Hello, my dear fellow watch aficionados!
I thought it was time for you to get to know one of the founders of Watch Counts a bit better. And so I decided to write an article about how I got into watches and where I’m at now at the end of 2022. It’s been an interesting journey, that’s certain!
As some of you may know already, my name’s Bart. I’m married, father of 2 and I was born in 1984. My generation is the last native “analog” one; we started out not needing electronic gadgets to live our lives. Heck, we didn’t even own a color TV when I was a small boy. It was a much simpler time when people were “offline” most of the time, much in contrast to current times. I still know that the icon you click to “save” something is called a floppy disk, and that it took about 5 minutes to write a file of maximum 1.44MB to it. And connecting to the internet was a devious (and loud!) task that took equally long, and it cost an arm and a leg. I remember my dad getting a 20.000 BEF (€500) invoice the first month when I got dial-up internet, which quickly prompted him to switch to ISDN. Good times, indeed.
Now, in 2022, being a “nerd” is cool. But in the 90s, I surely wasn’t one of the cool kids. I was one of those fat kids that always had a huge interest in anything digital. Computers, game consoles, the first palm pilots, the first mobile phones, you name it. They don’t call me “Inspector Gadget” up until this day for nothing. I was one of those kids who spent their lunches at school in the computer class, not on the playground. And luckily, I had a dad that saw the opportunity to invest in that interest, by buying me everything I needed to build my own computers and expand my knowledge. He saw that the digital age was about to arrive big time and that the investment would pay dividends in the end. He was completely right.
To illustrate the extent of this; at the age of 16, he got me a Nokia Communicator mobile phone because I really, really wanted one. It just looked insanely cool and I could only imagine all the amazing stuff I could do with it. It was a phone that cost €500 at the time (that was truly an insane amount of money for a phone back then) and I eventually had to conclude that you basically couldn’t do anything interesting with it except send SMS messages a bit faster because of the keyboard. But, then again, nobody else in school was rocking a brick-sized phone on their belts!
The -truly massive- Nokia Communicator 9210!
All kidding aside, though; it all paved the road for me becoming interested in IT and making a living from it. I’ve been working as a freelance IT architect in large Belgian companies for the past 11 years now, after working on the payroll as an IT guy for a few companies, and I can honestly say that I make good money with it indeed. It’s what allows me to invest in the finer watches without having to make sacrifices elsewhere. Thanks dad!
At the same time, I had a mom who was alot less digitally engaged but who had a huge interest in watches. Not in expensive watches by any means, but she had a collection of cheap quartz watches she bought at the open-air markets (which we have at least once a week in every large city here in Belgium). And she switched often. I think she was the one who planted the watch seed in my brain, because my dad never wore watches.
So these two influences gelled into me getting into quartz digital watches first. I had a slew of Casio watches, among which 2 Calculator watches when I was in high school, and before that I talked my dad into buying a ProTrek on the island of Tenerife for me. Which was a hugely expensive watch from our perspective but it’s functionalities were just mind-boggling to me. Casios are just absolute marvels of technology; I still remember the teacher in high school being flabbergasted with the TV shutting off the whole time while I was laughing my ass off thanks to my Casio TV remote watch. He couldn’t even fathom that being a thing. Later, when I started earning my own money in the holidays, I invested some money into a Festina (which I still own for sentimental value and is severely beat up).
On the left my old Festina, on the right my older Casio Calculator.
In the back you’ll see 2 more recent Casios.
I remember seeing a Breitling Navitimer on the wrist of an 18 year old friend back in the day and he told me how much it cost (he got it as a graduation gift from his dad, a lawyer) and I thought: “that’s an insane amount of money, I will never get one of those”. Oh, how the tables have turned, if only I would have known then what would follow later…
Next up were the formative years in college and I don’t recall changing watches much at that time, I just wore what I had in the “collection”, if you could call it that. There were no big changes during my first professional years either, as far as I can recollect. I choose to call those years “the barren ones”, where I still had time to think about other stuff when I was not working. These days, it seems every single free minute is consumed by timepieces in one way or another.
The Pebble smartwatch, really the first serious smartwatch even made.
