Why I sold off most of my $50,000 watch collection
Ah... delayed gratification.
One of the pillars of value investing that consists of only 20 characters but also one of the hardest to consistently follow.
This is my journey of how I came to spend a 5-digit figure on luxury watches, then sold it all....
I never knew it back then, but it's obvious now looking back that, even from a young age, I've always had a love for horology. I have a small box of watches that I have been buying since I was young. Sometimes I still take them out for a look down memory lane. There's that cartoon hero watch, a Casio Edifice, and a Seiko, a Mao Zedong watch, and my Longines (free from mum's credit card promotion), it's clear that I've gone through different phases of my watch collection hobby.
During my JC days especially, I started becoming mildly obsessed with space travel, astronautical engineering and just generally wanted to be an astronaut. It comes as no surprise then that I developed a strong love and obsession for the Omega Speedmaster (a.k.a. THE moon watch), which I still find to be one of the most sexiest chronographs ever made:
I mean, what's not to love about a watch that literally saved the Apollo 13 mission during the reentry burn? For those not in the know, a chronograph is basically a manual stopwatch. Apollo 13's oxygen tank exploded and the astronauts aborted mission and had to navigate back to Earth. The big, big problem was that they way were off course from Earth and, at the wrong angle, would bounce off the atmosphere as they tried to re-enter with no hope of ever returning back to Earth. To get themselves out of that situation, and with all controls switched off (including the onboard computer) to preserve power, they had to manually time a 14-second precise burn, in order to properly orientate themselves for re-entry. Needless to say, the Omega Speedmaster did its job and saved the day.
With a wonderful story like that, wouldn't you want to also own this watch?
As I was still young then, this hobby laid dormant for many years as I dabbled in many other things: guitars, photography, etc.
Fast forward to almost 15 years later, and I suddenly remembered my old love for the Omega Speedmaster. And I also remembered that I could actually afford one now. I looked at how much the watch cost, took a look at my bank account, and went: well damn, I could afford A LOT of it now! That got me really excited and the hunt was on.
After searching around, I finally got my Omega watch, and I cannot describe the happiness that came with it. Finally, I bought for myself something that was not only nice, but the watch that I've been wanting to get since I was a teenager. What a feeling!
However, as with all things, this feeling soon faded and I wanted to see what and how it would feel owning other watches. After all, I still had a pretty health bank balance and I was at full throttle in my passion for horology. Most of my free time were taken up by browsing watch forums, reading up on horology history, and watching beautifully made watch review videos.
Also, there were some discussion in watch forums about how watches could be a form of alternative investment vehicles. That got me excited. Hey, I'll still doing investments what, only that I'd be able to actually hold it in my hands... so I'll be quite safe lah! While I do feel that it could be considered as one, my view on how the market sees and treats watches are very much a bubble in nature. This topic by itself can be a lengthy blog post, one that I may write in the future.
Fast forward again by about 3 months and I found myself having a small but pretty desirable watch collection: 3 Rolexes, 1 Tudor, and 1 Omega.
I realised that I only had 1 arm to wear my watch on, and so I started being atas and wearing watches based on how I would feel that day. Of course, I had to be tactful to my colleagues and not be a show-off.
Feeling that I may have overspent a bit, I felt a bit guilty, and decided to trim down on my collection. I eventually settled on my Rolexes, and eventually sold the other 2 (one for a small profit and the other at cost price).
My watch portfolio was then reduced by about 30%. The Rolex watches were the heavy hitters but the ones I love the most. Barring the fact that they are luxury items, I love how their built factor could potentially allow the watch to be heirlooms and last a long, long time. One of the Rolex watches was a 30 year vintage (previously owned by a USAF airforce pilot, then sold to a surgeon) which still perform to the highest level of expectation, and still showed no sign of giving up.
However, as the months went on, I felt that my lifestyle, and my character, didn't really fit how the watch felt on my wrist. You know how most people tend to think that when someone wears a Rolex watch, he's a successful guy? I didn't want to be the guy that everyone talks (or gossips) about. Whenever I put it on, I started to feel more like a poseur than someone who was successful. Throwing so much money into an ostentatious hobby did not feel like a successful decision on my part, especially when I was still in the early stages of wealth accumulation.
In short, I wanted out.
As such I decided to keep the cheaper, and most subtle Rolex timepiece I had. This was one without any complication (i.e. no bells and whistles apart from actually telling the time). This was a watch I could relate to, and is one that has grown to be a joy to wear every single day. This was my me watch.
After listing the other Rolex watch for a few months, I finally sold the other Rolex watch to an interested party for a slight loss, which is a seemingly stupid decision, but vintage pieces tend to have lower liquidity than the more popular modern models and I did not want to wait for a better deal anymore. After all, the advert was posted for almost a year before I had a serious seller (who paid fully in Benjamins a.k.a US dollar bills). Regardless, there were no regrets at all as I felt a weight off my shoulders after the deal was done.
And so, I now only have 1 timepiece, and zero interest in owning another one in the near future.
Sure, the Patek Philippes are crazy, crazy awesome, and I would like to own one one fine day... but only once everything else is settled into place. I don't want to drop big bucks again and then regret the decision in months or years after that. Even though it was a slight loss overall, there is still the opportunity cost to be taken into account, if I had used this money to invest in equity instead.
So, there's that. Delayed gratification.
The big lesson at the end of the day isn't that buying watches is in itself an inherently bad thing. It's not. I never regretted owning the watches as now I know how it feels like to have a nice watch on my wrist. Nor is it about buying anything expensive, like a Mercedes Benz or a BMW.
The lesson rather, is this: Distractions happen. That's okay. Just remember to have the courage to admit you messed up, do some backtracking, and then jump right back onto the well-worn path. And trod on.
UPDATE: This post was written back in 2020, and I have since sold off my last Rolex since I also felt guilty owning such an expensive watch (~$10,000) when I could be investing that amount in the stock market. I eventually bought an IWC for 'cheap', along with a customized Seiko, and an Apple SE (free from credit card promo). Although I still catch myself going on Carousell to look at watches periodically, I am still able to stop myself from splurging on a deal. Hopefully, this keeps on. :-)