COLLECTED Collected, Vol. 1, Part Two

15 min

Watch Hunters Eric Wind and Nick Biebuyck Talk Wrist Force Fields and the Dangerous 'Romance Phase'

This is part two of our collectors interview with Eric Wind and Nicholas Biebuyck.

Missed part one? Shoot back to introductions, acquisitions and a niche piece unlike any other.

TH: What, to you, makes the value of a watch? Is it the internal movements? Its rarity, its  condition, its history?  Obviously, it’s a constellation of all of those things, but which to you is the most salient?

Eric Wind: I’ll start with this one. First off, is condition and originality. How original and authentic the watch is, is very important. I’m really a sucker for unpolished cases for instance, I really like the clean sharp lines that come with an untouched case…

Nick: Eric and I have a huge amount of crossover on this – condition is a large part of the deal. Having an average example of a watch, and having a great example of a watch? They may as well be two different things, It’s all about emotive qualities. Finding a truly great unrestored watch is very, very high on the list. 

E And then provenance, of course.. Hopefully it might have a really cool story or neat background about who had it. You know, not every watch, of course, was owned by a Formula One winner…

A Yacht Timer Ref 33.512 from Eric's personal collection

TH Though it helps…. Can I ask one question just briefly, because obviously you’re both embedded in a world of collectors. Would you say that in general it feels like healthy competitiveness? Or are there elements of jealousy and envy? Like, damn, I can’t believe so and so got his hands on that one… A kind of burning!

N Ha! I mean, for me, it’s never that extreme. For me, ownership is only a very, very small part of the experience at the end of the day. The thing you find with collectors is that each of them enjoy very different things. The thrill of the chase, or the research and understanding, or the community aspect of meeting all these people. Some definitely enjoy the transactional aspect – the speculation. Others do genuinely enjoy the ownership and just want to have a great watch to wear. But in a way, more than anything, it brings people together. There might be a brief moment of frustration that you weren’t the winner, but as long as it went to someone who’s going to handle it with respect and keep it documented and preserved, that’s ok… 

TH A sense of stewardship and guardianship…

E Exactly. And actually, in terms of bringing people together, I have to say the Heuer collector community is incredibly welcoming and friendly. I went to a Heuer collector summit back in 2013 with my wife. It was one of her first introductions to the world of watches, and we still speak about it so fondly. By now, given what I do, she’s met tonnes of different collecting communities. But she still says the Heuer collectors are the nicest collectors.

TH That’s good to hear! If there’s an aspiring collector reading this, how do you start? And when do you go from being a person who has watches to being a collector? 

N My view has always been, if you’ve got more than one watch, then you’re a collector – whether you’re in denial about it or not. But I mean, if you’re talking about being a scholarly collector? It’s the times when you look down at your watch and it’s 2am in the morning and you’re still reading a forum post about some tiny detail, or ordering books from the other side of the world for hundreds of pounds to feed your habit. By that point, you’re probably fairly well into the collector territory…

 

An Autavia 1163 from Nick's personal collection

TH I’d say that sounds like a fair description. 

E Yeah, I think once you start trying to really study, they could be studying variances with your own watch, or you’re thinking about your next acquisition and beginning to learn about it, then you become a collector. The study aspect, rather than just going and buying something without thought. 

TH And so I imagine that would be your advice to somebody wanting to start a collection? To really research before making their earliest acquisitions…. 

E You’ve got to figure out what you like, what speaks to you. I always encourage people to take baby steps. 

N Agreed. When you’re collecting watches you’re going to make mistakes at some point, it’s just a question of how expensive that mistake is going to be. It’s fine when you’re making mistakes that relate to a few hundred euros. But when you’ve had friends who’ve made mistakes at hundreds of thousands of euros? Baby steps are best at first.

TH: Both of you have children – are you conscious of whether and how this passion that you have for watches will be passed onto the next generation?

N I’ve already got pictures of my two-year-old flicking through auction catalogs and pointing out what he likes and what he doesn’t like. We live in Hong Kong, and there are watch shops everywhere, and he’ll always stop and point. He even recognizes brand logos as we’re going down the street. And, of course, It’s all by osmosis. It’s not like I’m sitting down and grilling him on reference numbers, and what the different complications are… 

Nick's Blackbird Watch Manual Vol.1

TH: You can speak freely here… 

N [Laughs] But, you know, it’s so interesting. They’re mechanical objects – fundamentally, they’re cold lumps of metal – but yet they are such a great vehicle for sharing and communicating. 

E My son Charlie loves it too. We look at books together and he points out what he likes or not. It’s funny. He really likes bling. Gold bracelets and diamonds.

TH How old is Charlie?

E He’s 6. He’s always like, can you get that golden watch? It’s got to have the golden bracelet. It’s really funny because it’s not my style at all. But I respect him for it and support it. My daughter Lena is really getting into it too. I feel like she might even be more of a watch lover than Charlie – I can just tell the way she puts on a watch and wears it with pride. Charlie will wear a watch for like 10 minutes and then want to take it off because he doesn’t like the feeling on his wrist. 

TH Unless it’s gold of course

E Exactly. But Lena will want to wear something for hours and be so proud to show me. It’s really, really cute. 

TH  If they become teenagers with a really strong interest in watches, what seminal text would you recommend? Do you have a favourite Watches for Beginners bible? 

