaeger LeCoultre has, for a long time, been considered a connoisseurs' brand…
Do you remember feeling as though you’d discovered something?
Well, I think I probably had a little feeling that there were certain insights in the world that were uniquely mine [laughs], but other people know things too…
I just happened to like them, is the truth. I had seen the Reverso watch before, but it wasn’t until they introduced the dual faced Reverso that I was blown away. I had been shopping with my wife in Paris and we visited the retailer Bry & Co, when one of the shop assistants showed me this thing. They flipped the dial over, and there was another dial with a second time zone and a 24-hour indication. That’s a hell of a complicated thing to make, and the hands on the both sides rotate in the correct direction, which sounds straight forward, but mechanically speaking is very complicated to do with one movement.
So did you buy it?
I had to have it. I was blown away by the whole thing, and I wasn’t really making that much money at the time, but I got it immediately, along with a ladies Reverso for my wife. After that came the Geographic with all the cities around the edge. Again, I just had to have it, and it was $10,000, which was a lot of money to me then.
This was during the 90s?
This would have been about 1993, and it was actually in Brussels airport, and they had offered me 10% off the list price, which I thought was a marvellous, unprecedented discount. So I dug deep and bought that watch, which is something I still have and wear regularly. Jaeger-LeCoultre is certainly the brand I have bought the most watches from. The most recent is the Reverso tribute to the 1931 model.
The one with the black and white dial and markers?
Exactly, with the syringe hands. It’s a lovely, lovely watch and that was $7,000. It’s very wearable and I wear it a lot.
You’ve become quite a collector of independent brands over the years, and we wondered how this came about, and what is is about independent brands that you find so fascinating?
So, I made a list of all the brands I’ve bought over the years, and the list is very long… [laughs]. I first started becoming aware of many of these brands around 2003 on the Purists, as that was one of the only places that these brands would be featured. I gathered knowledge from there, and then in 2007 I saw a picture of a Kari Voutilainen Observatoire, that was the one I had to have. A friend of mine, Tim Jackson, had a watch shop near our home in California, and he had been a big advocate for independent brands, hosting events and meet-ups.
"...the Observatoire was the turning point with regards to independents. The moment I saw that watch, I knew I had to have one."
Yeah, and he had brought Peter Speake-Marin along for one of the events, which is where I met him and wound up buying a couple of Peter’s watches through Tim. Though, saying that, the Observatoire was the turning point with regards to independents. The moment I saw that watch, I knew I had to have one. I wrote to Kari straightaway and asked if there was any chance I could get one of these watches, to which he agreed. I visited his home to see an unfinished movement next to a finished version, the case, the dials. I then decided exactly what I wanted and the rest was history. That’s the beauty of independents, is that there is the possibility to make something of your own; put your personal touch to it.
Right, something that most brands would immediately refuse…
It’s usually colour choices or numerals and hands, but there’s something very appealing about that freedom.
Are we right in thinking that you, along with four others, commissioned a special series of Voutilainen chronographs?
There were actually six of us, and there were ten watches made.
So Kari had made the initial series of eleven chronographs, which one of our friends owns, and he had mentioned to another friend in the group that Kari was planning on making a seconds series and showed him a picture of a blanked out brass dial. Then, in late 2009, at a dinner the topic came-up with the possibility of us ordering a batch of the watches and within minutes, we were all in. Our friend went back to Kari to request six of the ten, and he agreed. I think the watches were finally delivered in 2012, and poor Kari, he writes about these watches in a book about him, talking about a group of collectors who had very particular design requests. The four that we didn’t buy are all the same, but each of ours were different, some with dots, some with triangles, silver dials, black dials. This must have been a nightmare for him, because at the time, he didn’t have the dial factory.
[laughs] Do you think this may have prompted him to open the dial factory?
[laughs] It’s possible. I’m quite sure we drove him over the edge. As he grew the business, his ambition was always to have more control over all elements, and he’s now accomplished that. Of all six chronographs, five of us still own them. One was sold.
Is there a unanimous favourite among the dial differences?
Well, it’s funny you ask, because there is one guy in our group who believes whichever example of a particular watch that he owns, is the best one [laughs]. We all have Observatoire’s and this guy said, “Well, mine is clearly the best. The finishing is the best,” you know… [laughs]
What do they others look like?
