“I Wear My Rolex into the Sea”: 4 Watch Collectors on Why You Should Wear Your Luxury Watch

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Image: Stephanie Soh, Deborah Wong, Andrew Low, John Lee

The other night, I came across a YouTube video of John Mayer interviewing Ed Sheeran about his watch collection. The video was over an hour long and I told myself I’d just watch the first 5–10 minutes. Before I knew it, half an hour had passed—I was hooked.

At around the 16:40 mark, Mayer brings our attention to Sheeran’s Audemars Piguet White Ceramic QP Piece Unique. In non-horological plain English, that’s a very valuable watch from a very reputable watchmaker (it’s one of the Holy Trinity) that AP customised for Sheeran, making his bespoke piece the only one of its kind in the world.

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Image: Hodinkee

“I wanted this to be a watch that I could wear forever and remember the last 13 years of my career,” explains Sheeran, who at the time was on his global + – = ÷ × Tour—each mathematical symbol represents one of his studio albums. Thus was born a watch with mathematical symbols on its rotor and each of its 6 hands a different colour to represent a different album. As a final touch, two numbers on the dial are red to represent his daughters’ birthdays. 

“And I also love […] [that] it’s pretty well-worn,” Mayer observes. “I actually think there are scratches on it? And little chips?”

“I mean, I wear it a lot,” Sheeran shrugs off.

Ding! This was a lightbulb moment for me. Many of us shelve luxury watches in the same category as cars and musical instruments—getting a good one is a big monetary investment, and we do our best to avoid dropping/scratching/denting these items after purchase.

But here’s the problem. There is only one way to keep a watch in pristine condition: never wear it. Keep it locked away at home in the box it came in. This comes at a heavy cost—for just like how cars are meant to be driven and guitars are meant to be played, watches are meant to be worn.

I spoke to 4 watch enthusiasts about the delight they take in wearing their luxury watches versus the risks of getting them scratched. Is donning a luxury watch joy or jeopardy? Let’s find out.

 

“Every scratch, every dent, and every ding is a memory.”

There are two camps in the world of watch collectors. One camp buys a shiny new watch and never takes it out of its box. There it sits, unworn and unused for years until it’s sold off. These folks prioritise the collectability of the watch, and naturally want the watch to be flawless when it changes hands.

The other camp believes in getting scars. They’re going to buy the watch and slap it on their wrists because, as our resident watch collector John Lee (not his real name) puts it, “every scratch, every dent, and every ding is a memory. It’s a part of you and your journey. So I actually like my watches a little beaten—sort of like battle scars.” You can guess which camp John is on.

John apologised for sounding kinda fluffy, but I love his choice of words. I agree with him—it’s a watch to be worn, not a trophy to be displayed.

Plus, if you buy a watch for yourself and not just for the cash, you know it won’t be money going to waste.

“If you’re investing in yourself, you’ll wear the watch and enjoy it over the years,” John says, evidently from his firsthand experience. “If you’re looking at how the watch serves you from an emotional standpoint, then it’s very investable. And a luxury watch is something that will last; it will never go out of fashion.”

Get John’s best recommendations for entry-level watches here: The Best Entry-Level Luxury Watches to Buy in a Falling Market—Top Picks From Our Resident Watch Collector

 

“I wear my Rolex into the sea.”

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Stephanie diving in the Maldives with her Rolex Submariner (Image: Stephanie Soh)

Few images embody the idea of wearing your luxury watch as well as this one: the classy, polished Stephanie Soh, co-founder of female watch appreciation community TickTockBelles, diving into deep water with her Rolex.

“I just use it as it’s meant to be used,” Stephanie shrugs. “There’s no point just keeping it in the safe and not using it. I think that actually defeats the purpose of buying a timepiece—the timepiece is meant to be worn on your wrist and used to tell the time off.”

At this point, I want to make 2 admissions. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that wear and tear does cause a watch’s condition to deteriorate. This in turn negatively affects its resale value. Secondly, these days, watches are fashion statements as much as they are time-telling devices. But to this, Stephanie has a rebuttal: if all you want to do is keep your watch in a safe, what’s the point of buying it in the first place?

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Stephanie diving in Bora Bora with her Rolex Explorer II (Image: Stephanie Soh)

“If you really want to keep something that appreciates in a safe, then go and buy a gold bar with the same value of money. That one confirm will appreciate over time!” Stephanie says with a laugh.

