John Reardon launched Collectability.com in 2019. The former head of watches for Christie’s is one of the leading authorities on Patek Philippe watches and aims, on one hand, to educate collectors on the history of the brand, its timepiece production, and place in the international field of horology. On the other hand, the platform obviously helps people to buy and sell Pateks.
“Every watch I buy is a piece I want to keep in my own collection.”John Reardon
WatchTime recently got to sit down with Reardon to talk about his journey in the watch industry for an interview the current issue, below you’ll find the extended version of it:
When it comes to the proverbial collectability, no other watch brand has broken more auction records than Patek, making it an obvious choice for creating a business such as yours. However, do you miss handling other brands?
I enjoy reading and continuing to learn about other brands and drawing comparisons to what Patek Philippe has done in the past and is doing now. By looking at all things horological through a Patek lens, there are endless parallels to draw in terms of innovation, design, and even market distribution. In short, I don’t miss handling other brands commercially, since I am always hungry to learn more about the breadth of horology past and present. However, I very much enjoy being 100% focused on buying and selling only Patek Philippe.
You started your career in the watchmaking industry a volunteer at the American Watch & Clock Museum in your hometown of Bristol, Connecticut. Do you remember what was the first clock you ever got to work on?
I was so fortunate to learn how to properly clean and mechanically overhaul clocks as a teenager during my time at the museum. One of the first clocks I ever overhauled was the Gambrinus ‘King of Beer’ blinking eye clocks made in Connecticut in the 1860s. I still visit this clock at the museum whenever I get back to my hometown.
What was the first Patek you bought for yourself?
When I started working for the Henri Stern Agency (Patek Philippe USA) in 2001, I of course wanted a Patek more than anything else in the world… I remember asking the President (Hank Edelman) at the time and was told with a smile that no Pateks are given to anyone for free, not celebrities, not employees, no one. You have to earn it. I saved every last dollar to eventually buy the least expensive Patek available at the time, a Ref. 5064A quartz midsize steel Aquanaut. I still wear it often and every time I run a marathon or half marathon I wear it for good luck… this Patek literally has some serious miles on it after over 20 years!
What was your first ‘real’ wristwatch?
A rose gold Waldan International Chronograph Calendar watch I bought from the late Oscar Waldan. I’ll never forget that beautiful watch or Oscar. On a side note, I very much enjoy watching his son Andrew Waldan continue his father’s legacy and growing and expanding this wonderful brand.
Do you have a Patek that you ‘merely look after’ for someone else?
Yes I was given as a gift a Ref. 2551 yellow gold Calatrava from the 1950s that has an incredible tradition of paying it forward…. a dear friend and collector gave me the watch after I left the auction world and told me how he was given it as a gift many years ago to celebrate a new beginning. This watch has never been sold since the first owner bought it over 70 years ago… and this tradition will continue. Someday I will give it to someone else as they celebrate a new beginning.
Do you remember your first encounter with the Sterns?
I never properly met Henri Stern, but I will never forget seeing him rushing by my office door at Rockefeller Center on his way to the Caribbean. It was in 2002 and he passed away soon after at the age of 91. For me to see him for literally a split second was the same as seeing a horological god… I will never forget it. I also had the chance to meet Philippe Stern and Thierry Stern on many occasions. For me, they are truly watch royalty and I have nothing but respect and admiration for what the Stern family has done at the helm of Patek Philippe.
What are you wearing right now?
These days I find I am wearing an Ellipse Ref. 3738/100J more than any other watch. Perfectly sized, self-winding, blued gold dial, this classic form watch captures my mind and heart and just feels great on the wrist. I love complicated Pateks, but sometimes a classic two hand watch is all one needs for daily wear.
If you could only have one watch, which one would you pick?
I dream of owning a Ref. 1518 in my personal collection someday.
What do you consider the biggest misconception people have about Patek?
So many people think you need millions to own a Patek. They are certainly not inexpensive, especially current models, however one can buy a nice vintage Patek for well under $10,000 and even under $5,000 with some luck and patience. Although Patek is typically an aspirational watch to own, the entry level into the world of Patek Philippe ownership may not be as high as most people think.
