The Armoury’s Mark Cho On Why He’s Auctioning His Treasure Trove Of Grail Watches
After a decade and a half of amassing his collection, the menswear impresario is saying farewell to a few models to fund an expansion.
Journalists, enthusiasts and collectors have generated countless words on the acquisition of watches, but surprisingly little has been said about selling them. I’ve been collecting for 16 years, and recently I decided to part with most of them. I have a clothing business called The Armoury in New York and Hong Kong that I love very much, and I want to fund our next expansion, so I’m trading in these lovely things and putting the proceeds toward an even greater goal. I could have a pile of fine watches in my safe, or I could have a new store that brings joy to me, my colleagues and my customers.
What have I collected over the years? I started quite humbly. They were barely even called vintage watches when I began; they were secondhand and thus, cheap—much cheaper than a new watch. It was fun to find interesting bargains on my limited budget. My first vintage piece was a grey-dial Omega Chronostop. Later I collected “important watches,” such as Patek Philippe Nautiluses before they were hot and Langes before they were cool, with a view that they would become even more important later on. There was satisfaction in being proved right by the market. Now I pick up whatever strikes my fancy, like a horological magpie.
Parting with this collection would have been impossible five years ago. I had a hoarder’s mentality, and despite the potential of a financial return, there would have been separation anxiety and the spectre of seller’s remorse. What if I couldn’t rebuy what I sold? The curious thing about selling is you are rarely willing to buy back what you sold at the same price, let alone more than you sold it for. While I rarely regret selling, I still think wistfully of the Rolex 6238 Pre-Daytona and F. P. Journe Souverain that I once owned.
Over the past two years, I have been quietly letting go of pieces here and there, usually selling to friends and clients and occasionally via private dealers or auctions. I’d be lying if I said my collecting didn’t accelerate during the pandemic. At the same time, because I was accumulating at a rapid clip, I was also becoming jaded about pieces in my collection that I didn’t feel a connection to. It made me more willing to let them go, if just to fund the next purchase.
I am a firm believer in developing taste and appreciation through ownership. You can pore over articles and analyse spec sheets to the nth degree, but nothing beats what you can learn by actually owning and wearing a piece. Thus, this cycle of in and out was akin to studying with a constant stream of new materials. I was once entranced by a particular reference to the modern Rolex Day-Date, a recently discontinued brown-dial Everose variant. Yet when I finally tracked one down, I realised the colour was unflattering for my skin tone and the larger fluted bezel was unsuited to my personal style.
In late 2021, my New York business was doing sufficiently well that I started to consider options for an expansion, and selling a large chunk of my watch collection was the path I chose to raise cash. I could have gone to a bank for a loan or to potential investors for some capital, but it felt much more natural to maintain our financial independence by reallocating what I already had. Wanting to grow the Armoury was a clarion call, but there were other factors at play. I had now experienced enough watches that I felt confident in choosing what should stay and what should go. I no longer felt the invisible hands of doubt that kept me from moving on from my pieces.
In order to determine what I was prepared to sell, I set aside any that were sentimentally significant, like my first nice watch or my special order with F. P. Journe or my collaborations through the Armoury with H. Moser and Naoya Hida. After that, I simply looked at every watch I had and asked myself if I could remember the last time I wore it. If I couldn’t, it went in the sale. It’s not that I disliked what I had but that I liked the other things I had more. This logic applies to three quarters of the watches I’m offering. Sometimes taste is developed as part of a trial by fire. If the loss is tangible, hopefully I’ll make better decisions in future, as I alluded to with the 6238 and the Souverain. Next, I also let go of certain pieces that, despite me wearing them quite often, were simply getting too valuable for me to wear around freely. Much as I love the Nautilus or the Royal Oak, wearing one speaks so loudly now that even I am deafened. I look back fondly on the Patek 3700s, 3800s and the 36 mm Royal Oaks I let go over the years, but I feel nothing more. Watches should bring joy not anxiety.
Finally, I took a hard line on what I think physically fits me. Because I’m a clothier, fit is important and the idea of a watch being physically not suitable for me is just as annoying as it might be with a garment. Does the watch hug the wrist in the right way? Do its lugs meld into your forearm, or does the entire case dominate your appearance? I love watches as objects, but they are also a form of personal decoration, and it matters to be thoughtful about that. The world sees your appearance first and your personality last.
With still some time till the sale, I write this piece in a state of calm. I know very well which watches I no longer need in my life. The market will determine the prices for me. Saying goodbye feels a little bit like growing up and entering a new phase of life. There is no resentment, just some fond memories and a lot of excitement for the future. Beyond my own personal aspirations, I am curious to see where my pieces end up and if I will ever encounter them again. I hope they bring their new owners joy.
8Mark Cho is the cofounder of the Armoury and co-owner of Drake’s. The Beauty in Everything sale launches online at Phillips on November 30, 2022.
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