The Comprehensive Guide to Kick-Starting a Serious Watch Collection

A worthy watch portfolio begins with steel.
IMAGE Jose Carrasco via Unsplash

Looking to build a respectable luxury watch collection? If you've got a couple million bucks just languishing under your bed, then it should be easy to select a few essential pieces for your watch winders. But, where's the fun in that? However, if your start-up hasn't gone IPO yet or you're just a working stiff like most of us, chances are, you don't have that kind of scratch to spare.

Building something of true value, including a collection that you can look back at with a sense of pride when you hit the twilight of your years, takes time and effort. If you want to create a timepiece collection that you can lovingly dote over for years to come, you've got to lay the proper foundation. Here's how to do it.  

Collect to Select
What is the purpose of a collection if not to bask in the variety of choice? When starting out, you could go for a single high-end purchase. But you might not follow that up until you complete the mortgage payments you took out to afford that Patek Philippe. No, one or two pieces do not a collection make. Unless you are the scion of a political family who can buy an AP Royal Oak on a whim, it might be best to go for something that requires a little less commitment.

Consider that, as a beginner, you're still calibrating your horologic compass. You might discover that your first watch purchase doesn't really fit your lifestyle or match your personality. It might not be what you expected, like a date that didn't go as planned. You fall head-over-heels for that Submariner at first sight, but then you find that it's a bit too predictable and so you start looking for someone, er, something that's more complicated.


Go for the Accessible
To suss out what you want, what you really, really want in a watch, consider more accessible pieces. This means exploring the base ranges of your preferred luxury watch manufactures, going for less obvious brands, or delving into the pre-loved market. These generally won't break the bank with a sledgehammer. You can try more pieces and even let some go if they don't work out. “Set a budget,” encourages watch enthusiast Dr. Leo Fores
. This gives you a bit of discipline when it comes to purchasing, so you don't go overboard. Keep the mindset that you will be working your way up, sooner or later.

For starters, look to steel watches. Steel is unpretentious, practical, and doesn't hobble you with the unnecessary (for now) expense that precious metals bring. A watch with a case of stainless steel will cost you far less than a version in rose gold festooned with diamonds, obviously. Vintage is also a good bet. A piece with a bit of history takes a personality of its own and is a great conversation starter. The small dings and scratches, these add character. The Japanese call this wabi-sabi, says watch collector Raphael Lao, or the acceptance of “ageing as part of the history and story of the piece.”

Listen to the Call
Sure, find a watch that you can reasonably afford, but more important, find something that speaks to you, a timepiece that lulls you into submission with the soft hypnotic patter of its second hand. Remember, the watch that adorns your wrist is not just for telling time. It is a personal statement that identifies you as an individual of distinct style and single-minded taste. You're the one wearing the watch, not your friends, family, or co-workers. You like what you like, and as long as you back up your preferences with your own internal justifications, nobody has a right to tell you that what you're wearing is crap. Unless of course, it is crap, a monstrosity from a factory in China that pretends to be all-original. Then it deserves calling out.

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Develop Your Information Network
To better inform your purchases, find folks who will aid and abet you in your determined quest to fill up your watch drawer with keepers. Veteran collectors are a treasure trove of good advice and information for beginners and will enthusiastically guide you along the way. “Do your research,” Fores continues. “Do not be afraid to ask more knowledgable people. Be open to pre-owned and pre-loved pieces, but if you are buying a pre-owned watch, ‘Buy the Seller.’ This means the seller has a reputation to protect.” Know who you're buying from. If you are getting a secondhand piece, have someone familiar with the brand inspect the merch.

Watch forums like the, the many groups on social media, and the regular meetups in places like Makati Cinema Square are good places to tap into. And it's not just information that may be gleaned. These groups are also a valuable source for leads for watches that you are seeking out.

