The Watch Collector Series: Watches and Cars
Watches and Cars Connection
Scratch any enthusiastic watch collector and it’s a good bet you will also find a car collector, or budding car collector, lurking just below the surface. The two worlds have always been intrinsically linked. They share a number of overlapping qualities that inspire equally obsessive passions. Watches and cars are essentially functional items built for a definite purpose. However, each has been elevated, in some instances, to the level of works of art.
Each are powered by technology that has been superseded in terms of accuracy, reliability and convenience. But never in terms of sheer grandeur. And with both, the particular models collectors choose to wear or drive tells us a great deal about the individual and their personality.
Below, we’ll look at a few more of the fundamental connections between fine timepieces and luxury automobiles.
Perhaps above all else, it is the fascination with the method. It’s the systems that power both watches and cars, that captivates most collectors.
There is something primal about watching the assembly of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual components all working together to produce their specific end result.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a complete understanding of how the internal combustion engine or a mechanical caliber actually work. Everyone is able to appreciate the level of dedication, beauty and hours of effort that has demonstrably gone into their creation. It is something that can’t be faked or recreated by any other means.
We are entering into the age of the electric car and we have had digital watches for nearly half a century. Both outperform their respective ancestors by huge amounts. But with electronics, we can only be aware of the effect of their work rather than being able to watch the process unfold. The traditional systems are just more involving.
It may be far easier to set the time or date on a digital watch, or change gear with a twin clutch paddle-shift transmission rather than with a beautifully weighted, mechanical gated shifter on a classic Ferrari or Lamborghini. However, ask anyone who has had experience of both which they prefer. It would be a rare occasion anyone plumps for the contemporary approach.
Beyond what drives them, the element most collectors notice first about watches and cars is what they look like. The design of both reflect the era into which they were born. Some, such as Rolex’s Submariner or Porsche’s 911, got it right from the get-go. Additionally, they have retained much of the original blueprint over the years. The modern day versions of both will always be desirable. But it is the vintage examples that fire the imagination and, most importantly, have a story to tell.
In some cases, that story is written around the specific role they were created to fill.
Its Heritage and Legacy
For example, they build a Land Rover Defender to be as tough and as mechanically simple as possible. This enables it to serve as a military transport in some of the toughest and most hostile environments on earth. Similarly, the unorthodox crown protector on the Panerai Luminor was a necessity at the time to safeguard the watch’s waterproofness. Their instantly recognizable aesthetics make each distinctive in its own way and also tells us a lot about their heritage and legacy. Wearing or driving either grants us entry into an exclusive club.
Beyond that, the way both a timepiece and an automobile age over the years becomes an intriguing factor. With watches, collectors will pay enormous premiums for a model with an elegant patina, a faded bezel or a spider-webbed dial. For cars, usually the more pristine its condition the better, but an original driver’s seat with a cracked leather upholstery also reveals something about that particular example, and its unique history.
One trait that truly links the collectors of watches and cars is the level of dedication they have. Not just to finding the longed-for piece in the first place, but to maintaining it.
Anyone who has ever owned an old car, not even a collectible necessarily, will know the feeling of mumbling through a quick prayer to the engine gods every morning when they turn the key in the ignition. They know the heart straining tension of listening to the motor’s death rattle as they roll up to a set of lights with a hundred, far newer, cars right behind them.
A vintage car collector is a vintage car fixer. For many, it is the chance to get grease under the fingernails and skin scraped off the knuckles. Keeping that assembly of countless separate parts finely-tuned and working perfectly together grants a sort of satisfaction you can’t find anywhere else. Modern cars, with CPUs and onboard diagnostics, while more efficient and reliable in just about every way, don’t inspire that devotion.
Watches, on the other hand, are different. Stripping a carburetor is something the majority could do given a manual and a few tools. However, dismantling a Swiss lever escapement is beyond the scope of most people. This is a recipe for a very expensive mistake as tiny springs launch in all directions and never seen again.
The watch collector’s dedication is in tracking down the craftsmen who can do that sort of thing for them. It’s the discipline to stick to what is likely to be a far more frequent and costly servicing schedule than that for a contemporary model.
An Investment of Time and Money
Where the two worlds meet up again is in the patience required for ownership. The older a car or a watch gets, the more care it needs. It also becomes more difficult to find authentic replacements for worn out parts. Securing them involves the investment of both time and money, as well as the gathering of knowledge on how various systems work.
Putting in all that work, and overcoming all the various obstacles, is what makes the process all the more enjoyable.
Maybe it goes back to our caveman days. Yet, for many collectors it’s the thrill of the hunt that drives them, even more than the acquiring.
It is a game that requires the sort of perseverance that can sometimes border on the obsessive compulsion.
Talk to any hardcore enthusiast about their favorite hobby. You’ll find that it’s about the satisfaction and the adrenaline rush in locating something that has eluded them for years or even decades.
Although driving a classic auto or wearing a rare vintage watch is fun, for some, nothing beats the chase. It is the reason many collector’s garages are full of cars that don’t run, and possibly never will. And it is why some watch collections include pieces that are beyond servicing.
It is the search, the discovery, and often, the people they meet along the way that captivate most. And, there is always that one more elusive find.
Both watches and cars have frequently gone hand in hand. As a result, collectors tend to fall into one of two categories: lovers of mechanics or lovers of design.
The mechanics are spellbound by the engineering and workmanship. They also admire the way gears mesh together or how a mainspring breathes.
For design fans, it is all about the appearance—the detailing, the polishing, and the overriding style.
Both automotive and horology communities enjoy ever increasing popularity. Collectors pay record breaking prices for rare examples seemingly everyday.
It’s interesting that in an age of rapid technological advances, more and more people are becoming fascinated by the products of previous generations.
Today’s cutting-edge marvels may impress on the surface. But it’s the artistry and expertise of an earlier era that speaks to us on a far deeper level.
— Featured Photo Credits: Wikimedia (CC) and BeckerTime’s Archive.