N [There’s a book published by a British specialist called Alex Barter called Watches, which is probably the best overview. There’s also Stephen Pulvirent Gene Stone’s The Watch – 

E And on the Heuer front, I like Jack Heuer’s book The Times of My Life. But what’s the best book overall? Like I said before, you have to pick what you’re interested in first. And then there are great things about any brand and model basically that exist out there. 

The Watch written by Alexander Barter

TH Tell us if you’d rather this be kept secret, but how many watches do you own today? 

N I subscribe to the rule that once you’re north of twenty, there’s no point in counting anymore. I have this dream of being down to sixteen watches and I think it will happen in due course, but I’m not quite there yet. 

TH And what’s your relationship with wearing? Do you take these watches out for trips? Are there certain watches that you would never wear? 

E I basically feel anything in my collection I should wear. If I’m not, I should probably sell it. That’s a key point for me. There are no safe queens. I had this one new old stock watch that I felt bad wearing. And then I just said, well, I’m just going to wear it carefully and enjoy it. Just a couple of times a year! But I felt better about keeping it once I did that, because it was just kind of frustrating sitting there looking at the watch and not wearing it.

TH With a watch like that, are you aware of it – like a kind of forcefield around your wrist? 

E Yeah, I think I am especially careful. You’re going to want to wear a long sleeve with something like that… What about you, Nick? 

N Yeah, I’m firmly of the belief that watches are made to be worn and cars are made to be driven. So I’m very much of the opinion that if you’re not wearing it, there’s very little point in having it. Luckily I’ve managed to project this idea to a number of the collectors that I work with regularly – and a lot lend me truly preposterous things to wear around for a while because, you know, actually wearing is a very, very different experience to having a watch for an hour. You can form a certain impression having it for a few hours, and then form totally another impression having it for days or weeks at a time. It really changes your feeling towards it. 

TH We’re really interested in that difference between two hours vs. two weeks. Is it that the watch becomes part of your emotional life or just your daily-ness? Why is the difference in experience so big? 

N It’s like what Eric was saying about his new old stock watch. Generally at first, you’re very cautious about the watch that you’re wearing. It affects how you’re holding your arm, how you walk through doors. The way you keep your sleeves rolled down etcetera. But then after a few days, you start to understand where the watch is in relation to your body. It’s like driving a new car. When you’re driving a new car it’s really difficult to park and you don’t know how big it is. The same goes with a watch. At first, you don’t really know where your boundaries are for it. But then, once you’ve kind of got over that, you can be a lot more carefree as you wear it.

A Carrera 1153 from Nick's personnal collection

TH: It becomes part of your physicality, I guess. Rather than an additional limb that’s unwieldy in some way… 

N: Yeah, exactly. It feels a part of you after a fairly short period of time, but you have to get past that first barrier, you know? I’m not ashamed to say that that normally involves scratching the watch. You’ve got to kind of bump it along the edge of a desk, or whatever it requires. But once you’ve done it the first time, you’re like, OK, that’s it. It’s done. 

TH:  We are one now. 

N Exactly. We’ve inflicted injuries on each other. Financial and cosmetic. We’re good.

TH Has there ever been a watch that you sourced for someone else that you’ve actually been unable to part with? 

E Basically every nice watch that I buy, I go through a couple hour period where I say I want to keep it. My wife Christine always jokes with me: ‘are you in your romance phase?’

N I think we’re both quite lucky that we can actually go out chasing other people as well. Because the thrill of the chase is so much fun. The research, the studying. Analyzing the marketplace, getting to know the core players in a particular reference or a particular field. Tracking down the families of drivers. Thank God I have some friends who trust me to help them on that journey, because otherwise it’s hard to keep pace. 

TH Do you think you’ve secured along the way the kind of detective skills that would allow you to transfer them and solve crimes and things like that? I’m kind of joking, but at the same time, there is so much detective work involved!

N I mean, the Getty Images archives has proved invaluable for finding watches, and confirming provenance. Even to the point of identifying the particular version of the bezel, or the dial that’s fitted. That kind of discovery is super, super rewarding. 

E Yes, it is. I’m not sure it’s transferable to crime-solving just yet, but it is limitlessly fascinating. Putting the puzzles together, making the discoveries. At least a few times a year, I have a couple of nights where I can’t sleep because I’ve got an amazing watch coming to me and I’m so excited to see it. I’m genuinely following the FedEx tracking to see when it’s coming, and I’m studying, studying, studying before it comes. It’s a great feeling. 

TH Speaking  of new arrivals, what’s next? Are you hunting a specific piece right now for your own collection? 

E I think I’m always in the hunt mode. Both as a dealer and as a collector. You’re constantly thinking about what’s next.

TH For the narrative arc of this interview, it would be really great if you could both reveal at exactly the same moment that you’re on the hunt for the same watch simultaneously… 

N And then embark on an Indiana Jones style race across the world? It’s possible! We’re both simultaneously chasing one of the McQueen 1133Bs that hasn’t come to market yet. So get ready, Eric… 

These two watch connoisseurs gave us a taste for the chase, and an insight into the incredible expertise involved in discovering the rarest and most refined of horological treasures.  We left our conversation with a renewed admiration for the hunters, the detectives, the romantics and the explorers – hats off (and watches on) to the collectors!