How To Survive The Watch Hobby: Heart and Mind in Conflict

By: Jason Tricoli

Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal experience. The views expressed may not align with your own.

I have had many hobbies over the years, but collecting watches has been a particularly expensive and obsessive one. I have been startled to find how much time I waste on the following activities: scrolling through Instagram looking at pictures of watches, window shopping on watch websites, and viewing watch reviews on YouTube. So with this new decade upon us, I wanted to take a moment to look inward and examine how I have been approaching this hobby to see exactly how it’s been impacting my life financially (and, to an extent, emotionally).

The X Factor

Let’s put things into perspective with another hobby of mine: craft beer. Part of the reason I love craft beer as a hobby is because the best beer in the world is actually reasonably affordable. To demonstrate this, I want to give an example of how much more expensive craft beer is relative to more standard beer.

Let’s pick a standard beer for our baseline. A six pack of Budweiser retails for $5.99 or just about 8.3 cents per ounce.

Now let’s pick a luxury beer. One of my personal favorites is Pliny the Elder, which is ranked #14 on the Beer Advocate’s Top 250 beers in the world. It retails for $5.99 for a single 16.9 ounce bottle, or just about 35.4 cents an ounce.

This means Pliny the Elder is slightly more than 4 times the price of Budweiser. So for four times what you pay for acceptable beer, you can get one of the best beers in the world. We will refer to this ratio as the X Factor.

Pliny the Elder beer has an X Factor of 4

Now let’s perform this same exercise with dive watches.

For the baseline dive watch, I am going to select the Seiko SKX007. While they are getting a bit harder to find, at the time of this writing they are available on Amazon for $329.

For a luxury dive watch, I am going to use the Rolex Submariner. Since the Seiko SKX has a date/date complication, I think it is only fair to use the date version Rolex 116610 which has an MSRP of $8,950. The X Factor here is 27!

One Rolex Submariner costs the same as 27 Seiko SKXs

This brings us to an important question. Obviously the Rolex Submariner is a nicer watch, but is it 27 times nicer? Each and every person will have to answer this question for themselves, but I want to present one final equation:


I know this might be a weird thing to do, but it is always so clarifying to me to weigh things I like to spend money on against each other. A Rolex Submariner is the same price as me getting to drink my favorite beer once a week for almost 29 years. So now which do I choose?

Am I overthinking this? Maybe. Can you disagree with my choices? Certainly. But I invite you to calculate this X Factor between a baseline and luxury version of an item for a variety of things. But don’t stop there, you can also use it to measure just how far your money goes in one hobby versus another.

Why are you here?

An important step in surviving a watch hobby is to ask yourself an important question. Why are you collecting watches? This is distinct from being interested in watches. You can like something without possessing it. The question is why do you want so much of something that realistically you only need zero to two of?

Let me list some of the reasons I have personally found myself purchasing and/or shopping for the next watch. Feel free to check any that also apply to you:

    • I enjoy the mild endorphin drip of endlessly window shopping for the next watch.
    • I’m euphoric with the arrival of a new piece, enjoy the honeymoon period, then slowly begin to desire the thrill of the next acquisition.
    • I acted out of FOMO (fear of missing out) on that latest limited release.
    • I “needed” another watch because I don’t have a [insert watch complication, dial color, watch type, watch country of origin, etc.] watch “in the collection.”

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m afraid your watch collecting hobby (like mine) has been tainted with the specter of materialism. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it is important to be aware if part of the reason you are collecting watches is because you like buying new stuff.

It is natural to enjoy buying things, but I have found that the enjoyment you get out of buying something will fade. So before buying a new watch, try to hone in on why you want to buy that watch in particular. There are much cheaper things you can buy to derive the pleasure of buying something than watches!

The other, more nefarious side of the watch hobby you should be aware of is the “this watch will change my life” phenomenon. As much as marketers and Instagram influencers would like us to believe otherwise, owning a watch isn’t going to change who you are as a person, or magically create a change in your lifestyle. I think we all know this at a certain level, but that kind of thinking can happen to the best of us.

