In 2017, he sent 14 of his prized watches to Bonhams, including military-issued models by Omega, Timor and Smiths. “I just pulled out the ones I thought that would sell,” Kessler says.
Today, he regards the experience with “mixed emotions”. While two of his watches set records, at £6,000 and £8,000, one went for below the reserve price, something that still rankles. Another issue is that two of the lots have subsequently become highly sought after. “But you have to let go and you have to be a realist,” Kessler says. “If you live long enough, you will see something sell for more than you sold it for. If you sold a Jaguar E-Type in the 1980s for £8,000 and now it’s worth £100,000, you can’t kick yourself because of the appreciation.”
And anyway, collecting has changed completely over recent years. “You’re not going to do what I did, when I started out – go into an Oxfam shop and find a Hamilton Vietnam watch for £10,” Kessler says. “There are no ‘finds’ anymore. The Antiques Roadshow, eBay, the internet auction houses… Everyone knows everything these days.”
It perhaps goes some way to explaining the rise of single-brand auctions. Someone who was once “the Breguet guy” and has grown bored can now become “the Franck Muller guy” without expending a lifetime’s energy hunting down the watches. It’s like swapping one completed Panini sticker album for another. Some might say that is a sorry state of affairs – what’s the point in collecting in the first place? Others would say that since everyone lost faith in the banks after the 2008 financial crash, watches have become more attractive as a tangible way of storing and/or transporting wealth. “Effectively, they have become an asset class,” says Marks. “And, as with all asset classes, it’s always value up, emotion down.”
Either way, Kessler will not be buying any more watches. “At some point, if you’ve got an emotional attachment to anything, you’ve got to put your foot down and say, ‘It’s time’. You can’t look back. It’s like quitting smoking.”
Others have simply got back on the horse. Haslinger has now amassed enough vintage TAG Heuers for a second book. Or a second auction. So, how about it? Everyone loves a sequel. “I think it would be boring,” he says. “It was perfect as it was. It was linked to a certain period in my life. And it made me very happy.”