I have always been fascinated by collectors, collecting, collections and what appears to be the widely experienced human need to assemble large numbers of objects. Back in the old days, the monarchs of the 16th and 17th centuries demonstrated their national prowess with a Wunderkammer, or room of wonder, crammed with all manner of curios and gimcracks, scientific instruments jostling for space with unicorn horns and the like. Today of course things are different, but only a little: collections are no longer the mark of a country’s international status, and collecting has settled into specialised fields, but the passion remains.
The other day I gained a privileged insight into the mind of a collector. I met Reza Rashidian through the debonair gallerist Tim Jefferies. His day job is big game hunter and movie producer, but his passion is for vintage steel sports Rolexes – he likes them so much he started Pro-Hunter, a business specialising in modified Rolexes. Recently I accompanied him to a private room in one of London’s oldest banking houses to paw and pore over his collection. I admit to getting a charge out of handling watches, but I was completely unprepared for the sensation of excitement that overtook me as he opened case after case of rare timepieces. Some, such as the potato-shaped watch that made it to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, were world famous; others, such as those given to members of the armed services who fought in Oman in the early 1970s, were more esoteric.
Seeing row after row of Rolex Daytonas in box-fresh condition, I found myself possessed by the same sense of… well, wonder that must have gripped visitors to the wonder rooms of the late Renaissance. Without getting too metaphysical about things, what made the experience all the more poignant is the knowingness with which Rashidian views his passion, referring to them as “my stainless steel mass-produced watches”, acknowledging the irony that must occur to every major collector. It taught me that the true collector has a different mentality to the rest of us, possessing a mind that is able to reconcile the outlay of huge sums of money on what are, at the end of the day, coloured daubs on canvas, mechanically outdated motor vehicles, or, in this case, “stainless steel mass-produced watches”.