(For a deeper discussion around materialism, status, and satisfaction, I recommend this excellent video)

On Price Desensitization

I am generally a frugal person. I get a thrill out of shopping for bargains. I’m not afraid of a thrift store, and I will usually buy the store brand at the grocery store. You get the picture. So when I first started getting interested in watches, the prices horrified me. I knew in some abstract sense that a Rolex was expensive, but I had never bothered to look up the MSRP. I didn’t realize watches were that expensive! Not to be deterred, I broadened my search. I eventually found mechanical watches that were around $100. At the time, even that felt like a stretch, but I started to buy watches in that price range.

Then, a funny thing started to happen. As I started to obsessively shop for watches, I got more and more used to the prices. Suddenly, a $300 dive watch with the right specs seemed like a steal. Or a sub $1,000 GMT was “a lot of value for money.”

No other part of my frugal outlook has changed. I still balked at name brand milk because it was a dollar more than store brand, but somehow watches had circumvented that part of my psyche. I am very aware of the phenomenon, but it is still so strange to me. The longer I am into watches, the more desensitized I become to the prices of them. This is why I have to do the hobby comparison calculation, because somehow watches get a free pass inside of my brain.

This brings us to our next topic…

Fiscal Responsibility

As if this article wasn’t enough of a soapbox, let’s talk about finances. Now, each and every person is in a unique financial situation. That being said, utilizing a budget should be within most people’s grasp. Whether it is as simple as making a rough sketch on a piece of paper, or as complex as a transaction by transaction tracking approach – budgeting is a great practice.

When you keep track of where your money is going, you can find patterns you never realized existed. I helped a friend track all of his expenses for a month, and we discovered that his smoking habit was way more expensive than he realized for a tangential reason. Not only are cigarettes expensive, but when he went to the gas station to buy them, he always ended up buying a bunch of snacks as well. His smoking habit was also a chip, soda and candy habit. Seeing it all broken out in excel suddenly made it clear, this was something he had to change.

At its most basic, a budget is three things:

  1. Covering your current expenses
  2. Saving for future expenses
  3. and hopefully having something left over for fun

As long as your watch hobby is coming from the “something fun” category, I think you are in good shape. What worries me is all the financing options that are available for watches these days. Right next to a check out button you are greeted with options like Affirm that let you finance a purchase.

Now, I’m not against financing in general, but I don’t think it should be utilized for this hobby. I think the safest way to approach an expensive hobby like watches is to save up for the watch you want to purchase incrementally. Then making the purchase when you have all of the money to buy the watch. Not only is this going to be more satisfying, you are also not going to get yourself in a position where you buy something you can’t afford.

In closing

These are just a few observations and opinions I have made regarding watch collecting so far. I have really enjoyed this hobby and I don’t foresee it going away anytime soon. However, I have also recognized that this can be a difficult hobby to navigate. I hope some of this article resonated with you.

I would love to hear about your own experiences. Especially any tips or tricks you may have to help me (and maybe all of us) survive a watch hobby in the comments below. In the meantime, I think I’m going to drink this beer.

Follow TBWS On Instagram

 
Advertisement
   

10 thoughts on “How To Survive The Watch Hobby: Heart and Mind in Conflict”

  1. Great article. I too find myself spending too much time looking at watches and convincing myself that I will leave these items as heirlooms to my kids who will love them. In truth I think it is the thrill of the purchase that I love.

    Reply
    • Thanks! I am 100% guilty of everything in this article, including loving the thrill of new purchases. Now that I have really reflected on it, I am more aware of the way I rationalize a purchase and think twice about why I want that next watch.

      Good luck navigating the watch hobby 🙂

      Reply
  2. Jason, This was really excellent. Something we are all thinking about these days in times of uncertainty. Personally, I’m always looking for something tangible that will make me feel a little more certain about the future. Watches for some reason are doing that for me right now. Great rule of thumb for budgeting. As long as it’s something you can afford…go for it.

    Reply
    • Yes, focusing on hobbies is a great way to navigate this time of uncertainty. I have also been working on house projects and other things that I have been neglecting to try to feel productive. Stay healthy and safe!