So if you exclusively want to buy a watch as an investment piece, then yes, you’re probably not going to wear it. But if you’re thinking about straddling the 2, then keep reading—the section after next might be helpful.

Read my first interview with Stephanie and Deborah of TickTockBelles here: Is The Best Men’s Luxury Watch To Invest In…A Women’s Watch?

 

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“They want to be loved.”

Deborah Wong, the other half of the duo that founded TickTockBelles, believes that anyone with a collection of watches should give each timepiece the airtime it deserves. 

“I always tell people that if you have a watch that you’re actually not rotating to, that you’re not wearing, why do you have that watch?” Deborah points out.

In such cases, usually the watch collector (1) has more watches than they can wear, even if they regularly swap them around; or (2) has watches that simply aren’t at the top of their mind. I think we’ve all experienced at least one of these phenomena before—just think about the clothes in your wardrobe that have rarely ever seen the light of day.

Deborah goes on to raise 2 additional points.

The first is pragmatic: if a watch is just staying in its watch box, its cost per wear will become really high. This lesson was seared into my brain when I bought a pair of high heels for a school ceremony that I wore a grand total of 2 times in 6 years, after which I discovered that the material had started to flake off in a most unappealing and unforgiving manner. 

The second point Deborah made was more sentimental. Simply put, watches deserve to be worn. 

One watch that Deborah wears frequently is her Cartier Tank Française reference 2384, which is discontinued model. Her husband gifted hers to her last Christmas.

“I usually reach for this watch when rushing to the office because it is quartz and needs no time adjustment,” Deborah explains. “I also treat it as my stylish beater during casual days as I can stack it with other accessories since the Française is in size small and I can do so tastefully.”

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Deborah’s Cartier Tank Française reference 2384, a model which has been discontinued. Deborah tells us that you can find them readily available in the preloved market, particularly in Japan. (Image: Deborah Wong)

“I do actually have watches that are sitting in a box. But for some sentimental reason, I just can’t let them go,” Deborah confesses. “And then one day, I find that the last time that I wore this watch was 6 or 9 months ago!”

One watch that Deborah loves but doesn’t wear often is a vintage Oris Pointer Date she “inherited” from her father.

“I accidentally found it while rummaging through his watch boxes. Shamelessly I told him the watch would come home with me!” Deborah tells me. “While one may not consider it to be a luxury watch from a monetary value point of view, the sentimental value is immeasurable.”

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Deborah’s vintage Oris Pointer Date (Image: Deborah Wong)

Stephanie also has a watch she hardly wears but won’t let go of—a Patek Philippe Luce Singapore Limited Edition bought as a pair with the 5167-012.

 

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A post shared by Stephanie Soh (@bubbasteph)

“It’s special because it’s my couple watch and also a remembrance of the time we had at the Grand Exhibition in Singapore, where we had dinner with Thierry Stern,” Stephanie explains. She’s referring to the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition in Singapore that was held in 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, at which she dined with Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern.

Stephanie intends to pass this watch on to one of her daughters, while the other will receive get her Patek Philippe 5065. It’s a romantic notion, and one very fitting for the company’s slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

We can all allow ourselves some sentimentality. There’s nothing wrong with that. But generally, Deborah would encourage people to try their best to rotate watches around for a simple reason: “They want to be loved,” Deborah says.

Read my second interview with Stephanie and Deborah of TickTockBelles here: Why All Watches are Unisex, and Why Tiny is the New Big

 

But what if I just don’t like scratching my watch?

I hear you. Yes every dent is a memory, but there are some memories we would rather not remember. And no matter what, you’re probably going to wince if/when you scuff your watch against something.

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Meet Andrew, a former real estate agent for 15 years and longtime watch enthusiast. He opened his watch business Centurion Luxury during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew Low is the owner of Centurion Luxury, a watch business that helps people source for their favourite time pieces. He understands why people might worry about scuffing up their watches: “As a watch lover, I would do my best to take care of a watch. Not only is it a big ticket item, but to some watch owners, the sentimental value and history might mean more to them than just money.” 

That doesn’t mean Andrew thinks watches should remain in their box. In fact, the 2 watches Andrew wears most frequently, a Rolex Daytona with meteorite dial and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Rubber Clad, are what his clients call “scratch magnet watches”. The magnet in question? Gold.

