I’ve shared my collecting passion before, but I haven’t gone deep on my watch nuttiness. In college, a friend’s dad was a long time Rolex dealer and he turned us on to vintage Rolex sport or tool watches, which in the early ‘80’s could be had for $200-$300. Submariners were the waterman’s watch of choice, and our heroes from Jacques Cousteau to Hawaii’s North Shore chargers wore a sub.
I’ve hung on to those pieces, which turned out to be fortuitous as the global interest in watch collecting has driven prices crazy—both up and down over the last 25 years.
I’ve gotten to know some of the biggest dealers to the trade and collectors, and have built friendships that have lasted the test of time. When I was living in Chicago, just out of UCLA, I got to know Howard Frum, the Rolex King. His shop in Chicago’s Wabash Avenue Jewelry Mart was my lunchtime hangout, and the place has maintained its funk vibe as part Cheers—complete with the regulars, and part museum. I’ve spoken to Howard at least 250 times a year for the last 25 years. My greatest finds have come from him and his partner Maurice Tal.
While I’ve remained committed to Rolex steel sport watches from the 50’s through ‘70’s, dabbling in other brands proved financially diseconomic. The exception being Patek Philippe. I like the weirder Pateks from the 1970’s and I regularly wear a Patek 3700 that was one of Howard’s personal pieces until I was able to convince him, it took about a year, to sell it to me.
As a member of the IWJG, I attend several of the organization’s B2B tradeshows a year, and Bobby Maron holds not only some of the best stuff, he makes trends. Last year, Bobby was wearing one of the coolest Pateks I had seen, a 1970 Swiss reaction to the Seiko assault on American wrists. The Patek Beta 21 has the cool vibe of era-specific cars that define the early 1970’s from platinum colored Lincoln Continentals to the long lines of one of my “grail” cars the Citroen DS. Another IWJG dealer found a Patek Beta 21 for me last year. A rare model in white gold, with a detachable white gold band. While often, and thankfully, mistaken for stainless steel, the soft matte finish of the unpolished Patek is perfect.
At last month’s Las Vegas show, there were a few Beta 21’s scattered around the show floor, but Bobby seems to have the market cornered.
Giving my friends visibility into these weird, parallel universes is dicey, but I knew my friend—skater, artist, surfer, design guru Natas Kaupas would appreciate the weirdies at the IWJG show. Natas scored a Patek from the ‘50’s, and he tells me he now has the bug as well. Natas and Howard actually collaborated on a custom dialed Rolex that was a present for 9X World Champion surfer, Kelly Slater.
For me, it’s more about the hunt, the people and the characters, than it is about the “stuff.” Every piece needs the story for it to matter to me. Who I was with, where we were, and what was happening; when the perfect piece was found.