December 1, 2023

On a wet Saturday night in late September, 175 friends gathered on the American Museum of Pure Historical past in New York Metropolis, centered on one thing aside from the 21,000-pound mannequin of a blue whale suspended over their heads.

They got here, some with timepieces on each wrists, to attend RollieFest, an invitation-only occasion for watch collectors that appears to goal at being bigger, however nonetheless extra selective, than comparable meet-ups which were growing in popularity world wide over the previous decade.

“That is form of just like the Tremendous Bowl for watch nerds,” stated Dr. Michael Zeff, an endodontist who flew in from his house in Reno, Nev.

It was, he stated, “a extremely particular occasion for like-minded individuals who love gathering watches and with the ability to get collectively and speak about esoteric stuff that we get pleasure from, however possibly not lots of people perceive.”

RollieFest’s title was impressed by a nickname for Rolex (it nearly was known as Rolliepalooza, stated its founder, Geoffrey Hess), however attendees wore watches from quite a lot of manufacturers. Dr. Zeff, for instance, had on a crimson IWC Portugieser from 1943. And like different attendees — or RollieFesters, if you’ll — he immediately rattled off its reference quantity, 325, as a part of the watch’s description.

The connections weren’t restricted to the wrist although. Within the breast pocket of Dr. Zeff’s go well with was a intentionally chosen accent: a wool and silk sq. patterned with the form of watch bezels by the celebrated designer Gerald Genta, one of many pocket sq. collaborations between the British vogue model Drake’s and the digital watch platform Hodinkee.

The gathering, the second time RollieFest had been held, revolved round two primary occasions. There was the Sept. 23 dinner within the museum’s Irma and Paul Milstein Household Corridor of Ocean Life, with that massive whale mannequin; the menu included lemongrass hen in a Sichuan pepper discount; and there was a brief, enthusiastic speech by Mr. Hess.

A seated brunch the next day was held on the Rainbow Room, a non-public occasion area on the sixty fifth flooring of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown the place RollieFesters additionally displayed their timepieces so fellow friends may strive them on, {photograph} them or simply typically gawk. (A farewell cocktail celebration was held that evening at a flashy Porsche dealership on eleventh Avenue, however a couple of third of the RollieFesters didn’t attend, partially as a result of it coincided with the beginning of Yom Kippur.)

“Folks had been coming from far and extensive to be right here and at nice expense,” Mr. Hess, 54, stated, “so I needed the expertise to really feel worthwhile.” He culled the invitees from an inventory of contacts and pals that he has developed each as a collector — he has about two dozen timepieces, together with Rolex, Panerai and Hermès — and from working, since 2016, within the watch business.

He stated he used comparable care in selecting the venues. “Since there have been so many individuals from outdoors of New York, not to mention outdoors of the nation, I needed it to be locations that I knew couldn’t be replicated of their hometown.”

Every RollieFester paid $1,300, which included the occasions and bus transportation to the museum.

It was a rise from the $850 price of the primary occasion in 2019, however Mr. Hess stated his purpose wasn’t to make cash (including that he spent about $10,000 of his personal cash on the primary RollieFest).

“It is a noncommercial occasion,” he stated emphatically. “The great thing about it’s its authenticity.”

Sotheby’s — the place Mr. Hess grew to become senior vice chairman and head of watches for the Americas in August — offered what he described as “very nominal monetary assist,” though Mr. Hess and Sotheby’s declined to be extra particular. The public sale home did have a refined presence all through the weekend, with its emblem on the memento baseball caps and Leigh Safar, a Sotheby’s vice chairman and its world head of vital watch collections, on the four-person panel dialogue after the Sunday brunch.

Of the 175 attendees, 41 got here from international locations that included Japan, United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. Dr. Zeff was one of many 74 individuals who got here from U.S. states aside from New York.

The combo included medical doctors, attorneys and watchmakers, in addition to a tv producer, an Indianapolis 500-winning racecar driver and the actor Fred Savage, finest identified for his childhood function on the tv present “The Marvel Years.” (Mr. Savage was on the Sunday panel, extolling the virtues of watch gathering with all of the exuberance that his TV character, Kevin Arnold, used to point out for his Topps baseball playing cards.)

“One of many the explanation why watch gathering is so thrilling,” Mr. Hess stated, is that “you’re assembly folks you wouldn’t in any other case meet, however for that little piece of bijou in your wrist.” (His personal wrist displayed 4 watches, in rotation, through the occasion, together with a restricted version 2002 white gold A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1.)

The age vary additionally coated fairly a span, from the Los Angeles-based supplier Linden Lazarus, who’s 20 years outdated, to a number of collectors of their 60s.

However, similar to many watch collectors’ occasions, two teams had been noticeably underrepresented: folks of colour and girls.

Requested in regards to the invitation listing, Mr. Hess stated that “all walks of life had been there: outdated, younger, male, feminine, all completely different cultures.”

“The true focus is the crème de la crème of the collectors’ group and those who would actually get pleasure from being there most,” he added.

There have been, nonetheless, simply 21 feminine RollieFesters, together with a number of Sotheby’s executives — none of whom had been actually shocked by the scenario. “I’m used to it,” stated Zoe Abelson, a watch supplier primarily based in New York, “so at this level it’s not one thing that stands out to me once I go to a watch occasion.”