One is platinum and black, all black. He was inspired by the Black Label F.P. Journe boutique editions. Another guy did the same watch, but with a dark blue dial and then there are two of us with rose gold. I’ve got a two-tone dial, the other guy with a rose case has a silver dial, and another of the guys of course had to have a steel one, just ‘because’.
[laughs] They sounds great…
Definitely, mine has a special officers case-back because I wanted Eddie Jaquet, who does engraving work for Kari, to engrave the back. I fell in love with his work on another watch, years back and had to have one. So I was again driving Kari nuts with more specialist requests, but they graciously accepted the request. Eddie did an engraving based on a sculpture of Chronos, the Greek god of time.
That sounds spectacular…
His work is really great. And interestingly it links back to my grandfather’s watch. Are you starting to see the parallels?
Absolutely, so lets talk about the watch in question…
So the watch I wanted to show you guys belonged to my grandfather, and was given to me after my graduation, as an inheritance. I had seen the watch since I was around four or five years old, so I was very familiar with it, but don’t recall a time that I was allowed to handle it, but he would show it to me on a regular basis.
So tell us what it is exactly…
The watch came from a jeweller in what was known then as Allegheny, Pennsylvania, but is now part of Pittsburgh. It’s a private label, enamel-dialled watch, with a movement which was manufactured by the Illinois Watch Company. Apparently there were only 200 examples made in this particular style, which as you know, is very-ornately decorated. These are the kinds of details that influenced me early on, that now get reflected in the types of watches I buy, consciously or unconsciously.
Well it would seem that the engraving on the back of the Voutilainen chronograph is almost in homage to this watch…
Definitely, and I’ve owned other enamel dialled watches, like the 2526 Patek Philippe, the 1526, the 5370 black enamel. With proper care, these materials can last a lifetime, I mean, I still look at the dial of my grandfather’s watch and it’s still exceptionally clean.
"These are the kinds of details that influenced me early on, that now get reflected in the types of watches I buy, consciously or unconsciously."
With so many that just get dropped and crack, it’s becoming rarer and rarer to see them this clean and intact.
Absolutely, it was very well looked after. My grandfather had a number of watches that he used in his work life, but this was more of a dress watch than a regular wearer. I’ve got some pictures of him with the watch chain coming-out of his breast pocket. My mother had even bought him a wristwatch, which I now have, and it looks virtually unworn…
So I think he actually preferred wearing the pocket-watch over all other things. My grandfather passed away while I was quite young, but I knew it had been eventually promised to me, but I certainly was too young to be considered ready for it at the time.
How did you feel when you were finally given the watch?
Oh, it was fantastic. I had spent such a long time hoping that it was coming to me, and to be finally entrusted with such a thing was a special moment. I mean, It’s not a valuable watch in monetary terms, but it’s the idea of the family continuity, so it takes on a different kind of value.
The sentimentality of it…
It was, yes. Our family didn’t have much money and I’m quite sure my parents never looked up what it might be worth, there had been none of that. To be chosen as the keeper of this heirloom, I mean, there’s the whole advertising campaign from Patek Philippe that you never really own the watch, you just keep it for the following generation, that’s how it felt. I had a great affection for my grandfather, and so it was more about him than the object.
And the watch will be passed down to a family member?
We have no kids of our own, but it will be passed down when the time is right. A great-niece or nephew will become the keeper of this watch.
Are they aware of this, or?
They’re blissfully unaware, but they’re still very young. I will introduce them to the watch at some point soon.
So, on a final note, being the resident collector for Quill & Pad, we wondered what sort of advice you would pass-on to people who are looking to begin a collection. Are there things you would have done differently with hindsight?
The key thing is to just start with buying what you love. Your tastes will undoubtedly change over the years; god knows I’ve bought watches that I look back on and wonder what I was thinking [laughs]. I don’t buy things for sums of money thinking that it will be worth X more in five years. I would also suggest not to buy the same sorts of things that everyone else has, because the world would be pretty boring if we all had the same watches.
That’s for sure.
So, in the early days, trust your instincts and enjoy it. The most enjoyable thing is that it’s not just about the watches themselves, but the buddies you make as a result of it. One of the greatest things about our watch collecting gang is that I always learn something new when talking to them about watches. Knowing others’ reasons for liking certain things can develop your tastes in a way that they previously may not have.
Please visit Quill & Pad to read some of Gary's articles by clicking here.
With thanks to Gary G for kindly providing the images of his watches.