Collector of the Month #3 – Benoît Petitesecondes

Meet our third “Collector of the Month”, Benoît!

Name: Benoît Petitesecondes

Age: 33

Profession: Doctor

Nationality: French

Place of residence: Franche-Comté, France

Instagram: @petitesecondes

1. What’s the story behind how you came to own your first watch and what kind of watch was it?

Probably, like most people, I got my first watch as a kid. It was my “communion watch” as was often the case in France in the past, maybe still even now in some families. What I do know is that I had wanted a watch at the time, so I guess I must have been developing an interest in watches at a young age. The watch was a plastic quartz watch with a picture of a skier and “Clapotis” printed on the dial. Very 1990s style now that I look at it. I actually still have it in my possession.

During my childhood and adolescence, I have had several other watches, all quartz. I remember a Swiss Army one with a metal band at about 12 years old. Then around 16 years old a Pierre Lannier, tank shape and very classical in style, with a deep blue dial. Even though I have always been collecting things like legos, books, video games or other stuff since I was a kid, I was a “One watch” person. I only had the watch I loved and wore it every day.

2. How did your passion for watches evolve over time and when did you realize that you wanted to be a collector?

At the end of my medical school cursus, my Pierre Lannier was showing serious signs of wear, I wanted to get myself a proper watch. The lady in my life told me she could afford to buy me a 1000 euros watch, so I started seriously looking for one that I would like. It was around that time that my father bought himself his dream watch: a manual winding JLC Reverso. I only then discovered the world of mechanical watches, and I knew I needed to find myself an automatic watch.

After roaming the web for days and days, I finally stumbled on a Frederique Constant that I really liked. Tank shaped, semi-guilloché open dial, Roman numerals, and swiss in-house movement just a little over 1000 euros. It was close to love at first sight at the time, and so it became my very first automatic watch. I have spent so much time staring at the mechanism through the back and thinking how magic it was that without battery, just movement, it worked. I was a very happy “one watch” guy again, and I wore it every single day until I bought my second watch… 5 years later!

With curiosity aroused, I heard about Swatch making the first ever automatic movement as-sembled by machines only: the Sistem51. The technologic breakthrough fascinated me and I bought one of the first models straight away. Do you know what “Swatch” stands for? “Second WATCH”… The system51 really served that purpose well, and I used it as my Tool watch.

I only got into vintage watches about a year ago when I discovered via Instagram that a vintage retailer from New York was selling a Lip Elgiloy watch for over 800 bucks… I liked the look of the watch. I found that astounding that a 50 years old watch made only a few kilometres from where I lived was still in such a good shape, and could actually end up being sold in the USA for that amount of money. I bet myself I could find the same watch for much less in France. Two weeks later I had found one for a twentieth of the price, and started looking for people in my area who could help me restore it a little.

I was bitten by the vintage bug, and it was the starting point of a real passion for me. I started vintage watch hunting and restoring, and it soon became a very rapidly growing hobby.

3. How would you describe your collection and what does collecting watches mean to you?

I divide my collection into three sections:

  • The modern watches: These are not vintage timepieces, and I don’t plan to sell them. They are part of my permanent collection. There is my Frederique Constant, two Swatch Sistem51, my Royal Oak and my latest addition: a Squale Diver from 2016.
  • The vintage keepers: These are the vintage watches I really do not want to let go. There is my first Rolex watch (a Datejust ref 1601 from 1969), my first Omega (Steel Omega Geneve 613 calibre), my recently purchased Rolex 1016, my Aquastar, my Polerouters… and many more. Sometimes I have to let one go when there is a new one coming in… It is always done reluctantly and is a real heartbreak…
  • The vintage turn-over: Watches that I find and really like, but that I am ready to move on when necessary. These are often watches that I find in poor condition and need some sort of restoration, or sometimes just a little glass polishing and a nice strap.

The collection is entirely dedicated to dress, sport and diving watches. There are no quartz watches in my collection, and there is only one chronograph left, which is for sale. I like some chronos aesthetically, but I dislike the function, the visibility and find the pushers disgraceful when I wear one. I decided to give up chronographs altogether at the end of 2017.

The guideline throughout my watches is just that I like each one specifically and have pleasure wearing it; be it for the movement, the dial, the patina or the global harmony. I focus on French and Swiss watches only, even though I took a step aside recently by buying my first Seiko watch.

4. Out of all your watches, which one are you are the proudest of?

Choosing one is really tough… If you ask me that question at different moments I will probably tell you a different watch each time!