Mr. Hess is well-known within the watch collectors’ group. Along with his private curiosity in horology, which incorporates the @manhattanrollie Instagram account he has had since 2014, he has labored on the watch reseller Analog:Shift and within the watch division of Phillips public sale home in New York.

Over the previous decade or so, he had traveled to fairly a couple of collectors’ get-togethers (or GTGs, as horology followers usually name them), in international locations that included France, Britain and Australia. “I all the time puzzled why this nice pastime didn’t have an identical sort of gathering in the US,” he stated, deciding in early 2019 that he ought to do one thing about it.

“Geoff had come to me with this concept: ‘Do you suppose it’s loopy? Do you suppose folks would do it?’” stated Vincent Brasesco, a colleague at Sotheby’s who additionally labored with Mr. Hess at Analog:Shift and has helped out at each RollieFests. “I used to be like, ‘It’s an important thought. I believe folks would actually, actually like it.’”

(He wore a number of watches over the weekend, together with a 1955 yellow gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Cornes de Vache chronograph and a midcentury gold Patek Philippe, Ref. 1578GM, considered one of a 20-piece restricted version. On his toes on the Rainbow Room had been custom-made Stubbs & Wootton velvet slippers with the phrases “Pace” and “Grasp” embroidered in the identical distinctive font because the Omega mannequin of the identical title.)

The primary gathering had an identical format to the second, with 110 attendees and dinner in an airplane hangar on the Intrepid Sea, Air & Area Museum on New York’s Pier 86. Mr. Hess stated he supposed to carry a 2020 session, however the pandemic compelled a postponement.

Watch collectors’ golf equipment have been thriving, with organizations just like the New York-based RedBar Group rising from a small native gathering in 2007 to about 90 chapters worldwide at the moment. There are also small, very unique meet-ups like Issued, in England, and Classic Rolex Asylum, in Indonesia.

As for RollieFest, “this one, to me, is a particular occasion,” stated Kevin O’Dell, whose LinkedIn web page lists his career as “watch hunter.” “That is as massive because it will get.”

Mr. O’Dell, who drove nearly 5 hours from his house in Leesburg, Va., to attend, caused 30 timepieces from his 100-piece assortment to the Rainbow Room, fewer than the 65 items he had shared on the 2019 occasion.

“I actually promised I might solely convey 12,” he stated, “however then I used to be in my secure yesterday gathering all the things, and I had 12 Cartiers alone. I used to be like, ‘I can’t simply convey Cartiers.’”

Like the opposite attendees, Mr. O’Dell (who ended up bringing timepieces by Audemars Piguet, Boucheron and others, together with these Cartiers) displayed his watches on one of many tables that had been organized on the Rainbow Room’s picket dance flooring in a three-spoke sample meant to resemble the hour, minute and second fingers on a watch dial.

Extraordinarily priceless timepieces had been faraway from all types of circumstances — watch rolls, authentic cardboard containers, velvet pouches, a grey Goyard zipped envelope — and left on the tables with out a lot oversight from their homeowners.

“Everyone within the room has the utmost respect and accountability for this collectible pastime,” stated Sam Matlick, a non-public cash supervisor in Manhattan who laid out an eclectic array of greater than 60 watches, together with classic Rolexes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. “I belief all people — that’s all there’s to it.”

On the streets of New York, nonetheless, he isn’t fairly as trusting. He had taken an Uber from his house on the Higher East Facet, carrying the watches in what he described as “a totally unmarked black backpack that appears utterly discreet, on goal.”

As Mr. Matlick spoke, a few males in crisp black fits regarded down on the gathering from the mezzanine degree, a part of a crew of 5 safety folks introduced in to complement every venue’s protecting employees. The regional safety director from Sotheby’s New York workplace, Christopher Wendler, was supervising.

“An important factor for this occasion was safety,” Mr. Hess stated. “It’s of paramount significance and was the central driver for quite a few selections, together with the places.”

Within the foyer of Rockefeller Plaza, for instance, there was a big signal that learn “RollieFest NYC 23 Actual Property Convention” close to the escalator main as much as the elevator foyer for the Rainbow Room. “It’s a giant decoy,” Mr. Hess stated.

Some attendees had their very own methods. Dr. Jimmy Subject, a surgeon from the Houston space, got here to the museum dinner with six Breitling timepieces tucked in a black nylon holder in regards to the dimension of a salad plate that he had slung over his shoulder.

“If we had been strolling throughout any vital distance,” he stated, “I’d take my coat off and put it underneath my coat so no person would see.”

Some RollieFesters declined to be photographed or interviewed. One who stood out on the Rainbow Room brunch was carrying an informal black ensemble of T-shirt and pants, accessorized with darkish Anna Wintour-esque sun shades (to fight the air-conditioning, she stated).

She insisted on being recognized simply as Previous Watch Girl, or Owl for brief, the title identified by her greater than 36,000 Instagram followers, and the way she all the time is known as in watch-related protection.

She gained’t use her actual title in public or say precisely what number of watches she owns — past, as she put it, “a good few” — “as a result of folks can look it up, folks can Google you, folks can discover out the place you reside, folks can comply with your actions, folks can comply with what you are promoting, and that makes me really feel very weak.”

She had flown from London to attend RollieFest. And Mr. Hess stated there was “completely no motive why we couldn’t do a RollieFest outdoors of America, and even simply outdoors of New York.

“Watches are world. I all the time consider wristwatches ultimately like a common language.”

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