Musings on Watch Collecting: The Grail Watch

When watch collectors talk about a "grail," usually they mean a mythical timepiece, horology unattainable by virtue of some combination of price and rarity.

But I reckon a grail can also mean the one watch- the only watch. The sine qua non of one's collection- i.e. without this singular watch one's collection would possess such a hole in it to be empty. In my case, the Zenith A386 (image: LouS): 

These are the two basic directions one can have in collecting anything. The items don’t have to be expensive; they don’t have to be particularly rare. The same question dawns upon every single collector: do I go wide or deep?

Do I collect Russian Chronographs of a particular make and decade, or do I collect all the chronographs of a particular Country of Origin or of a particular decade, for example? You could have the watch collection that follows a common rule: “no two watches from the same brand,” and have a collection that samples tastes across the horological universe. You could go the other way, which is straight down, i.e. collecting just Rolex GMT’s, or better yet focusing exclusively on a particular movement, like a Frederic Piguet 1185 Chronograph movement. In that case you'd have a deep collection, one requiring discipline, one eschewing a wandering eye. The horizontal collection is designed to be wide, and by design, may afford more room to be impulsive. You can have a very eclectic collection that may give you a lot of meaning because it provides the collector a chance to chronicle his or her taste evolution. Whereas the narrow and deep collector can say: “I have every model of X watch.” It may not sound very impressive, especially if it some obscure reference- but what you don’t say often speaks much louder. The narrow, deep collector is the guy who aims to speak one or two languages exceptionally well; while the broad, horizontal collector wants to be conversational in as many as possible, the acquisitive polyglot he is. Horizontal collectors dream of neat arrays of the “best of the best.”

But to have a deep collection, to bore deep down you must have laser focus. Ultimately such type of collector dreams of “the one.” That is, he or she dreams not so much the unattainable-  but imagines the single, essential watch- the one that comes into focus while everything gets thrown into a blurry bokeh. This grail commands monogamy; it is an embodying example, which highlights the organizing aesthetic principles a larger collection would exhibit, which renders the reason for having such a collection entirely redundant.

If you're interested in organizing principles, check out my upcoming book here