Collector Profile: Modern Day Patronage with @onlybuyingtime

A few weeks back, I found myself sitting at the end of my kitchen island on a phone call with a man I have never met, but with whose collection I am intimately familiar. After all, CB — better known as @onlybuyingtime — has over 30k followers on Instagram, he is a voting member of the GPHG, and he is the owner and caretaker of, quite frankly, one of the most diverse collections of independent watches I’ve seen anywhere.

CB has been collecting for the entirety of his adult life, though his fascination with watches extends back further. As he describes it, CB had “fun watches as a kid,” but it was only in adulthood that he really started collecting in a tangible way.

“It wasn’t like I had a parent or anybody that was really into watches. I think I really fell into it as an adult and realized this is something that’s very unique to each man. It tells a lot about a personality. If you are in a sports watch vs. a dress watch; the colors, the make, the models, the complications, all that stuff tells a lot about somebody. And for me, it’s just another level of expression.”

Modern Day Patronage

One of the great treasures of Philadelphia is the Barnes Foundation which is, for those unfamiliar, one of the world’s stand-out collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern art. When I first moved to Philly in 2022, it took me less than a week to visit the Barnes for the first time, and, in a city filled with great museums, it remains my favorite, and the one I visit most regularly.

The current home of the Barnes Foundation is a spectacular building on Ben Franklin Parkway, just down the street from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (that’s the one with the Rocky Steps). Inside, you’ll find walls filled with a seemingly never-ending assortment of Cézannes, Matisses, Picassos, and Renoirs.

This collection is, largely, the work of one prolific collector, Albert Barnes. Barnes spent the last 40 years of his life collecting, learning about, meeting, and — through his purchases and commissions — supporting some of the great artists of the last century. In other words, he was a patron, in the truest sense of the word.

‘Patron’ isn’t a word that gets thrown around all that often these days. Outside of art history lectures and Florentine museums, the concept of patronage seems to be largely restricted to supporters of charities and as a generic term to replace ‘shopper’ or ‘customer.’

CB is a patron in the classic sense. Not content to be “just another number at the bottom line” of big brand’s ledgers, CB is more than a customer to the watchmakers he loves. CB is a staunch advocate for modern independent watchmaking, not only because he wants to be, but because he recognizes the value that good collectors can offer.


“I know my money and my passion and interest and time falls flat on most of those big companies. These Indies that I collect, that I know…I know that the money that I am putting towards purchasing one of their pieces of art is truly helping them and giving them the confidence to keep going.”

Evolution of a Collector

Though his collection is now filled to the brim with them, CB, for obvious reasons, didn’t start down his collecting paths seeking out small, one-man shops producing pièces unique. CB’s first mechanical watch came in high school when he was gifted a TAG Heuer Super Professional. After wearing that watch straight through to adulthood, he kicked off his collecting with a purchase both expected and not.

Like his dad, CB would pick up a Sub (who can argue with that?), but, belying his own future taste, there was no way a run-of-the-mill black steel Sub would do, so a two-tone Bluesy it was. That was followed by a Breitling and a Franck Muller — this was the early ‘00s after all. Then came his “first real step into high horology,” an A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone in rose gold with slate gray dial. With that first step out of the way, “the ten years after that has been pretty heavy duty collecting.”

But it was in 2019 that CB’s collecting kicked into another gear. “I had started steering in the direction of ‘I just want quality.’ it was always quality over quantity. And I think I concluded at that time, instead of building up to the point where you can get a grail, now all I really want to collect is grails. Let’s go just quality and focus on grails.” It’s an enviable position, and one that most collectors dream of finding themselves in, and CB knew it. He also realized that he wasn’t getting the satisfaction he was looking for.

“I wanted to know what it felt like to have certain pieces I never could have acquired previously. In general, I started buying grail upon grail upon grail within a short period of time and I felt two things. One, like car collecting or art collecting, the search and the journey is almost more important than getting the object at the end of the day. That whole feeling and process is part of collecting and once you have something you immediately want the next one. So getting too much too soon took a lot of the excitement out of it.”

“Then the pricing on some of them… If you buy a watch for $10,000 vs. $100,000, does the $100,000 watch give you ten times as much pleasure and excitement? What I realized was not only did I not get ten times more excitement with just buying grail, expensive stuff, I felt the opposite. I felt a little bit of a lack of conclusion.”

At the same time, CB also started to realize that, as a collector, he could be doing more to help the small, independent brands he really loved, and his approach began to shift, moving away from the quality over anything approach. “I want to create and collect a United Nations of stuff,” he says, “I wanna open up my box and see how the designs and finishing and architecture of watches differ in every country. It’s all very different and I want different case shapes, sizes, dial colors, complications, the more variety the better, and I’ve gone to the extreme of that.”

It’s a bold goal. After all, we all have our own tastes which help to guide our collection, and sometimes act as limitations. But any limitations that exist in CB’s approach only seem to reinforce his desire for variety. “I don’t want multiples, I really want to find that one model within each brand that I have interest in.”

And finding that one model usually comes down to one thing, as CB says, “The watch has to be good all around, but one piece of it has to be great.”

