When did we stop buying things for fun? With everyone obsessing over the auction results for everything from art to wine, and the lemming-like mentality to buy ceramic Pepsi GMTs and special series Ferraris at ever-inflating prices, one has to wonder, was there some sort of decree from on high that we were no longer allowed to lose money on these objects that were intended to bring a degree of happiness?
I understand that the amounts of money involved are increasing all the time, and am the first to say that these assets have to be managed, like anything else that a decent chunk of our personal wealth is tied up in, but it feels like so many have forgotten the simple mantra that was forever extolled on forums in the far away time of the early 2000s: buy what you like, and like what you buy.
More and more often I am being sent messages or emails along the same lines: “I really love X, but will everyone judge me for not getting Y?” Recently, this was most clearly represented by a close friend being tortured by a fascination with diamond-set watches, and I had a front row seat to the back and forth of picking one up. The target eventually honed in on was a full diamond-set Audemars Piguet Royal Oak reference 15202 in white gold, and after days of talking it over, we both realised it was a more difficult decision than buying a Paul Newman or a Big Crown Submariner, as it was a judgement that had to be made with the heart and not the head. Of course, once that realisation had emerged it was far easier; a trip to AP House and the watch was on the wrist.
When we remove the burden of having to consider future values, and we make more of the decision by considering what makes the pulse quicken, eyes light up and a smile creep across our face, the world is a happier place. If we stop considering what others will think of us and what will garner the most likes on Instagram, we start to understand ourselves a bit better and we can really see to our own tastes and individuality.
It is through owning these objects that we can iterate our own style and find the point where we feel most comfortable, not just through the reflective warmth of other enthusiasts admiring our choices, but actually genuinely enjoying something for ourselves. There are few things that draw greater admiration than a collectors who pursues an obscure reference on its own merit for their own satisfaction, and wears it with pride and effortlessness, be it a tiny Cartier Helm, or a vast Panerai reference 6152.
The joy that can be had with watches that don’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or francs, but 1% of the sums paid for some pieces, should also not be forgotten. Be it a colourful and obscure Swatch, a 33 millimetre time-only watch from the mid-twentieth century, or an off-brand chronograph from the 1970s with a funky dial, there is a plethora of watches that don’t cost a fortune and represent a huge amount of fun. These sorts of pieces can also provide an opportunity to understand the dynamics of the market more clearly, with reduced levels of risk and less worry about potential losses, as well as playing with our own personal style, and finding out how pretentious the circle of collectors we have surrounded ourselves really are.
The mindset of focusing on investment, resulting in widespread speculation, is causing significant damage to the car market already, with many notable unsold lots at the premiere auctions over the past few months, because of the “I know what I’ve got” / “I know what it’s worth” / “that’s what I paid for it” / “this is an important example and everyone should love it” mentality from sellers. At the end of the day, something is worth what the market is willing to pay, and these things move, so making a loss is not a crime nor a sign of stupidity.
The problem is further extrapolated by many of these wonderful things not being enjoyed in the first place. If a watch has sat in a drawer, art has remained in storage, or a car has been left in a climate-controlled garage, of course you are going to be annoyed to be told that it’s now worth 10 to 20 percent less than what you paid for it. But if you have checked the time on it while waiting for a loved one to join you for an important occasion, walked past it in your hall every morning to start the day in the right mindset, or broke out in a grin as the engine has sung in your ears on an early Sunday morning drive on your favourite road, you will be far less resistant about taking a hit of depreciation if this inanimate object has bought you joy.
At the end of all of this, it has to be remembered that we are the ones that own these things, and if we are losing sleep over whether your portfolio of hard assets is depreciating or how others judge us, these objects will end up owning us. When we all start taking our sensibilities into consideration, rather than just following the herd, therefore buying with our own eyes and not our ears, the market will become more diversified and therefore more interesting, and we can all go about finding our own path to satisfaction with collecting.