But those quiet times all changed in the beginning of the 2010s when I started buying all kinds of stuff. I remember getting a Casio Edifice (which I still own, see the pic above) but there were also many smartwatches which started to emerge. Many watch people loathe smartwatches but I’ve been a big fan since day 1. I got myself a Pebble at the release in 2013, which I wore for quite a long time. And a huge list of smartwatches followed. The first one that really clicked was the Apple Watch, though, and I still wear one on my right wrist every single day.
At that time, I also finally started to dabble in the more affordable mechanical watches. After all, who the hell can afford an Omega, right?! I still remember being flabbergasted by an Invicta Diver for which I paid only €100 (which was still expensive for a watch from a normal person’s point of view). I thought that the quality was just next level compared to what I was used to, especially at that price point. I still think an Invicta Diver is a great way into the hobby, even if there are many “homage” vibes going on with it. You just can’t go wrong with a workhorse Seiko automatic movement, in my opinion. It still runs today and my son wears it from time to time.
The Seamaster 300 Professional I had lusted after for years.
In 2012, one of the biggest shocks in my entire life (up until that point, anyway) happened; my mom died. I won’t go into the (sad) details of her death but obviously, this is a moment in time where I started thinking about my own life choices and I realized that you need to live your life now, not tomorrow. So I decided that I would buy myself one of those expensive Swiss watches I lusted after for many years with a part of her inheritance. I had always been a huge fan of the Seamaster on the wrist of (my personal favorite Bond) Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye.
And so we went to the local jeweler Nachtergaele as, back in the day, you didn’t need to be a “boutique” to sell Omegas. I really wanted an automatic Seamaster 300 Professional, which the shop keeper promptly showed to me. Sadly, my wife was there (in all honesty, she is the voice of reason in my relationship) and she insisted that the Quartz was expensive enough so I ended up buying that one instead. I wore the hell out of that watch for many years to come, but later down the road I swapped it for an automatic version (which, funnily enough, was worth about the same then) and that one will never leave the collection. It recently got completely refinished by EST Antwerp and it looks like a new watch again, I love it.
Memoirs of the Vostok era. Two Amphibias I still own today.
And then all hell broke loose, basically. I started reading about enthusiast mechanical watches and obviously started looking into the more affordable ones first. Which inevitably got me into Vostoks. A brand I still adore today because of it’s ingenuity regarding the history of the Amphibia. A diver’s watch which was made waterproof by wits, spit and elbow grease instead of expensive materials (which the Swiss used). I got a Komandirskie, which I gifted to a friend who left for Australia, and two Amphibias which I still have. I still think those are the biggest bargains on the watch market today as you can still pick up an Amphibia for about €80. Next up was Seiko; obviously I got an SKX007, which will never leave the collection. I think I have about 3 Miltat bracelets for it already, crazy. And many followed. The list is just too long but at any given time I have about 10 Seikos or more in the collection (half vintage, half new). For me, Seiko remains to this day the brand which is the “sweet spot” in the watch business with the best price/quality balance and an insane historical significance to boot.
The famous Seiko 6139 “Pogue”, the first automatic chronograph in space.
Inevitably, I ended up looking at the big Swiss brands and my eye landed on a Breitling Navitimer Constellation I saw on “2dehands”, which is a Belgian sort of Craigslist. That’s when I first met Matthias, the co-founder of Time Counts. He had clawed his way up as a watch collector from €50 Pontiacs over the years and was now buying and selling more expensive pieces such as Datejusts etc. I remember being torn to spend “so much money” on a watch which didn’t even have papers (just the box); it was about €3000. It really felt like a very nervous day at the time but that trepidation quickly faded away when I experienced the fit & finish of that Navitimer, which I felt was another step up from the 2000s SMP300 I already had. I’ve been a Navitimer fanboy ever since and I will always have one in the collection (I currently own a “wings” B01 Navi).
The Super Constellation that Matthias sold to me and that has since long gone.
What followed I can only describe as a dreamy haze of buying and selling watches, reading articles, watching videos and going to gatherings. Every single second of free time was being invested in the watch collecting hobby and all information available was consumed. I can’t even count the amount of people I’ve met and befriended in the last decade. Weirdly enough, they often are also into other hobbies of mine (cars, hifi audio, etc), which cements the friendships even harder. In those past 10 years I’ve had a slew of watches which I would have thought absolutely insane in the years before. I can truly say that I’ve experienced most well-known Swiss brands first hand; Breitling, Omega, Rolex, Tudor, Zenith, (Tag) Heuer, Cartier, Panerai, Tissot, Bell & Ross, IWC, Tissot, you name it. Weirdly enough never a JLC or a Grand Seiko, I need to set that straight one of these days.