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Andrew’s yellow gold Rolex Daytona with a meteorite dial (left) and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Rubber Clad in rose gold (right)

“Gold is generally very soft and gets scratched very easily,” Andrew explains. “But these watches have been discontinued and I would prefer to enjoy them as much as I can rather than keeping them away.”

Andrew is an advocate for wearing your watch, but also doing your best to protect it from wear and tear. For him, that comes in the form of a clear protective film (homegrown brand Centurion Watch Protect) that’s applied to watches—sort of like how most of us get screen protectors for our mobile phones. 

“I have customers who won’t wear their watch unless it has our film on them. It gives them a sense of security,” Andrew tells me. He even has one customer who once brought almost 30 watches to Andrew to get them fixed with the protective film. To this day, this customer and his wife check if Andrew has the films for a particular watch model before they purchase it.

 

Liking your watch = wearing your watch

Deborah’s top tip for getting a watch is to think about your lifestyle and choose a watch you’ll wear often. Imagine wearing it. If you know you’re going to fret and worry when it’s on your wrist and you’re out and about (with or without a protective film on it), then maybe give that watch a miss for now.

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Image: John Lee

For John, perhaps the watch he wears the most is his IWC Perpetual Calendar. It’s elegant but subtle, shiny without being blingy. In John’s words, it’s an everyday watch, and its unassuming appearance belies a really cool mechanism (called a “complication” in watchspeak) within it.

Perpetual calendars are a marvel. You don’t have to change the month displayed, ever—it even accounts for leap years. Everything is already calibrated, including the moon phase, year, month, day, and date. The watch will basically run itself until 2100, when what’s meant to be a leap year isn’t one.

“A watchmaker will have to replace some parts to calibrate it. But other than that, it will keep running all the way. I’m not concerned though, because I’ll be dead by 2100!” John chuckles, and I find myself laughing along in shared dark humour.

I’m highlighting John’s IWC here because I think it shows us an important takeaway. I’ve spoken to several collectors now—from Barbie dolls to typewriters—and I’ve found that the favourite items are the ones the collector uses the most. In other words, wearing your luxury watch and liking your luxury watch go hand in hand.

 

Personal meaning is perpetual.

The watch you like the most and wear the most doesn’t have to be your flashiest or most expensive piece, it just has to mean something—usually quite profound—to you.

“My IWC Perpetual Calendar Chronograph is a very special watch to me,” John tells me. “I’ve always wanted a perpetual calendar, but when I was growing up, I couldn’t afford it.”

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In 1941, Patek’s legendary reference 1526 became the first perpetual calendar wristwatch series. This piece is from 1951 and sold at auction at Christie’s for USD 106,250 in 2017. (Image: Christie’s)

This type of complication isn’t easy to get your hands on. Patek Philippe was the first to create a wristwatch with a perpetual calendar, but IWC was the first brand to offer a serial production perpetual calendar at a more affordable price. A perpetual calendar chronograph from Patek Phillippe will cost you anywhere from $150,000 to $220,000. IWC’s with the same complication will cost you about a tenth of the price. 

“I managed to find some money in 2013, and tracked it down to a German dealer in Munich. We were able to agree on the price, and it was as good as new when I bought it,” John tells me with a touch of pride.

As I take in the watch in front of me and the story behind it, I make an observation aloud: “It feels almost like you achieved something with that.”

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Image: John Lee

 

My final thoughts

A lot of the best things in life get worn out. Your comfiest T-shirt. Your trusty, well-beaten wok. Your favourite watch.

f you want to buy something (physical) for purely investment purposes, Stephanie is right—you’re better off buying a gold bar.

But if you’re buying a luxury watch you intend to wear, go all in. By all means, protect your watch and try your best not to scratch it, but don’t sweat it if/when you do. Your watch is a timepiece, and it’s going to reflect the passage of time as much as it will tell the time. Don’t be afraid of making memories!

 

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About the author

Vanessa Nah is a personal finance content writer who pens articles on the ins and outs of savings accounts, the T&Cs of credit cards, and the ups and downs of alternative investments. She’s a researcher at heart and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down complex finance concepts and making them easy to understand for the everyday Singaporean. When Vanessa’s not debunking finance myths, you’ll find her attending dance classes, fingerpicking a guitar, or (most impawtently) fulfilling her life mission to make her one-eyed cat the most spoiled and loved kitty in the world.