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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.

  • Is there a watch that every collector should own?
  • The Omega Speedmaster, known as the Moon Watch. Every astronaut since Neil Armstrong has worn it on mission. It's a common watch—with a special history.

  • Do you own any?
  • Yes! It's very interesting too. Between 1967 and 1970 Omega manufactured a batch of watches with a defect in the dial. The flaw took 40 years to develop. Turns out, in humid, tropical climates, the dial becomes a faded brown. This flaw is quite famous: It is sometimes called "Tropicale." It's a desirable flaw because, in a way, it marks time.

    I have that watch in 6 different shades of brown. Flaws sometimes make the watch. I love flaws; I don't fall in love with perfection.

  • If money isn't an object, do you buy the best you can afford or as many as you can afford?
  • The best. You won't ever regret it. It's very important to enjoy the watch. The people who settle for less always regret it. However, I think there are limits to this rule. For me, there are certain watches that are too expensive and I can't rationalize it. I know a guy who wants to mortgage his house to buy a watch. It's idiotic.

    Buy the watch, not the price!

  • Are watches a good investment?
  • Yes and no. A lot of people are getting into the game right now because the watch market has remained strong. And that has a lot to do with the boom in the Asian and Russian market—especially in the vintage watch market.

    Even though I advise funds, I say that you have to play the market with your heart and not your wallet—otherwise you lose focus and make costly mistakes.

  • What's a costly mistake people make when they buy vintage watches?
  • The problem is simple: old things break. When they do, fewer and fewer people can repair. Even if you find people who can service your watch, they may not have the parts. It's like vintage cars in this way. The beauty of a well-made watch, especially in this day and age, is that if they are taken care of, watches are made to last hundreds of years. That's why you need to think about service. Buying CPOs from a retailer who can provide a warranty is really a very smart investment.

  • How often do you get your watches serviced?
  • Every five years. It's crucial.

  • What do you love? What do you have a crush on?
  • Patek Philippe Perpetual Chronographs are the love of my life. I can't help but crush on anything new. I go to Basel and Geneva to find novelties. A current crush is the Ikepod Hourglass by Marc Newson. Newson has taken a 1,000-year-old design and completely revived it using classic materials and craftsmanship in a completely new way.

  • What should dapper young men and women wear?
  • For men, 1950's IWC military watches. For women, a Cartier TankŪ.

  • I feel inspired to start collecting Cartier Tanks. Any advice?
  • Go to every watch event, hang out at watch stores, follow auctions, get to know other enthusiasts — it's a sociable world, and the most successful collectors ask questions.