Black Dial Man: An Interview with Vintage Heuer Collector Jon Corbett

HEUER COLLECTORS like what they like. Accountant Jon Corbett is a black-dial man. His three-year-old collection includes two Autavias, a Skipper and a Carrera — all black dials with white subs, and nearly all circa-1960s and ’70s. “All of these predate me, which is kind of funny,” says the thirty-something New Zealander. “I purchased the Carrera first; I liked the simplicity of it. I saw it initially as a TAG Heuer re-edition without knowing. I came to know about vintage from auction houses.”

Although he now buys chronographs from around the world, his collecting “started locally, because I wanted to see the person who was taking my check.” His first long-distance transaction partner was a dealer in Germany. “I was pretty nervous about it,” he says. “How real are the photos? What’s the movement inside? Then I worry about the shipping.” The watch he shows off, happily, arrived in perfect condition. After that he got an Omega Speedmaster from a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, thanks to an absentee bid he’d forgotten about until he received a congratulatory e-mail. “That’s when you realize how much duty and taxes go into it.” His holy grail? “I like the Carrera Data 45 — kind of quirky for my quirky nature.” He warns potential collectors that like time itself, some coveted watches simply slip away. “I’m slow to pull the trigger,” he says, “and sometimes when I go back to the site, they’re gone.”

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Corbett grew up in Auckland and first admired watches in duty-free stores when he traveled with his family; he has lived in the United States for 13 years. He got the collecting bug when his wife gave him a Glashütte Original on their wedding day. Yes, it’s a black chronograph, albeit “with a cushion shape,” he says. “But it’s a modern company.”

The family man who works in Manhattan and lives across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, also has a fondness for cars and wine, too, but collects neither. “My cousin was a car guy and had a classic BMW three-liter that lived in our garage for five years,” he says. Did Corbett ever get to drive it? “Never,” he says with a rueful chuckle. The New Zealand wines he’s partial to include Sauvignon Blancs and Shirazes — “nothing expensive enough to come from an auction house.”

He rarely uses the complications on his timepieces, he admits, and he’s not a sailor. He did have to press his Heuer Skipper into service once, however. “My friends sail and have careers with high-end America’s Cup teams, so I follow it,” he says. “When they recently sailed down the Hudson, I timed it to see how it worked — but it was just for jokes.”

He now has several contemporary watches in addition to the Glashütte. “The newest one I’ve bought is the Omega Seamaster, Spectre James Bond version,” says the avowed Bond fan. “I like the vintage look of it — kind of a throwback to Sean Connery and Rolex. I bought it when my son, Henry, was born last year. I tried to get a serial number with his birthday in it, but the dealer wasn’t so helpful with that.” Predictably, Corbett has plans for that Omega. “Henry will get that, so I try not to wear it.” Omega released the Spectre in two dial colors: dark blue and black. Which one did Corbett buy? You get one guess.

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