      Reply
  3. Some great points here. One counterpoint though, relative to the example where you’re enjoying your favorite beer once a week for 29 years vs. a $9k watch—the watch will last a lifetime and you can enjoy it every waking moment that it’s on your wrist. You can’t sip beer to pass time while stuck in traffic like you can eyeing your watch. You can’t enjoy beer during your work day (well, most can’t) the same way you can a watch. When you factor in just how much enjoyment and use you get for your dollar in the world of watches, there are few if any other hobbies that can compare (IMO) and suddenly $9k on a watch you can enjoy every waking moment for a lifestyle seems like a good deal compared to one beer a week for a few decades. Food for thought.

    Reply
    • Hi Josh. Yes, this is the exact kind of analysis I was hoping to provoke. To add the cherry on top of your argument: After enjoying the watch for a lifetime from moment to moment, you can then pass it on to someone important to you. Meanwhile, the 29 years of beers will just be empty bottles (and probably a few hangovers).

      Reply
    • I like to compare the enjoyment of owning a watch to spending the same amount of money on a painting, sculpture, or a print. Both things are aesthetically pleasing and operate in the same price range (very little or an awful lot). While a watch doesn’t carry the emotional stimulus of art, it can be enjoyed constantly, in different situations, and is visually reactive to the world around you, providing a very different experience depending on lighting or even being underwater. By all means take you painting underwater, just don’t expect to take it back out.

      Reply
  4. Very good article. A really blunt honest take on what this hobby is to so many of us is refreshing and needed in the hobby sphere.
    Realizing that for me, collecting (for sure purchasing) watches was tied up with a larger, semi-subconscious pursuit of retail therapy was a real eye-opener. I’m glad you touched on it here.
    In addition to your comments on price desensitization, it’s really important to honestly ask yourself how much intangible, only-in-your-head value is worth to you. Because outside the cost of the raw materials and hours of machine and human labor (which are usually a tiny fraction of the asking price), that’s where all of your money is going for a Rolex or any other luxury watch.
    It’s not wrong to feed your head a bit, but don’t be a glutton about it and you’ll be much better off mentally and financially!

    Reply
  5. I’ve gone from not really thinking about watches at all to commenting on TBWS articles in the space of six months. On Sunday I was planning on pre-ordering the new Europe Alpinist from Fratello having it sent to my home in Ireland and then posted to me in Australia, all the while thinking that this would be a nice watch to have while I save for the Grand Seiko 9F GMT, and a Speedmaster. Last night I had a conversation about with my fiance about the whole watch collecting thing (she is equally into it) and we decided to forgo any Big Watches for a few years and focus on saving for a house. I feel like I have reclaimed thousands of dollars and a large part of my sanity back. What was I thinking? The gap between being a very frugal person generally and being ready to splash thousands on trinkets is a worrying psychological space to be in.

    PS Going to go now and order a red stingray leather strap that looks like it fell off a creature from a John Carpenter movie, but then I am DONE!

    Reply
  6. Great article Jason! I feelings and thoughts completely resonate with that of yours. I too started this journey buying my first watch from my first salary. It was a quartz watch. Later learnt about automatic watches and went on to buy my first one after 6 months research and was so happy. Kept for almost 2 years and enjoyed it every bit.

    Then got into watching YouTube channels about watches then added SARB017, SARB033 and this led to “just one more watch” cycle.. then bunch of watches became a “watch collection” that always had “some” watch missing and I tried to fill it and define it.

    Finally, I sold them all and felt liberated. I continued to just wear one watch and was very happy and after few months, wanted one vintage watch to pair up with my only watch and then this cycle started again and this time it was even bigger and went out of control.

    The way I have been able to come out is to focus on finding the perfect watch for me, which I found with Casio Oceanus S100. Since it is a quartz watch, just to balance it and add a bit of fun factor, I have paired it up with SKX009. So, these are the 2 watches I have decided to own and enjoy, these 2 reflect my personality and sings in sync with me and I am very happy with just these 2 watches.

    Two options to keep this hobby under control and enjoy is:
    Option 1: Limit your budget and never go over it.
    Option 2: Find one watch / 2 watches that you really love.

    With both these options, once you reach threshold, have a mandatory rule of “one in one out”. Ultimately, this is a hobby which is meant to bring happiness and if it is not then it is not hobby anymore.

    Thanks All.

    Happy “watch”ing! 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Comment