The list of things that people will collect is seemingly endless, and reels in objects ranging from the worthless to the priceless. Whether it’s coins, stamps, autographs, or works of art, the act of tracking down and securing them is nearly always more about emotion than logic — and none more so than with watches.
This is a golden age of watch collecting as timepieces are particularly desirable things to collect due to their multifaceted nature, the technological aspect in terms of their movements, different finishes and the advancements in precision. The horological is one full of technical jargon, but once a person is wrist-deep and the more they know, the more their appreciation grows.
Yet collecting watches is about more than the acquisition of material objects — they are exceptional at timekeeping; their value generally rises over time; in certain circles they are status symbols, and they become meaningful heirlooms passed down for generations.
Guram Gvasalia, creative director of Vetements, is a watch enthusiast known for his collection of luxury timepieces that reflect his sense of style. His collection boasts some of the rarest and most sought-after pieces in the world of horology from brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet.
Here, Gvasalia talks about how his collection began, his favorites, what drives him and how fine watches influence his designs for Vetements.
WWD: When did watches first become important to you, and why did you start a watch collection?
Guram Gvasalia: I was 12 years old when I read a magazine article about this watch collector. I was blown away and promised myself that “one day, I will start my own collection.” Being a war child, a refugee, and having one toy growing up, it seemed like a faraway wish. I got my first watch when I was 16 years old. I worked double shifts waiting tables the whole summer, and managed to put aside enough money to buy a vintage Rolex Air-King from 1972, that I still have. That watch carries so many good and crazy memories.
WWD: What is the most important watch or watches in your collection and why?
G.G.: I’m a big admirer of Patek Philippe’s reference 5970; that model is an absolute undisputed king of watches for me. One of the most beautiful Patek references ever made, in my humble opinion, if we speak about watches that look modern and can be still worn today. I have 5970s in all metals, and had the pleasure a couple of times having Mr. Thierry Stern [president of Patek Philippe] compliment me on them. In my 5970 collection, I have two very special timepieces — a white gold, salmon dial, a run of four-plus pieces, to my knowledge, and part of the London exhibition. I’m lucky to have acquired that piece unworn, and it’s one of very few watches that I preserve from wearing. Next to the salmon dial, the other grail for me is my unique Patek Philippe ref. 5970 with white gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases, Breguet numerals and a bracelet that was made for and once belonged to Eric Clapton.
WWD: What drives your interest in watches? What about watches causes a “rush” for you? Is it the movements? Design? Brand? What is the allure for you?
G.G.: Watches help me understand myself and my work as a creative director of a luxury fashion house. Before I started Vetements, I thought a fashion brand is like a puzzle; it has different parts that once you put together, you get a brand. That was until one night I was meditating on it. I realized a fashion brand’s structure is much more complicated than that. It’s like a watch; it has different parts that need to work together, but it’s not enough to have a good working mechanism. What’s important is that the watch shows the right time. Not running too fast, creating things that are too early for its time, or too late — following the others. The right timing is everything. So, a watch for me is not just a precious object, it’s a symbol and a reminder of how everything in life is connected; it keeps me grounded and present in a moment.
WWD: Collecting is a passion, but it also has to be fun. What makes it fun for you?
G.G.: There are two types of collectors. There are many people who collect things, but are rarely enjoying them. I have a fantastic friend who is very big in the art industry. This person has warehouses full of the most important paintings in the world, but never has time to enjoy any of them. Collecting can become an addiction. On the other side, there are collectors who collect to have fun with what they have. I buy watches for myself, I wear most of them, except if they are factory-sealed. I enjoy wearing them and I only buy watches that I like and that speak to me. I never buy a watch because that model is hyped or limited. I also feel OK if the watch that I wear gets a scratch or two. This way a timepiece becomes a part of your story.
WWD: How does your watch collection represent you? Does your collection follow any themes?
