Known on Instagram as @WatchWalker, the man we’ll be talking with today is a globetrotter with Belgian roots. By chance, we ran into him on the internet, but haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him in real life yet, due to the global pandemic. @Watchwalker has been a watch collector for many years, and although other brands lured him, his passion lies with Zenith Watches. In this episode of our Collector’s Series, he highlights his Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385, and why it is a watch that was made for him… Obviously, when you love cigars and Zenith, this dial was simply made for you.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – What was it that made you develop a passion for watches?
@WatchWalker – Roughly twenty years ago, I remember doing some window shopping in Amsterdam and staring at all those beautiful Zenith watches I could not afford in those days. I loved watches since my childhood and remember playing as a 7-year-old in our attic with some mechanical watches my parents had stored there. My curiosity pushed me to the level that I destroyed most of them, just by opening the casebacks, peeling out the movements and trying to find out how the mechanics worked.
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Back in the spring of 2018, I was doing some research on the web for a rare watch and coincidently came across what would soon turn out to become my first Zenith. That was a pink gold Chronomaster El Primero Open XXT. It was the first of many Zeniths to follow, but unfortunately also the only Zenith I ever sold, still to my regret today.
Why is Zenith your brand?
There’s something special about this brand that makes it unique. Zenith is for sure not the most popular brand but that only makes it more attractive to me. I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money on a high-volume product that, even if well-designed and manufactured, has no soul or zero elegance. On the other side of that spectrum, we can find the independents, but only a few of them attract my interest and many still require a different level of spending. Whether you can afford it or not, it feels awkward to me wearing a €50k plus watch on my wrist. I have been there with several watches I owned, so I’m talking about my personal experience. I think it is a phase in watch collecting many of us will go through. One always aims for the next level, but once having reached the zenith (pun intended) of watch collecting, we start to look for something that is closer to one’s personality and one gets far less sensitive to external influences.
Unlike many other brands, Zenith doesn’t boast, although no other brand comes close to winning as many watch contests as Zenith did (over 3,000 achievements). Of course, the brand presented some questionable designs in the past as well, certainly at the beginning of this millennium, but overall, I associate Zenith with good taste, elegance, quality, innovation combined with insiders’ exclusivity.
Why did this particular watch stand out to you?
The A385 Revival stands out because it not only combines all the values I described above – values that matter to me – but it also refers to another hobby of mine and that is enjoying some fine puro cigars. The fumé dial – Zenith claims that it was the first to introduce smoke dials back in the sixties – reminds me of the many different shades of dried brown tobacco leaf. I know the public gave this watch “Cappuccino” as a nickname, but my personal association is that it reminds me of being the cigar aficionado that I really am.
The first time I saw the Revival series in the metal must have been at my authorized dealer in early 2018 when Zenith came out with the A386 Revival with tri-colour dial, a model very true to the original 1969 model. This one was soon followed by the A384 Revival panda dial and late last year with this A385 Revival brown fumé dial. As soon as I saw the announcement it only took a few weeks to decide, order and receive it.
Where did you buy it?
I ordered it in early February this year, via my regular AD. I have a good relationship with this AD that goes back several years – back in the days when I could simply walk in, buy a sports Patek Philippe from inventory and walk out again. The initial experience offered by this AD turned me instantly into a loyal customer, so whenever I’m looking at something new from the brands they distribute, I for sure try to order it via them. Nowadays, when Covid-19 travel restrictions are an obstacle and some watch models risk becoming scarce, having a solid relationship with your AD is surely a benefit. I only had to send a brief email and they shipped me the watch to my home without further ado. Since they know me well, I did not even have to pay upfront, but simply settled the payment upon receipt of the invoice via bank wire.
Was the El Primero movement a factor of interest to you?
Surely. Remember that it was not my first Zenith, I already became a real fan of the brand prior to this purchase. And to be honest, I first intended to purchase a classic Chronomaster 38mm tri-colour. But as that model was just eliminated from the Zenith lineup, only days before, I compared some alternatives like A384, and A385. I honestly hesitated between this A385 and the Shadow version. The latter may be next to follow soon though…
But, the fumé brown dial, in combination with the original case shape and measurements, equipped with the El Primero, the most famous automatic chronograph movement of all times, did it for me. Also, the steel ladder bracelet, a direct reference to the famous Gay Frères bracelet manufacturer from the past, gives this watch a rather unique appearance. I ordered the original leather strap as well since I like the matching colour of it a lot.
When do you wear your watch?
Every single watch I own gets worn. I have never bought a watch that stayed in the safe without seeing any daylight. But as I have quite a few watches, I prefer to rotate them, mostly daily, depending on if I have time to stop by the safe location. I try not to keep more than one or two watches at home, for obvious safety reasons. Some get more wrist time than others as it may depend on what I intend to do that day. Especially, if it involves anything with (being on the) water, I choose more carefully. I don’t want to destroy a vintage beauty with a reckless attitude.
Do you ever get reactions from family, friends or strangers?