Starter Pieces to Consider
When it comes to Swiss brands, it's almost inevitable that a beginner watch collector consider a Rolex
as part of a starter collection. The brand is a household name, instantly recognizable as something to aspire for. And while the knee-jerk recommendation is a new Rolex Submariner, at upwards of P350,000, it may not be within the easy reach of a newbie. “A secondhand Submariner 14060M will already fetch between P200,000 and P250,000,” says vintage collector Michael Chiu. “A beginner might not want to shell out that kind of money.”


While Swiss-made might be the widely accepted gold standard when it comes to collecting watches, don't count out watches made elsewhere, especially when you're starting out. Countries like Japan, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have strong watchmaking traditions and their brands deserve a closer look.

For instance, talk to many collectors and they will point to Seiko as a great foundation from which to build your watch collection. These run the entire range, from mass-produced yet iconic models to the upper-crust models from the Grand Seiko line. Orient is another Japanese watch brand that has a strong following among collectors. Known as a watchmaker's watch, Orient produces high-quality mechanical watches typically sans frills.

Based on conversations with local watch enthusiasts, we've come up with a quick list of watches for your consideration. However, in truth, there are many watches from so many different brands out there that deserve a spot in your starting lineup. Collections can go many different ways and it's entirely up to you to shape how it grows. So long as you keep the passion alive, that collection will indeed grow.

1| “Pogue”


One of the more sought after vintage Seikos, the single register chronograph Seiko 6139-600X, a.k.a. the "Pogue," was the first ever automatic watch to be used in space. “It earned the nickname because the export model with the iconic golden-yellow dial was used by Col. William Pogue in the Skylab 4 mission,” says Lao. This wasn't some high-end NASA-certified chronometer, but Seiko's first attempt at manufacturing a mass-produced automatic chronograph. Pogue brought it as part of his personal kit and used it to time engine burns. “The JDM (Japan Domestic Model) models are quite hard to find, but the export models are still easy to find through resellers or collectors who catch and release pieces to build their collections. The export model Pogue ranges from around P13,000 to P17,000.”

2| “Panda”

Lao also recommends the Seiko 6138-8020, a double register chronograph from the 1970s, fondly known among collectors as the “Panda,” it features a metallic white dial with beautiful striations surrounding two dark gray subdials. These fetch between P40,000 to P50,000 due to its rarity and demand among collectors.


3| Seiko Diver SKX007

A third Seiko reco comes by way of journalist and Seiko enthusiast, Jing Magsaysay. “[The Seiko SKX007] is the quintessential Seiko icon. It costs around P8,000, and is good for a depth of 200 meters and virtually bulletproof. A Seiko that any Seiko collector, or watch collector for that matter, should own.” This ISO-grade dive watch belongs to a line of Seiko dive watches that began in the mid-1960s, featuring a classic bombproof design with no extraneous elements. This watch was built to last.

4| Orient Star Classic


If something dressy is more your style, then the Orient Star Classic deserves your consideration. At 38.5mm, it doesn't sit big on the wrist. Its domed crystal and elegant dial make for a discreet piece that will work well with a suit. The 40-hour power reserve is displayed just under the 12 o’clock index.

5| Rolex Datejust

Instead of a Submariner, Chiu recommends the more accessible Rolex Datejust: “You can get a vintage 16014 Datejust from P120,000 to P140,000. Or the semi modern 16234, with a sapphire crystal and modern movement. These range from P150,000 to P200,000, depending on the dial design.” The Datejust is among Rolex's earliest models, harking back to 1945, and the first automatic watch that displayed an automatic changing date.

6| Rolex Explorer II


An alternative to the Datejust might be what Chiu refers to as a sleeper model. “Collectors don't go for it because they always go for the Submariner. It’s the 16570 Explorer II. For around the price of P180,000 to P220,000, you get a great watch, and a GMT function.” The Explorer II was originally released in 1971 as a model designed for cave explorers. The updated 16570 reference was released in 1989.

7| Omega Speedmaster

For a budget of P200,000, “the best watch you can get retail is the Omega Speedmaster,” says Dr. Fores. “It's a timeless classic which can be worn with anything. It is the same design from 1969.” While the Speedmaster Professional is qualified for use in space, the watch was originally designed to time racing and sports events.

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Karlo Samson
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