The Couple Get Together With Watch Collection
“We like to do a lot of things together,” said Richard Griffin, a 67-year-old retired health care executive, in regard to his wife, Sabine, 46. “We golf together, we travel together, and we sail together.”Therefore they collect watches together.
“I was already interested in watches, especially mechanical watches,” Mr. Griffin said in a telephone interview. However when he met his future wife through some friends more than 10 years ago, the interest turned into a passion.
At the time, Ms. Griffin was working in the watch and jewelry department at what was then the Phillips de Pury auction house in Munich. She had studied art history and, while still a student, had gone to work at Christie’s.
“I had been buying my watches through private dealers,” Mr. Griffin said. “I hadn’t bought much at auction because I was not really familiar with how it worked.” That changed when she started bringing him to auctions in Geneva and London.
“He met my colleagues, the experts, and became friends with them,” Ms. Griffin said.
Mr. Griffin added: “The watches they accept to sell at auction are in excess of 100,000 euros. They are not for the faint of heart. But getting advice from friends made all the difference.”
Occasionally, the advice came from his closest friend, his future wife. “I would show Richard the catalogs, and he would point out what he liked, and I would point out what I liked,” Ms. Griffin said. “I saw a special Patek Philippe, No. 1593, from the 1950s that I liked. When it came up for sale I was actually working at the auction and the person on the line when Richard called.” His bid won what became his engagement gift to her.
In another sale’s catalog, Ms. Griffin saw a diamond ring as well that she fell in love with, and she was again working the phone line when Mr. Griffin called to place the winning bid. It became her engagement ring.
The next purchase at auction, this time at Christie’s, was a “significant one,” Mr. Griffin said, “a Rolex 8171 self-winding triple-calendar moon phase from the early 1950s.”
His wife added: “When I saw it, I thought it was a special watch.” She felt the same way about the next purchase, a Rolex 6541 Milgauss anti-magnetic watch. “I was super interested in both watches,” she said, and she has changed their bracelets so she can enjoy wearing them. Mr. Griffin said he liked to wear the triple-calendar Rolex, “and I can because it has a leather band” that is adjustable.
The Griffins have collected some old and fragile watches, but they still like to wear them. “Our friends say, ‘Wow, you guys are actually wearing your watches,”’ Ms. Griffin said. “We’re brave. But for that reason we do also buy modern watches as well as fragile old ones.”
The couple have developed a special fondness for Panerai, the Italian brand now part of the Richemont luxury group.
“Munich is their central store in Europe, so we got to know them,” Ms. Griffin said. “They invited us to Antibes, France, for a Panerai sailing regatta. We met the C.E.O. Back then, we were not collectors that had hundreds of Panerais. They started early with us, building up a relationship. I like how they promote their product, and I like how the watches look.”
Mr. Griffin said he liked the brand’s regatta series. “They do a take-off on an old watch but give it a contemporary twist,” he said. “We’re at the point where it’s hard to find watches with something different than what we already have.”
The Panerai Egiziano diving watch is especially memorable. “It’s designed to be worn over a wet suit, so it’s huge,” he said. “And it has a large luminescent dial that emits so much radiation that going through Logan airport security, I was taken aside for two hours.”
Mr. Griffin said the couple had 25 to 30 watches — some are his; some, hers; and some they both wear. “About 10 fall into the real old collectible category. The rest are contemporary,” he said.
They keep the vintage watches at their home in Munich and travel with a few when they are at their Nantucket and Miami Beach places: “We have a standard package that goes with us — all of my sports watches and three to six dress watches, both vintage and contemporary,” he said. With respect to Mrs. Griffin: “I keep a Patek Philippe from the 1950s in Miami Beach, because it has an Art Deco look about it, like the architecture of the city.”
While the Griffins are in Miami in December, they attend Art Basel, since collecting art is another activity they like to do as a couple.
“We walk around, and Richard points out things, and I see other things, and we decide on the things where we overlap,” Ms. Griffin said. “We both must understand what the other sees in something. Same as with a watch. We must share the same taste.
“When Richard says ‘You’re right, I agree”’ — ka-ching!