Shaun Wainstein: The evolution of watch collector dialogue on the internet and social media has really changed in the last 20 years. Now that Instagram is the main tool for showing and discussing watches, we lost a bit of the reference nature of the old web forums because Instagram is a bit less permanent. Facebook as well, it’s not quite the same. The web forums allowed collectors to research things and there are many examples of watches which collectors initially thought were fake but turned out to be correct. A good example is the Skipperera that people thought was fake and turned out to be right.
Nicholas Biebuyck: Even the black Monaco. Not long ago there were still people very much questioning the authenticity and reality of the watch,but it’s clearly there. You raise a really interesting point, it’s a topic we’ve discussed a lot recently between ourselves, and with a few others in the community – which is how things have evolved. Back in the day we had email lists, then we moved to the forums, and today we’re in the world of social media. Particularly Instagram seems to have been invented for watch collecting because they’re the right size on the screen and you can make them look really good. What are your feelings and memories of the past within the social aspect of the community, and what do you think of the current state of play?
SW: I think that we lost a bit of the research because you could do, before it was a fashionable word, crowdsourced research. So, we lost that a bit. I mean, what you gain is a very global community, you get a lot of people who don’t really know the insider collectors. And suddenly, you get a lot of response. I posted a gray PVD Autavia from the eighties. This thing, for people who don’t know, no collectors particularly care about it, they were like “Yeah, it’s a watch Heuer made towards the end of the eighties.” But this thing was wildly popular on Instagram. It’s got the most likes, people from the Middle East, from Asia like, “What’s that watch? I’ve never seen one of those before.” So that part is good: new people finding out about old watches. So yeah, that is good.
NB: I think that component is really wonderful, and I love the fact that we all exchange messages on Instagram. We can see all of this coverage, but then there’s also a real lack of permanence, particularly in the comment sections where we often see really vital information appearing – and not being able to preserve it. I guess that’s one of the minor challenges. But leading on from that, how do you feel like the community has changed over the years? Because you’ve been around it for decades now, together with the likes of Jeff Stein. Where do you see the evolution? Have many players stuck around? Are there lots of new faces?
SW: I think it evolved. Part of it evolved with the cost of the watches, because in the beginning, they were pretty cheap –in the early 2000s, it was a couple of hundred. You could gamble, and if you got it wrong and the watch wasn’t good “OK, fine, it was a couple of hundred.” So it could be more amateurish in a way. I mean, people were very serious, so “amateurish” is the wrong word, but it was more driven by enthusiasm. I think when there was more publicity about Heuer, vintage Heuer especially, some people jumped on the bandwagon thinking “This is an investment”. But I don’t think it’s a good way to approach a watch – it should be because you love it. But I think those people have left the community. And it’s still a community of people who are really passionate about it – they love cars, they love the history of Heuer. There’s aviation and space history as well, yachting; I love the yachting watches. So even if it evolved and became a bit more serious, let’s say… but that love is still there. And when you sit with the collectors, people don’t necessarily talk about the investment. They talk about, “Oh my God, that dial variation, they used that in that race…”, people are really into the fun of it.
NB: Yeah. I’ve been lucky enough to be around quite a few of these different communities in the watch collecting world over the years. And as you say, a lot of it is hyper-focussed on “This has to be correct and if it’s not correct, then it’s wrong.” But then you get a story like the Shauntavia, and you see that the whole community is prepared to evolve their opinions and look at things anew. And the other big component is hardly anyone talks about the money most of the time; because a lot of the watches that we handle, they are valuable in a sense, let’s say 5,000 to 10,000 francs for something really, really interesting in the world of Heuer. But when we’re looking at the stuff that’s deep into six figures, it almost becomes inconsequential, because we’re all discussing something that we love that we find so interesting. And if someone’s lucky enough to own it, that’s great – but if we get to appreciate it as well, that’s equally enjoyable in a sense.
SW: I think that’s true. That’s true, yeah.
NB: Are there any references that really hold a special place in your heart, or anything you’re still chasing at this stage of your collecting?
SW: The one that I don’t have in my collection is the screwback Autavia Seafarer, there aren’t a lot of those around. I love all the watches that Heuer did for Abercrombie & Fitch. That was sort of lucky for me again, because 15, 20 years ago, my daughter was young,she was a young teenager, and Abercrombie & Fitch was this massive brand, mostly aimed at pre-teen girls. And that I found these watches, made by Heuer, for what was a very different brand, for hunting and fishing and explorers. You had this one Abercrombie in the fifties, and then to this very very different brand in the nineties. And I just thought it was funny, I decided to buy the watches, thinking maybe I’ll give one to my daughter. I just think they’re amazing watches, and now people are in love with them.
