18/06/2024 9:34 AM


Piece of That Fashion

A Watch Collector Found His ‘Grail’ in the Indie Scene

A Watch Collector Found His ‘Grail’ in the Indie Scene

LONDON — Paul Blandford may not have been wearing a watch on his wrist during the pandemic lockdowns, but one timepiece did accompany him every day.

“I had this sat in its box and I didn’t even need to put it on my wrist,” the collector said, motioning toward the MB&F HM9 watch, with its aerodynamic, avant-garde design. “It effectively was my desk clock while I was working. What more do you need? This was my pandemic watch — it was awesome.”

His nicknames for the HM9 are “Her Majesty” and his “grail watch” (“I own my grail,” he said, using the watch world’s buzzword for a coveted timepiece. “Nothing makes me feel like the HM9 does.”). The watch often appears on his Instagram account, resting on the equally futuristic-looking Robodog watch stand from MB&F’s horological shop, the M.A.D. Gallery.

There is a print of the HM9, from the horological artwork site Eleven:11, on a wall in Mr. Blandford’s apartment, too, which overlooks the Battersea Power Station (on social media he calls it “Bezelford Towers”).

All that may sound like a bit much, but Mr. Blandford, 44, credits the limited-edition titanium watch with focusing his collection on independent watchmakers.

He bought the piece only last year, but already he has acquired seven more watches from indie brands, including a second MB&F and his first Urwerk, bringing his total collection to 25 timepieces.

Before the pandemic — a time when, he recalled, he would go into the office “suited and booted and wanted a watch that could fit under a cuff” — Mr. Blandford, a financial services executive, wore more classic watches. Although, he added, he always favored outré styles.

“Give me something unique, give me something unusual, give me something original,” he said in an impassioned tone that punctuated much of our conversation. “All the watches in my collection have something a bit different about them. Which, I think, is why I’ve ended up with independents, definitely.”

Mr. Blandford, who was born and raised in the English county of Kent, came into watch collecting via cars. In his late teens and early 20s, he said, he was a regular on the car-collecting forum PistonHeads, but he soon found himself spending time in its watch sub-forums. On his 21st birthday, he was given what he described as his first proper watch, a TAG Heuer Kirium Formula 1.

Its 1990s style, quartz mechanism and digital date display now make him cringe, he said, but at the time, “I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It’s my 21st birthday present, so it’s priceless in that respect.”

Over the years, Mr. Blandford said, he followed a fairly traditional collecting path, notably headlined by Rolex models, including both a modern and a vintage GMT-Master “Pepsi,” whose nickname was inspired by its red and blue bezel; a Submariner “Hulk,” with a green bezel and dial; a 1973 Red Submariner 1680; a 2009 Sea-Dweller 16600 with an aluminum bezel (“that I wish I still had”); a 1956 GMT-Master with a rare Bakelite bezel (though “one knock and you’ve damaged 20,000 pounds worth of Bakelite bezel”); and a 1999 Daytona 16520.

He called the Daytona, the only Rolex now left in his collection, a “perfect grab ’n’ go watch” that he has worn with both jeans and a tuxedo. And although he may have sold his other Rolexes to fund his recent purchases, Mr. Blandford said, “I would always say to a non-watch person: Get a Rolex.”

Among the timepieces now in his collection are a 2006 Patek Philippe Nautilus 3712, with a date and moon phase, which Mr. Blandford said he chose because it was produced for just a few months; an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402 C-series, one of the first Royal Oaks; and an F.P. Journe Resonance.

A big part of watch collecting is the stories acquired along the way, and Mr. Blandford’s acquisition of the prototype of the Urwerk UR-105 T-Rex is among his best.

Earlier this year, while visiting Urwerk’s new headquarters in Geneva, he was telling the brand’s founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei that one of their sold-out pieces was on his wish list. Mr. Baumgartner promptly retrieved the prototype from the brand’s archives.

“We asked Paul to close his eyes and we strapped the UR-105 T-Rex on his wrist,” Mr. Baumgartner wrote in an email. “He went ‘Wow!’ His enthusiasm was so pure, so strong. It was a real pleasure to witness. It was then impossible to step back. So this watch is definitely gone and Paul is now the happy owner of the very, very first sample of it. No regret! This is that kind of crazy bond we are living for.”

Such relationships are the reason Mr. Blandford now focuses on independent watchmakers and says he wants to add De Bethune and Greubel Forsey to his cache — and why his collection is no longer the 50 pieces that it was at its peak. “For me, it’s all about connection,” he said, “the connection with other collectors and the connection with the brands.”

A case in point is the jumping hour Maghnam watch, featuring a case that can be flicked to any desired direction, made by Sohaib Maghnam, an automotive design engineer in Milan who creates made-to-order watches in his spare time.

Mr. Blandford came across the watch on Instagram and ordered one that he collected at the 2021 Dubai Watch Week, when he met and became friends with Mr. Maghnam. The watch is priced at less than €4,000, which “proves that independent watchmaking doesn’t need to be really high-priced, crazy stuff,” Mr. Blandford said. “It’s a talking piece, but you’re not worried about it being a six-figure watch.”

A week after we spoke, Mr. Blandford wrote that he was trying on Maghnam’s latest design and thought about sending along a photo. “But it’s under embargo,” he wrote in a WhatsApp message. “It looks epic and I can’t wait to receive mine!” His enthusiasm felt as palpable as ever.