My trusty Omega Speedmaster Professional. Full set from 1971 with stepped dial!
I wore this beauty on my wedding day so I’ll probably hang on to this one for life.
I’ve seen myself swinging from insane expansion to extreme consolidation. I’ve hovered between expensive and cheaper watches, sometimes thinking about almost selling everything for 1 grail (a Royal Oak at the time) and sometimes thinking of greatly reducing my grail watch collection. Then I would focus on the cheaper options and expand that collection dramatically before selling the largest part again because I rarely wore them. In retrospect, I was a total madman, but it was a hobby which gave me great joy and in the end, the money that I sinked into it I could usually get out again, more or less. There were watches which I bought and sold 4-5 times. You can call that insane but somehow it made total sense at the time…
I’ve had 5 X-33s in the past. I currently have 0. Go figure.
Then there was a time where I would restrict myself to 10 watches above €1000. I managed to stick to that credo about a year or two, but that ship has sadly sailed again. Still, I try to keep a sane grasp on what makes sense in my collection. I only get watches for 3 reasons (and preferably a combination):
- They need to have a story or history (historical, movies, etc). This is usually my most important driver, as I’m a huge movie buff and very interested in modern human history.
- They need to esthetically “click”. That usually translates into divers, chronographs and sportier watches.
- They need to be exceptionally well made or have a special (historically significant or complex) movement inside.
I’ve more or less made up my mind that I won’t venture into the super-expensive category (Patek, AP, Vacheron, AL&S, etc) because those just aren’t worth selling off my other prized possessions to me. We’ll see if that changes in the future, thought. It just might. Meanwhile, I’ve accepted that I will probably never be happy watch-wise, and that my collection is an organic thing that evolves over time. And that’s just fine. I feel no need anymore to consolidate to that single “grail watch”, that’s just too boring to me, even if it is a 50k Royal Oak (which I think is a stupid one watch collection because of the water resistance, but you get the gist). I can still equally enjoy a cheaper watch (like a Seiko) as a more expensive watch. As long as there is 1 of the 3 factors above present, I’m a fan.
One of the staples in my collection; the (Tag) Heuer Monaco.
This latest McQueen reissue I’ve had for years now, and it’s a keeper.
Another important change was that I got a gastric bypass in 2021. I’ve been overweight since puberty had kicked in and I had tried alot of diets etc. Nothing worked, and so I decided to take a dramatic step. And dramatic it certainly was; I lost over 60 kilograms and little did I know that that would also lead to my wrists reducing in circumference from 21cm+ to 18cm, which has a huge impact on what looks good on you. That resulted into me finally getting a 90s Submariner and Explorer, watches that just felt too small before. And I can easily even go smaller now, up to 36mm even. Which has greatly increased my options, especially for vintage watches. Moreover, I’ve never felt physically fitter in my entire life, so it was one of the best decisions of my life (knock on wood).
Then in 2022, when Matthias made it clear to me that he wanted to step it up a notch with his watch selling career, I agreed to become a partner in the venture that is Time Counts. I’m not much of a shrewd watch seller (I hate the whole back and forth of negotiating and haggling) but I am an absolute watch freak with alot of knowledge, built up over the years. Also, I know something about running a company and marketing, so I think me and Matthias make a great team. We’re only just getting started, but there are interesting times ahead and I have the intention to build Time Counts into a hub and community for watch enthusiast such as me and Matthias. I have to admit, though, that it’s not easy combining my other professional activities sometimes. I do feel lucky to have met a friend for life in Matthias, with whom I have an amazing bond.
2 friends, 2 vintage cars. The cars have both been sold on already, the friendship remains always.
So I’m a happy camper now at the end of 2022 and I’m satisfied with what I currently have in the collection. And I’m also okay with that changing in the near future. Always remember: it’s just a hobby and if it doesn’t make you happy, then you should stop with it altogether.
I wish you all a merry christmas and a happy 2023!