In the 3 years since you’ve launched Collectability, what was the most difficult (or rewarding) moment?
Starting a business is not an easy thing to do… the endless details of managing a company is certainly the most wonderfully challenging part of my new life. However, this is also the most rewarding! I have no shareholders to answer to or any management whatsoever… and this new freedom comes at a price. We literally work 24/7. But I will pay this price as long as I can – I have never been happier. Imagine being in a job where you treasure hunt and buy incredible watches day after day. It doesn’t get better than that!
And what’s next?
Collectability has grown faster than I ever imagined. We now have 4 people on the team, but I expect our small team will further grow in the near future. We would like to have a stronger global presence and we are well on our way online. Will there be a Collectability boutique near you someday where one can learn firsthand about vintage Patek Philippe? Stay tuned.
What was the most memorable sale since you’ve launched the platform in 2019?
This question is painful to answer since so many of the most important pieces I have sold I truly wish I still owned. From important pocket watches to rare variant coin watches, from unique cloisonné solar clocks to important electronic timing systems, from monumental skeleton pieces to unusual lighters, and of course more modern masterpieces such as the Ref. 5002 Sky Moon Tourbillon to countless 3970s, 3940s, and other complicated watches that I would love to have back on my wrist. Ultimately, it is truly quite incredible the wide breadth of historical production has the name Patek Philippe on the dial.
Who would you want to sit down with and talk watches (that you haven’t yet)?
I think I would want to speak to the Henry Graves Jr. (1868-1953) I was fortunate to get to know his grandson, the late Reginald ‘Pete’ Fullerton but I think meeting ‘Grandfather’ as he was known would be simply incredible. I would have so many questions for him..
What is more challenging? Convincing a collector to sell you a watch, or selling, let’s say, a 60,000-dollar letter opener from Patek online?
Great question. I think it is frankly easier to buy than it is to sell. Every watch I buy is a piece I want to keep in my own collection. And like almost all collectors of anything, we have a voracious appetite to buy and buy and buy… with unlimited means I think I would have a collection the size of the Patek Philippe museum in a matter of years. However, to sell it takes time… it takes time to educate, it takes time to service, it takes time to get Extracts from the Archives. And at the end of the day, many pieces sell immediately as soon as I post them, and others take months or even years. And I am more than happy to hold on to these works of art for eternity. At least I have the best letter opener in the world at the end of the day. When I open a letter now, even a credit card bill, I open it with style and a smile.
What do you consider an ideal ‘first’ Patek watch for a beginner? Vintage, pre-owned, new?
A great place to start is with a Calatrava. A classic 96 for example is incredible on the wrist of a man or a woman and can be styled in every way imaginable with different straps. With the recent trend towards smaller watches under 35 mm, the world of vintage watches is opening up to a much wider global market. Start with vintage and you can’t go wrong. If you are lucky enough to be able to buy a brand new Patek from an authorized retailer, this is a wonderful option. If you can’t get what you want, then at least Collectability is here for you!
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the watchmaking industry in general in the next months or years?
In general, I think the biggest challenge for the watchmaking industry today is finding qualified watchmakers to service our treasures. The supply and demand issues will work themselves out over time and yes there will certainly be ups and downs. However, finding a great watchmaker is a constant challenge. We are big supporters of the Horological Society of New York since they are at the front lines of supporting and encouraging watchmakers and prospective watchmakers. If you are not already a member, please join and you will not be disappointed: https://hs-ny.org
What do you think can the rest of the watchmaking industry learn from Patek?
Slow and steady wins the race. Never take shortcuts.
What is your #1 advice for collectors, in general?
So cliché, I know, buy what you love! And for some advice from a different angle, take the time to enjoy what you have… don’t be in a rush to buy the next watch. The journey of collecting is the real pleasure, especially the people you meet along the way.
Looking at the more recent launches from Patek, what was the biggest surprise for you?
This is old news now but I am completely shocked that the new Twenty-4 is round and they moved away from the original rectangular shape.
If you hadn’t gone into watchmaking, how would your career have looked like?
If I didn’t go into the watch world, I expect I would be a history teacher. Funny thing is, I think I am still a history teacher now… that just happens to sell Pateks, too.