NB: It’s such an interesting brand, Abercrombie, because of the evolution you describe – from fitting out Teddy Roosevelt for a hunting expedition all those decades ago, to shirtless guys standing on the corner of Regent Street trying to sell T-shirts! There was this huge change in the brand. But back in the mid-twentieth century, they were actually very technically innovative. And I don’t know if you know the story about Walter Haynes, the head of Abercrombie. He was the guy who designed the tide indicator complication and filed the intellectual property. He communicated with Jack Heuer’s father and Jack’s uncle to serialize the production of the Solunar in the late 1940s. And then it moved on to the tide indicator chronographs in the 1950s and 1960s. So it’s really an important piece of the cultural history for the brand. Which reinforces the fact that for you, it’s not just a piece of metal. It’s not just a watch. Yes, there’s this connection to motorsport, but it’s intricately tied into this much bigger environment, this much broader history.
SW: Yeah… and I think we’re still discovering more about the history of that connection between Heuer and Abercrombie & Fitch, we’re still uncovering things as time goes on.
NB: Well, I’ve hit the jackpot there, because Walter Haynes’ granddaughter contacted me out of the blue about six months ago and said, I’ve just been in the attic and found all of my grandfather’s correspondence with the Heuer family in the establishment. And it’s amazing that we still have these sorts of things coming to light. For a brand like Heuer, where we did lose a lot of our history during this very complicated period in the 1980s, to then go back and see it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, to understand how the world was at the time, it’s really useful for us.
SW: So, that was a great discovery. And maybe it was good that we say there were, downsides to not being a small community in a small section of the Internet but rather global community now. And that’s one of the benefits of it. Otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have understood the value of that correspondence.
NB: Absolutely. I often see you wearing your wonderful black Monaco, the 74033 – can you tell us a little bit about how you came to acquire that? Was it something that you were desperately searching for?
SW: There was a lot of discussion about it. People were debating – “This one looks fake, that one doesn’t look right…the hands are wrong or the case finish is wrong”…And I remember getting loads of pictures and thinking, OK, they have these things in common. So these things are probably right, because they’re too consistent to have been faked. And then I found one really beaten up on eBay, and I bought it, but it was in a terrible mess. It took a long time to really fix everything. I had to beg Gerd-Rudiger Lang for him to fix it for me, because nobody else would even have the parts. TAG Heuer, at that stage, said we can’t do anything with this watch, it’s just broken. So now that’s restored, and that’s great because it’s in OK condition but quite beat up. I can wear it every day now, and then I have another one which is in almost perfect condition. It’s good to have both!
NB: You’re a very lucky man to have two black Monaco’s together. I mean, I can only think of a few other people in the world in that position. So really quite incredible. To wrap things up, I wanted to ask you a few quickfire questions. First, what’s your preference between manual and automatic for vintage Heuer?
SW: Probably manual.
NB: Carrera or Autavia?
SW: Hmmm…probably a Carrera.
NB: Monaco or Silverstone?
SW: Monaco. It’s got the variation and the history. So I probably prefer the Monaco, but I’m a Silverstone evangelist.
NB: Blue or red?
SW: The blue, because I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say the greatest catalog picture in the history of the world is Clay Regazzoni sitting in his Formula 1 Ferrari with a blue Silverstone.
NB: That’s an incredible picture – in the cockpit, wearing the watch with his mustache and his race face on, ready to go. I must admit, a bit like you, I had a strong preference for manual wind watches for a long time, and then it was probably more the Autavia. But I really struggled to choose between the two. And then the square watches, I kind of struggled with, but then I started wearing Monacos and I kind of fell in love with them. But then when it came to Silverstone, I didn’t really get it. And then I saw this picture of Clay and I said, OK, if it’s good enough for Clay Regazzoni, it’s got to be good enough for me, right?
Well, thank you so much for sitting down to chat. We could talk forever, to be honest. But I also want to say thank you for being such an important part of the community, and sharing your love every day through your wonderful Neutrino 14 account. I guess we should finish off by asking about the origin of the name?
SW: So why “Neutrino”? People ask me, “Are you like a famous DJ called Neutrino?” I say no, it’s nothing to do with that! When I was a student, I worked at CERN in particle physics doing my PhD. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I would go to the watch shops in Geneva and, even at that stage, I loved watches and I’d be like, “Have you got any mechanical watches?” And they’d be like, “No, those are rubbish. Look at these quartz watches we’ve got.” And they’d then pull out this huge drawer of mechanical watches. I couldn’t afford them, so I bought the cheapest one I could. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to them. So it reminds me of CERN and the beginning of my watch collecting, so…Neutrino.
NB: Well that’s such a great connection to Switzerland. We’ve come full circle – pun intended – regarding particle accelerators – a full circle to get you back to Swiss watch brands from CERN. But again, Shaun, thank you so much. You’re really an incredible asset to the community, an absolute treasure. And I’m so happy to see you sharing your passion all day, every day through social media. Keep up the good work!