Grail Hunting: One Collector’s Watch Journey

This past March I obtained my grail, a Rolex Explorer reference 114270. I decided to finally  “pull the trigger” on a 114270 to mark a professional accomplishment. Like countless before me, achieving a professional milestone was the catalyst I needed to finally justify the expense of buying a Rolex.  Although my scenario is common, I felt my choice of watch was uncommon, after all when most say Rolex most think Submariner. Although I love the Submariner, the Submariner is not a grail watch for me. But what is a “grail watch?”

Some use the term “grail watch” to refer to an ultra rare or complicated piece like those from Patek Philippe, F. P. Journe, or MB&F and some use the term to mean any watch they want to own that is currently out of their price range. Considering my grail was an Explorer it may not be surprising to hear that I do not fall into the camp of a “grail watch” being a complicated piece from an haute horology brand. For me, a “grail watch” means the watch that is currently out of reach that one obsesses over until it’s acquired. Further, once acquired the grail watch should become the cornerstone of one’s collection. To me, the Explorer represents the perfect everyday watch to make the cornerstone of my collection.

The Explorer may be a boring watch to some but to me, it represents understated elegance. The Explorer is a watch born of the 1950’s, the Mad Men era. When Don Draper said, “make it simple, but significant” surely he was referring to the Explorer. The Rolex Explorer, particularly in 36mm, is as close to the perfect watch as one can get. The Explorer is sporty but elegant, the one watch that can go from beach to boardroom, to the summit of Ben Nevis. So, how did I settle on the Explorer reference 114270 as my grail watch?

After all, one does not wake up one day and decide, I now like watches, I am going to start collecting them and my grail is a Rolex Explorer 114270. To have a grail one has to be collecting for at least some time in order to develop one’s taste and to know exactly what one’s grail will be. There is one watch that led to the Explorer and one watch that confirmed I wanted the 114270 over the modern 214270 Explorer in 39mm.

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The watch that led me to the Explorer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Seiko SARB 033. I had the SARB for several years and enjoyed wearing it every day. I would stare at the dial and loved its sophisticated simplicity. I loved how the SARB was an everyday watch. Whether I was in the office or out with friends the SARB never looked out of place that versatility was something I wanted in my grail. The SARB proved that an understated black dial watch in steel on a bracelet was the watch I wanted to be the cornerstone of my collection, the SARB showed me there was only one choice for my grail, the Explorer. I know what you are thinking, what about the Datejust? Sorry, but I am a no-date kind of guy.

Once the SARB led me to the Explorer it was a Tudor Prince Day-Date reference 76200 that led me to the 114270 over the 214270. My Tudor Prince from the late 1990’s has a 36mm Rolex signed Oyster case. It has a gorgeous pure white dial, a dial to put a “polar” 16570 to shame. As brilliant as the dial is, it is the 36mm Oyster case on the Prince that was the best part of this watch. The case just fits my wrist perfectly, like the watch had been designed especially for me. The Tudor Prince confirmed the 36mm Explorer was it and in particular the 114270. The Tudor Prince led to the understanding that the two things that annoyed me the most about Rolex and Tudor watches are those hollow end links and the cyclops. Thus, ruling out the 14270 and the Datejust. The SARB and the Tudor Prince confirmed that what I wanted was a versatile and elegant 36mm watch as my everyday wear. I must confess though, I never even tried on a 214270 but when you know you have found the one, your mind does not even wander for a second to think about what else may be out there.

The Explorer 114270 is the everyday watch I chose to build my collection around. The 114270 has the perfect dimensions for an everyday watch. It is approximately 36mm in diameter, 44mm in length, 11.5mm thick, with a 29mm dial diameter, and 20mm lug width. I’ve found that case diameter, case thickness, and lug width are the critical factors in determining comfort on the wrist. While the length and dial diameter determine wearability and proportionality on the wrist. The 114270 has the perfect dimensions in terms of comfort and proportionality for my child size wrist, in metric units that’s a16.5cm wrist for reference. From the moment I put the Explorer on my wrist I was happy and satisfied with my grail choice. I now have the cornerstone of my collection in place. However, once the immediate joy of obtaining my grail wore off, I was left with an existential crisis: now what? I had spent years working my way towards the Explorer but had never stopped to think about what would come after the Explorer.

I am a careful planner in my everyday life but when it comes to watches I have always been more of a bird, in the sense of “that is pretty and shiny, I’ll take it!” do you know how many watches fall into the “pretty and shiny” category? The Explorer changed my collection focus, in that it finally gave my collection focus. After obtaining my Explorer I have come to the realization that what I want is a dress watch, an everyday watch, and a sports watch. I have my everyday watch but now I need to discover what the next grail is. What is the next watch that will satisfy me as much as the Explorer has? I do not have the answer yet but what I have learned is that grail watches are more like watch collecting mile markers. Grail watches should show where your collection has been as well as where it is going. My first collection mile marker is the Explorer, what’s yours?