I guess for now it would have to be my Rolex Explorer 1016 from 1968. I have been looking for one since the beginning of my interest in vintage watches. Awesome black dial, ageing lume, iconic hands shape, and the typical 36mm oyster case… Unfortunately, prices for a piece in good and all original condition are way too high, so I soon gave up searching for one. Then roughly 6 weeks ago one popped up for sale from a very well known vintage watch dealer, the exact one I was looking for, with absolutely no risk of being tricked into a bad buy, and for a really honest price! I decided to call the dealer in Amsterdam straight away to enquire about the watch. Considering the price, something HAD to be wrong with the watch, so I asked all sorts of questions… Was it a redial? Not original crown or case? Change of hands? But everything was perfect. I finally asked them why the price was so low in comparison with similar models? They just told me that they probably listed it too low… I jumped on the occasion and bought it.

A once in a lifetime opportunity, the watch sold in one day, and I am now only the second owner of this wonderful watch. The funny thing is that as I closed the transaction with the dealer, he admitted that a dozen other people had enquired about the watch, but did not want to buy it because they thought there was something wrong with it as it was priced too low. That goes to show you can still do good deals if you dare seize the opportunities when they come knocking on your door.

5. What kind of relationship do you foster with other collectors?

I have met a lot of collectors, especially via Instagram in the last year or so, and really enjoy the exchanges we have. As I live in a watchmaking region, near Besancon (Birthplace of Yema, Lip, Zenith, Dodane, France Ebauche…) and close to the Swiss border, I am lucky to be able to meet a lot of watch fanatics. I speak fluent English and French, and I find it interesting to chat with people from all over the world. Each person’s views, problems, and the market trends are very different depending on where they live.

I have sent several of my watches to a very friendly man in Japan, I have a WhatsApp discussion with a group of young and crazy watch fanatics mainly from Paris, I have made friends with people in my area too, and order some great bespoke handmade straps from a really cool Canadian guy. I could talk about so many more people from all over the world… The watch community is really active and generally friendly and helpful! Let’s keep it that way!

6. What are the most important criteria for you to consider prior to buying a watch?

There are only three:

  • Do I like the watch?
  • Will I wear it?
  • Can I afford it? (considering price and cost of the eventual work that needs to be done on it…)

The rest does not matter.

7. What is your relationship with retailers like and what is their role in helping you purchase a watch?

The only watches I have ever bought in a retail shop are my Frederique Constant and my second Swatch sistem51 (The first one I bought online on the Swatch e-shop…). Since then I have only bought watches second hand. I thus have no real relationship with retailers, except maybe vintage watch retailers at watch fairs. And I don’t see them really as retailers but as people like me that are passionate about vintage watches. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

8. How does the most recent watch you bought reflect who you are and what has changed since your first watch in this regard?

The last watch to become part of my collection is a Squale Diver from 2016 that I bought from a fellow watch friend. It truly does reflect a change in my approach to watches, because it is not vintage and I bought it for a specific use: to be able to go into the water with one of my watches.

Until now I avoided water contact with all my watches. I consider it too risky for all my vintage timepieces. I also consider my Swatch sistem51 and Frederique Constant are not meant for that. I would not take the risk either to put a 4 figure priced watch into water… So I needed a trusty, not too expensive professional diver.

I have always liked the look of the Squale collection. I have a preference for Swiss movements over Japanese and Chinese in that price range, so the ETA is wonderful for me! When an opportunity to buy one from a serious contact and at a very decent price occurred recently I jumped on it!

I also bought my first Seiko watch a few days ago: a vintage world timer from 1964. That is something really new to me, as I only collected French and Swiss watches until now. Who knows where that will take me next?

9. Which watch is your favourite “daily watch”?

The Rolex Datejust is to me the most polyvalent watch around. The 36 mm case snug fits your wrist, it is waterproof enough for daily activities, never ageing look, you can fit any strap to it and it looks great. It gives you just the information you need: time, date, and chronometer movement for precision. You can take care of your kids in the morning, change a tire on your car, have lunch with friends, important meetings in the afternoon, and go for a run before an important classy dinner at evening, all that with the same watch: the Rolex Datejust. And you have the choice: different bezels, dials, hands… Just pick the one you like most.

10. How do you use WatchAdvisor for yourself and where do you see its greatest benefit?

I actually only discovered WatchAdvisor very recently… I still have to take some time to plunge deeper into it. The “People” section is my favourite so far. The interviews are interesting to read, especially with the CEOs of the Swiss brands we love or love to hate.I will definitely not miss any Collector of the month article. Following and discovering the amateur watch community is still what I like most after all. I also enjoy browsing through the news articles. There were some great insights during the latest SIHH in Geneva.