Watch collector Nick Orringe, a surveyor in the insurance business, has somewhat turned his hobby into a part-time job.
He is a watches consultant at auction house Ewbank’s and writes on the topic. (His wife Susan Orringe works at Ewbank’s in insurance valuations and runs its Hampshire office).
Here Nick discusses how he started collecting watches and gives tips to new collectors.
ATG: How and when did you get the collecting bug?
Nick Orringe: I started collecting when I was a small child with vintage Matchbox cars. An uncle passed on his own collection and I started to add to it by going to jumble sales and buying more. I then went on to tinplate toys, particularly those from the 19th century.
Later still I moved into watches. Some of my family were buying paintings and porcelain.
But I like something that earns its living, something I could live with and wear. I thought about clocks but they need a lot of wall space so I went for watches. So whenever I had spare money I would buy.
Do you buy other sorts of art and antiques as well?
As a family we will still buy paintings and other things but watches are what I collect.
What type of watches have you collected?
I have a collection of Communist-era, Eastern Bloc watches and I have also collected pocket watches in materials including gold and silver, then I moved into Omega 1960s Seamaster watches (which were relatively undervalued 10-15 years ago) and then my affliction led me to Rolex collecting.
What tips would you give a collector starting out?
Try to buy from a reputable dealer in the trade (such as Maunder Watch Co in the Burlington Arcade, Mayfair).
If you are new it is best to seek advice with those with knowledge. If you buy from a reputable dealer then you know it has been serviced and examined before you buy and that way you have the confidence.
Buying a watch can be a lot of money so it is costly if you get it wrong. And remember, sometimes watches are not what they always seem such as the movement could have been changed. In the 1970s and 80s many watches were altered to suit tastes but those that have been altered are now not as desirable to collectors. Also those with engravings are usually regarded as devalued.
So for your first purchase, the bedrock of your collection, it is best to get advice.
Where do you buy items?
From dealers but I do buy at auction too. With knowledge you can buy at auction, hopefully with a slightly lower price point, but there is the premium, the service costs to get the watch up to scratch and other costs to consider. I do all the sums and ensure I know the extra costs before I bid.
How have things changed since you started collecting?
Some people now may look at buying a watch as an investment. But I would suggest that the best thing is to buy for the pleasure of having it. I wouldn’t advocate buying as an investment. However the market for watches is extraordinarily strong – jewellery prices are high and watches have followed. In an uncertain world, people will put money in something tangible and many have bought into luxury goods such as watches.
I have noticed that collecting watches has become more mainstream now. It is on trend like designer handbag collecting. If you go to the City, such as The Royal Exchange, there are many watch sellers now.
What elements do you look for in a watch?
There are lots of elements to look out for. I will look at the reference number, ie for a classic Rolex Submariner I will look at the era and what the reference number should be. Then I carefully research what the dial should look like, how was the bezel made, what movement and calibre number, how many jewels did it have and so on. That way, when I go looking for one I go armed with the knowledge of what it should be like.
Of course, when you find something it is about the thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding something you want. But if you do your homework then you can avoid costly mistakes.
What would encourage you to buy at a certain price?
I have had an idea of trying to obtain watches that were made on the dates of birth of family members. For instance, I found a Rolex Explorer that had the year and month my son was born – this can make collecting even more enjoyable.
Collecting should be about buying things that are special and personal to you – this is certainly part of the enjoyment. Watch collecting can be clinical but if you make it personal it makes it much more pleasurable.
How large is your collection?
When last did a tally I had 26 watches including my first Timex from when I was a child. Among my collection is a Tag Heuer – all of my watches give me just as much pleasure as the Rolex Explorer or Submariner.
I have been heavily focused on Rolex but even within this brand there are different price points to collect.
I have been looking at 1930-40s watches that are really very nice with an Art Deco style and are a bit unusual. Everyone is fixated on the Submariner but I have bought watches from a few hundred pounds and they can give you as much joy in collecting as the higher value.
The older ones are interesting and perhaps undervalued. I love the stories, the social history and the legends: was the watch really bought to climb mountains or to swim great distances? The stories are fantastic.
How do you look after your collection?
I use my watches on a daily basis. I am currently wearing a 1959 Rolex. I like to wear them all – to use them. I rotate the watches. There is nothing better than being able to wear the thing you have bought and really enjoy it.
What is the most you have ever spent on one item?
Items in my collection vary from under £100 into four-figure sums.
Have you ever sold items from your collection?
I have in the past sold to upgrade my collection. But it has become rarer in recent years.
I have a reached a plateau because I have got what I like now and don’t want to sell.
Earlier on I would buy, then see better, then sell, and buy the better one.
When I used to buy Communist-era, former Eastern bloc watches (such as those from East Germany) sometimes I would find you had to buy five or six in a lot. In that instance I would keep the one I wanted and then sell on others.
There is one possible upgrade I may look at. I have a Rolex Tudor but I would like a better example as it has a few scratches but so far I haven’t found a nicer one. If I did I would consider selling to upgrade.
Is there one special watch you are still looking for?
There are a few things I keep my eye out for.
I was trying to look for a Rolex Submariner under the Tudor label that was supplied to the French Navy – it has the cross of Lorraine rather than Mercedes-style hand. So that is one to think about.
I think one day I might buy a vintage Patek Phillippe and I have looked at Breitling.
But the ‘Holy Grail’ is Rolex Chronograph 6036. It has lots of dials and I have actually valued one once so I had it in my hands. However, the last time I saw one it was valued at $800,000. So this may have to stay as a dream.
What are the brands to look out for in your opinion?
There are some watches that are upcoming in terms of collecting. They may be undervalued in terms of where they may go in the future. For instance, Smiths (a Cheltenham industrial company that made watches from 1946-70).
Look at quirky manufacturers as they are great to collect. You can buy other makes: some people collect Swatch watches.
The best thing is this is a hobby that you can wear.