G.G.: Speaking about daily watches, and not some rare auction pieces, Nautilus is for me a top watch. It was my first Patek watch. I recently rediscovered the 5711 with white dial in my collection, and recently fell in love with it. It was so under-the-radar when it was on the run, but I am glad some inner feeling pushed me to get it. I can’t really choose a favorite model — white gold perpetual calendar 5740, to the two-tone 5980, to full diamond 5719, or my new 5811 — I love them equally. And, of course, my true love is the 39mm Royal Oak Jumbo Audemars Piguet. I can say that I truly collect 16202 references, that I would usually wear at least five days a week. From a green dial platinum, to yellow or rose golds, to the extra thin tourbillon.
I recently bought the white gold with blue Tuscan dial, and absolutely adore it. In real life it almost looks like denim. It’s important to mention my love of the AP ceramics, having the white perpetual and different black ones. The black ceramic perpetual calendar open work is probably the most perfect modern watch today. I am blessed to own these exceptional timepieces.
WWD: What advice would you share to someone thinking about starting a watch collection?
G.G.: It’s important to get a watch that really speaks to you. Not because it’s a hyped piece, or because someone tries to sell it for a triple value on Chrono. Get a watch if you fall in love with it. It could be an AP, or Patek, or a vintage Rolex, but it could also be a Swatch. Sometimes it all starts with a Swatch. When I think about it more now, the first watch I bought myself was a Rolex, but the first watch I got was a Swatch. People give value to objects and not the other way around. If you love it, just go for it, be true to yourself, no matter what others think.
WWD: From the latest releases this year, what’s the next watch on your radar?
G.G.: There are many beautiful timepieces being released. To be honest from all the latest releases, I’m grateful enough to have managed to get all the watches that I wanted. The watch that I’m mostly looking forward to receiving this year is a unique piece from Audemars Piguet that we worked very closely together with [Audemars Piguet chief executive officer] François Bennahmias to create.
WWD: Do watches influence your design aesthetic and your fashion collections?
G.G.: My collection is very aesthetic and represents a lot of who I am. For a very long time I only wore white metals, steel, white gold, platinum watches. But for a couple of years now I’ve started to experiment with colorful metals, other materials. True collectors often neglect the value of beautiful timepieces that are set with stones. I truly value craftsmanship in watches, clothes, cars and jewelry. Pieces that require exceptional craft and a true artistic effort. Recently I changed my mind about watches set with stones. It has always been an absolute “no” for me, but something switched, and I find them currently very interesting from the aesthetic point of view. I’m talking about fully iced pieces, not just a few diamonds on the bezel. I think it’s the influence of 2000s slowly getting back in fashion. The one thing, though, the stones must be factory set, this is a must.
Fun fact that expanding my watch collection horizon to colorful metals and precious stones opened a new fascination for me in a world of custom-set grillz to mirror and accompany the watches. So basically, for each watch I wear, I designed a matching set of grillz to go with it. Historically cufflinks seem to play a similar role. It’s grillz now.
WWD: What do you think has been the biggest change in watch collecting over the last 10 years?
G.G.: Social media has changed everything. Vetements became such an important player in the fashion industry in many ways thanks to social media. In a conventional fashion structure, it would not be possible. Social media opened the knowledge towards many timepieces, showed certain collectors, started dialogues, created platforms and communities. Another push is thanks to auction houses — Phillips played an extremely important role in boosting that market and its visibility. Hodinkee was an important source to get information, and, of course, Chrono further pushed the desire. There is a lot of artificial hype created around watches, the same way Hermès manages to keep the allure around Kelly and Birkin bags. It is important to realize that money travels, and there will always be new money that will want to pay more than you did for the beautiful craftsmanship and the rarity, as the craftsmanship is extremely difficult to preserve and it will most probably disappear with time. I’m super geeky when it comes to quality. For me, luxury is craftsmanship that will last for a lifetime.
WWD: Have you ever sold a watch from your collection to make room for a new one?
G.G.: I’m very lucky that I never had to sell a watch in order to get a new one. I still have my first Air-King I got when I was 16, and every single watch I acquired since then. Those watches tell my story; each of them is representing a certain period in my life, and has meaning to me. They are like your children, you love them all, and giving one away, even if it will be in good hands, doesn’t feel right. I know collectors who with time get tired of collecting, or have other reasons for the watches to find new wrists. Thank you to Eric Clapton. We all know “you never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”