Only very occasionally. Of course, those close to me know about my hobby but I only very seldom get any comments. Besides being active as @Watchwalker on most known watch forums and Instagram, I do have a close relationship with a very small international group of collectors and as we stay in touch via social media, we do exchange comments. Not always positive compliments though, we have known each other long and well enough not to take ourselves too seriously. Tastes are personal and while taste develops in time, we don’t all need to agree on what we like or not.
Those collectors are the ones I trust, but by default, that must remain a small circle. Luckily, I have experienced many positive online stories and only very occasionally some have tried to make abuse. As soon as you can reach a more in-depth communication level, it is not that difficult to differentiate the sincere players from the scammers and ballers. I am pretty sure that if it was not for the nice contacts I have gained through all these years, my collecting experience would never have been at the level it is today. It’s not only about owning some beautiful watches, but also about getting to meet new people, building lasting relationships, exchanging ideas and opinions, sharing knowledge, making jokes and, most important of all, having fun.
What is your opinion on the current price level of collectable watches?
In the past 3 years buying a nice watch has unfortunately become associated with money talk. Obviously, I know what I paid for it, but if your goal is not to lose, or even make, money by buying watches, Zenith is not the brand I would recommend to you first. The current inflated watch market situation takes away a lot of the fun, though. Not only because it has attracted many non-watch lovers, I call them investors, influencers and other “public people in permanent need of recognition”, this effect has driven the market value of some more exclusive models to unrealistic price levels. I don’t think most watch brands could have predicted this to happen but it’s interesting to see how some respond to this situation. I, as a paying consumer, stick to having the last word, since I am the one who pays and thus refuse to get manipulated by Ponzi scheme sales methods or distribution policies.
As I have no intention to resell the watch, the current or future resell value is of lesser importance to me. I am buying a watch to wear, not as an investment. Nowadays, many people think differently though, judging by the popularity and obscene grey market prices of some popular brands.
Back to Zenith, how do you consider their customer relations?
As I mentioned above, there are several reasons why I like this brand and this model. I have personally assisted in a long interview with Mr Jean-Claude Biver, former President of the LVMH watch division, two years ago while visiting Brussels. I was welcomed very respectfully by Zenith staff at the Basel show. My AD is doing a very good job taking care of their customers.
Visiting the Zenith Manufacture is still on my list but will have to wait till Covid travel restrictions are lifted. I did visit Omega and Moser in the recent past and visiting Zenith is surely one of my next ambitions.
How would you describe your watch collection so far?
Evolve or perish. A collection that never changes is a dead collection. I’m completely over and done with some brands I admired and owned in the past. That’s why I have decided to focus mainly on Zenith. That doesn’t mean I will never make a sidestep and purchase a few other watches, yet I think it is safe to say those sidesteps will be limited to a handful of watches. For what concerns the Zenith collection, let’s see. There are still too many Zenith models I am interested in. Some new, several vintage.
Are there any more watches on your wish list?
Ah, the pitfall question to any collector. What I learned in all these years is that waiting too long can be very costly. I always considered owning a Patek Philippe 5711P as the ultimate goal, almost like a one-watch collection. I really love the understated look of that watch, certainly in platinum. However, the recent craze has decided differently, and this watch will now probably remain forever out of my financial comfort zone. I could once try out a friend’s, he has a huge collection and a 5711P was only one of his many PP’s, but I think that’s where that ship has stranded. I once did own a 5711A but a short term need of cash had me decide to pass that one on. I knew I would regret it, and I still seriously do, but at that moment there were more important needs in my life than watches.
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I always was and still am a big fan of the Speedmaster Snoopy. To me, that watch illustrates well that one should not take oneself too seriously. I own the Silver Snoopy and am waiting for the new blue version to be delivered.
And I always keep a close eye on the Zenith collection. Just like many, I like the new Chronomaster Sport and I hope that within a month or two we may welcome the 38mm successor that recently got discontinued?
Do you have tips for collectors who want the A385 Revival too?
The advantage of Zenith is that they are not too hard to come by. Even the just-released and massively popular Chronomaster Sport can be obtained with just a little patience. And without having to pay a premium to a grey market dealer of course.
On the other hand, Zenith has the habit of discontinuing their models rather quickly. So if there’s anything in the current lineup you like, I would recommend not to wait too long. There’s always the second-hand market but nothing beats buying new: no open questions on the history, no doubts, factory warranty…
Maybe one small tip: if you are interested in buying a watch that comes with a steel bracelet like this A385 does, always go for that version. You can rather easily buy the leather strap separately as I did. Buying an original steel bracelet afterwards can be super expensive.
How about tips for people who start collecting?
Unless you have unlimited means, very few of us do, start with affordable stuff and work your way up from there. Keep in mind that you will make (expensive) mistakes as years go by. Go for quality instead of quantity. If you buy second-hand, buy the seller. Always prioritize the watch condition and history over the lowest price. Searching and buying used watches online, whether on sites like eBay or via auction houses can be fun, but will always turn out more costly than you would expect. As long as you can accept that, no problem of course.
And buy what you like, not what you think your friends like, what the next television star is wearing or what you think will keep its value. Then, even if the rest value is not there in the end, at least you enjoy a great watch you love.