Opinion: Enthusiast or Collector? A Distinction Worth Making?

Here are two terms you might see used interchangeably if you’ve spent any time around watch folk: enthusiast, and collector. In the pursuit to accurately label, well, whatever it is that we are, these are the two words that seem to appear with the most frequency. In reality, we are enthusiasts, and some of us are also collectors. Having a collection of watches is not a prerequisite to calling oneself an enthusiast, and neither is a predetermined level of knowledge on the subject, Right? Does being a collector imply enthusiasm? There are indeed some prickly connotations associated with each of these realms, and I’ve seen friends and colleagues bristle at being labeled a collector. What do these words mean in the world of watches? And how should we be thinking about ourselves in relation? 

Being labeled an enthusiast of any given genre does indeed imply a level of knowledge, but there’s a certain quality that I’ve noticed in many of the people I’d consider enthusiasts, and that is, quite simply, curiosity. Those same people would be the first to admit their own blind spots, and their curiosity is deep enough to reveal the unknown (besting the Dunning–Kruger effect). Just what drives that curiosity is another story, and this is often what separates us and shapes our own personal tastes. For some, that interest may be largely aesthetic in nature, while for others, historical relevance and practicality serve as inspiration.


Enthusiasm is not a label to be earned. It’s merely a signifier of one’s own level of curiosity or attraction. We often bicker over the practical and mechanical qualities (or measurements) of a watch, and as fun as that can be, it sometimes misses the forest for the trees. It’s perfectly fine to be drawn to a watch not because of its merits, but because you find it beautiful. Or because your favorite actor/musician/socialite was spotted wearing it and you thought it looked cool, and that’s what drove your curiosity around the watch, and subsequently how you found your way into this world. There is no right or wrong way to be an enthusiast, so long as you maintain a level of curiosity, even if it’s evolved from the form that brought you here in the first place. 

One thing that enthusiasm is certainly not reliant upon, is ownership. The ability to purchase something alone does not require much curiosity at all, and as such the term ‘collector’ alone has no bearing, to me, on enthusiasm. That’s not to say collectors can’t be enthusiasts, many likely are in some way shape or form, but if the sole focus of your enthusiasm is acquiring, then perhaps you’ve lost sight of what drew you to these things in the first place. 

Enthusiast non-collector, Jason Heaton

Collecting seems to imply a level of direction in acquisition and that comes with, well, buying to collect rather than buying to use and enjoy, which is likely the main rub when it comes to enthusiasts who prefer to stay away from the ‘collector’ label. In that sense, you could almost call the two words antonyms to one another. There’s a purity, a contentment even, to simply being enthusiastic about something, without feeling the need to own it as well. Making that distinction within ourselves can be tricky, but learning to let go of lust for a particular watch can overcome a big hurdle in your own enthusiasm.

So what makes a collector? In my experience, this requires a goal and an end point. Need every dial color ever offered on a specific reference? Every case metal? Exclusively focused on hand-wound chronographs from the ‘60s? These are collection goals, and have defined boundaries. Heck, you might not even like every dial color of a specific reference, but if your aim is a collection, that doesn’t matter, they have to be together. Collectors and collections require focus, and straying from that focus (toward other watches you might find appealing), takes you further away from that goal. This is largely why I don’t consider myself a collector, even though I have a collection of watches (scarcely related to one another by the fact that they are, in fact, watches). 

So whether you call yourself an enthusiast, a collector, or an enthusiastic collector, it’s important to note that what distinguishes us is our motivations, and our curiosity. You don’t need to collect things to be an enthusiast, and you don’t need to be enthusiastic to collect things. And taking a step further back, we probably don’t even need these labels at all. But I want to know what you think. As this hobby has grown over the years, so has the diversity and motivations of the people within it. Seeing passion born of a curiosity very different from my own has been one of the most rewarding things about being around this industry, and helps challenge and shape how I think of us as a group, and ultimately how I communicate with you. 

Let us know what drives your curiosity and enthusiasm in the comments below, and if you’re building a collection and consider yourself an enthusiast, we’d love to hear from you.

Related Posts
Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.