William Rohr has the natural reflexes of a globe-trotting watch collector obsessed with time: He has a habit of glancing at wrists and is very punctual. Rohr is the former COO of Antiquorum and a consultant at a leading New York auction house. Although he is seriously credentialed, he is too well bred to boast. He grew up in Geneva; attended a Swiss boarding school and went to NYU for a master's in finance. As his business card suggests, he is a mediator between watch collectors and investors. But Rohr doesn't see watches as investments; to him, they are commitments.
Over a long lunch at Le Colonial, the French-Vietnamese brasserie where he is a regular, he explained to me that collecting is like finding the perfect lover: It takes time.
When did you know you were a collector?
I was 16. I cashed in my first paycheck of 1,500 Swiss francs and had to make my first choice as a collector: the Rolex Milgauss or the Rolex Oyster Quartz. I chose the Quartz but the Rolex Milgauss is worth so much more today.
Don't you regret it?!
No! Your first watch is like a first girlfriend, you'll always cherish her. I still collect this way — with emotion.
Your expertise is in military and Patek Philippe watches. Do you collect what you specialize in or specialize in what you collect?
I'm peculiar among collectors because I don't specialize. I buy every watch. I have no idea how many watches I have, and I don't want to know. Collecting is a matter of taste and is unique to every collector: You buy what you love, and eventually you see a theme and say, "Hey, maybe I'm a collector."
What's the first thing you tell clients about building a collection?
I tell my clients to know what they like and then learn everything about it. The process of building a collection is trial by fire. But stay focused and you'll be just fine.