Consuming Collectibles: The Convergence Of Wine & Watches In Collecting

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our latest column, Consuming Collectibles, penned by W&W contributor and distinguished wine and food writer, Brian Freedman. One of our driving goals here at Worn & Wound is to share our enthusiasm for watches in an approachable manner, and make the hobby broadly accessible in the process. Features often bereft in the wine and spirits arena. Here, Brian will share his expertise and insight to an often misunderstood world and connect the dots to his other passion: watches. 

Back in 1987, there were a handful of things that I coveted above all else: A boom box with two tape decks, which would allow me to copy my neighbor’s “Slippery When Wet” and “Faith” cassettes; the phone number of the girl who sat in front of me in my fourth-grade classroom; and a Swatch Skeleton with a turquoise crystal, a gray strap, and a bright-yellow face guard, which would inevitably come in handy during the epic games of street hockey I played with my friends and neighbors.

Eventually, I got two of the three—sadly, I wouldn’t “pull any digits,” as we unfortunately called it back then, until midway through my fifth-grade year, and that relationship lasted for exactly two dates, one to Baskin-Robbin’s for ice cream sundaes and another to see the new Chevy Chase movie at the local theater—but the lasting impact of that watch is still with me today.

They say you never forget your first love, and to this day, that Swatch still matters. It was the first watch that ever really spoke to me, that ever really made me realize what a technological marvel a timepiece could be. I think it had to do with all of those exposed gears, with the way that I could see everything twitch to life when I screwed the battery into its port in the back of the case. As a ten-year-old who was fascinated by Rube Goldberg devices and building massive cantilevered edifices with my set of gray plastic Construx, it only made sense that a skeleton watch would sing with particular clarity.

Still, I never really thought deeply about watches until I was a young adult, when my then-fiancée bought me a vintage Breitling 808 to mark the big day. Instead, I turned my attention to wine…which, in many ways, shares a lot of the same DNA with timepieces among collectors. That love, too, can be traced back to my childhood, to my family’s Friday-evening ritual, which involved my mother simmering the tomato sauce, meatballs, and sausage on the stovetop, and my father taking me down to the basement after he got back home from work, explaining why he was pulling this wine as opposed to that one to pair with dinner. I can still see the light bulbs from their recessed tubes glinting off the maroon and navy and white capsules wrapping the necks of the Cabs and Chiantis and more.

For my dad, the world of wine has always been about more than just the juice in the glass—just as, for my mom, cooking has never just been about the food on the plate. It’s about the connections, about the history of the place it’s from, the stories of the people who grew the grapes and ushered the juice through the mind-boggling alchemy that transmutes it into a liquid that, at its best, can age for decades and punctuate the occasions that make up a life with profundity and joy.

Watches can do the same thing, although in a different way: The best of them can be passed down through the generations, can be purchased or given to commemorate the moments that we want to take with us, and that future generations can hold. Like a great bottle of wine, a watch can serve as the physical manifestation of the achievements and milestones that we want to remember.

Which is what this column will focus on: The intersection of watches and wine (and sometimes whiskey), and the ways in which the worlds of both overlap. I won’t be focusing on the highest-priced stuff—though there may be occasional exceptions—because with both wine and watches, there are plenty of exciting options along the entirety of the price continuum. Sure, I’d love to celebrate mine and my wife’s upcoming anniversary with a magnum of mortgage-payment Bordeaux, but that’s not going to happen—if that particular charge ever showed up on the credit card statement, I’m pretty sure it would kick-start divorce proceedings. The result would be the same if I bought my wife one of those swanky new Tiffany-blue Patek Philippe Nautiluses. Not that I could afford it, or even get my hands on one, but still…

These occasional dispatches will focus on the passion that drives collectors of watches and wine at all budgets, and at all levels of knowledge. There will be some iconic bottles discussed, as well as a few watches that require a heavier financial lift than others. But nothing will be out of the realm of widespread accessibility—no discussions of why Romanée-Conti, the vineyard that grows some of the most expensive wine in the world, is the Richard Mille of Burgundy (it’s not). Instead, these pieces will look at the worlds of both from the perspective of a professional drinker of wine and a passionate amateur collector of watches—someone who loves a great $30 bottle of Bordeaux as much as a $3000 one, who gets as much joy from the bright red Casioak that may or may not have been (but definitely was) drunk-ordered online last December as that vintage Breitling.

Because just as those Friday-night spaghetti-and-meatball dinners at my parents’ suburban Philadelphia house formed the kernel around which I’ve built my career, that see-through plastic Swatch also jump-started my love of watches. And as is the case for so many of us, both have played, and continue to play, deeply important roles in my life.

During the last week of 2021, I sent my editor the draft manuscript of my first book. Researching and writing it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done; my wife and I took to calling it my “moonshot.” It only made sense, then, that we commemorated the occasion by opening a special bottle of wine (the Kutch Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016)  and ordering—what else?—the new Omega Speedmaster sapphire sandwich.

We’ve been saving for a watch of this caliber (sorry…) for years now, and this particular achievement seemed like it justified this particular watch purchase. It’s not lost on me that, to mark a moment in my career that I’ve been striving toward for decades, I chose a watch that allows me to see its inner-workings on the other side of a see-through caseback. It may be a long way from that turquoise-and-gray Swatch Skeleton, but the thread connecting the two is clear. As is the passion behind them.

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