It’s All In The DNA

So what makes a watch great? What does CB actually look for when contemplating his next purchase? “One of my biggest collecting philosophies now, is collecting stuff that has a very unique, distinct, DNA to the design that is not easily confused for other people’s stuff.”

“I’m looking at something for the soul, the design, the DNA and it could be as simple as somebody doing something fun out of some country where it’s just a case that is the DNA, or it’s just a dial that’s the DNA, or it’s an in-house movement.”

This way of thinking has led to some incredible watches making their way into CB’s watch box, like his Maîtres du Temps “Buzz,” a watch that sets itself apart not through some crazy technical detail (though it is remarkably impressive on that front) but rather thanks to the hand-painted dial created by Andre Martinez, one of the world’s leading ‘micro-artists,’ who used the watch as a canvas to replicate the enduring image of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon.

It might shock you to find out that CB isn’t big into space. “Do I like space? Sure. I don’t know much about it outside my general knowledge stuff. Space is cool, but I was not into it,” he says,  “Now I started falling in love with individual artisans who are masters of their craft in one certain way. Now I want a watch that’s hand-painted, now I want a watch that’s enameled, now I want a watch that’s cloisonné, marquetry, engraved — I want to find the best of the best who I’ve seen do this stuff.”

Of course, it’s not an indiscriminate process. Value has become a big part of the equation for CB in recent years. “Assuming the soul and the design DNA is there, then the next thing is value. I like looking down and knowing that I feel good about the purchase that I made, who it went to, and what it went towards value-wise.”

The “who it went to” has become especially important to CB, especially as he has gotten to know more of the watchmakers behind some of his favorite watches.

The Human Touch

“For me, it’s artists creating art. And as a collector, it’s the story. You’re falling in love with the artist, their story, where they get their inspiration from. And when you wear it, you’re not just wearing a watch. You’re wearing a Holthinrichs from Delft.”

Watchmaking has long valorized the idea of the lone watchmaker — the old Swiss man lovingly cutting and polishing movements in the upstairs workshop of his Vallée de Joux farmhouse while snow falls gently outside. But recent years have introduced us to a new breed of Indie watchmaker like Michiel Holthinrichs, who balances traditional techniques with modern manufacturing techniques like 3-D printing.

Through Instagram, DMs, and texting, collectors have seen a new level of access to the next generation of independent watchmakers, and CB has been right in the middle of this. Simon Brette, Florent Lecomte, and James Lamb have become particular favorites, and genuine friends, to the collector. “I’d say, at this point, James is one of my closest friends and we’ve never met each other. I don’t know if there’s somebody that I talk to on a more regular basis.”

“I fell in love with the story and then started talking with the man and fell in love with the artist,” he says when asked about his personal James Lamb watch, a pièce unique derived from James Lamb’s Origin Series Element Collection. “When that was delivered, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more soulful watch on my wrist.”

CB doesn’t shy away from how the personal connections he has with the men making his watches affect his views on the final pieces, “We’re collecting cool stuff. But at the end of the day, this stuff really does not have as much impact and interest if the friendship and the relationship was not there. It’s something that can’t be replaced, and it just adds a level of depth and emotional romanticism to watch collecting which, at this point, is the biggest part of this for me.”

Curating Over Collecting

Which brings me back to Barnes. On a recent trip to the museum that bears his name, I was struck by how little I knew about him. So I did what any young millennial would do and, in the middle of a museum with people swarming around me, I pulled my phone out and Googled Albert Barnes. Plenty comes up, but it’s hard to find an interview or even extended quotes (although there are some doozies describing Philadelphia).

Yet, if I walk through his museum, I can still get a strong sense of who he was as a person, and more importantly as a collector. Barnes wasn’t just a collector, he was his own curator, rearranging the flow and organization of the paintings on the walls as pieces came and went. The paintings he left behind still hang in the same positions (well, same relative positions — the museum has moved) as they did when Barnes hung them, and Masterpieces from major artists sit on the same walls as works from lesser-known peers, each painting lent the same significance by its owner.

In describing his own collecting, CB says, “I want diversity and I want curation. I feel like the word collector, collection only goes so far. I’m past collecting, I’m at the point of curating. I’m finding, sourcing, building, designing, collecting, and curating in the sense that I’m taking care of and sharing my passion with hopefully other people that are either passionate or maybe don’t know anywhere close to the depth of what is out there.”

That CB is a collector on a level most of us can only dream of doesn’t mean he looks at it that way. For as impressive as the watches in CB’s collection are, he isn’t one to seek out acclaim for himself. As I was signing off my call with him he reminded me of as much saying, “I’m not ever looking for the story to be about me, I want it to be about the watches and the brands.”

He does believe, however, that he has a responsibility to act as an ambassador for the brands he loves, something which seems to come easy enough for him. “What gives you joy collecting watches? Well, it’s one of three things, it’s wearing it on your wrist, it’s opening your collection and seeing it, and it’s sharing that with everybody.”

Related Posts
A native New Englander now based in Philadelphia, Griffin has been a passionate watch enthusiast since the age of 13, when he was given a 1947 Hamilton Norman as a birthday gift by his godfather. Well over a decade later, Griffin continues to marvel and obsess about all things watches, while also cultivating lifelong love affairs with music, film, photography, cooking, and making.