Collective Horology Is a Club With an Unusual Entry Rule

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That’s the idea behind Collective Horology: Buy one of the club’s collaborations, and suddenly, you’re a member.

Gabe Reilly and Asher Rapkin, the co-founders of Collective Horology, show off two of the watch club’s collaborations, the Urwerk UR-100V, left, and the H. Moser & Cie Pioneer Centre Seconds Rotating Bezel, right.
Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

There are all sorts of clubs for watch enthusiasts. Many of these associations start informally, as small gatherings of friends who share a passion for their timepieces then grow into large meetings with watch brands offering to stage special events or presentations for members.

But Collective Horology began with a different premise. “Potential members are invited to join, but first they have to buy a watch” — specifically, a timepiece created by the club in collaboration with a major watch brand — the club’s co-founder Gabe Reilly said in a video interview. “That’s the heart of what’s different,” Mr. Reilly explained, what sets Collective apart from other watch clubs.

Mr. Reilly and his co-founder, Asher Rapkin, say their buy-to-join concept benefits both members and watch brands. “Every member would share a common bond: They own at least one Collective watch; they don’t have just a general interest in watches,” said Mr. Reilly, 40. And, for brands, “this isn’t a watch club where they are taking a chance if the members have the means to buy.”

To the two friends, who grew up together in New York City and now live in Southern California and work in advertising and marketing for the Silicon Valley powerhouse Meta, the idea seemed a natural one. The pair founded the club in 2018, brainstorming the concept, name and general model, then “pitched our first projects and kicked off the first collaboration with Zenith,” Mr. Reilly said.

That collaboration took the form of a 50-piece limited-edition version of Zenith’s El Primero Chronomaster. The club sold the timepieces for $6,850 each, garnering its first 50 members in the process. Four other collaborations have followed, with a sixth watch scheduled for release later this year and, Mr. Reilly said, at least six more watches in early stages of development. Now, Collective Horology has almost 200 members.

What attracted the Swiss watchmaker Zenith to Collective? “There are these two guys in a watch club based in Silicon Valley,” a demographic that retailers who are selling almost anything are eager to crack, Mr. Rapkin, 40, said in a video interview.

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Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

An email from Julien Tornare, Zenith’s chief executive, confirmed that opinion: “At Zenith, we’re always looking for ways to organically connect with new and existing watch aficionados. Silicon Valley had been, historically, an underserved region,” he wrote, noting that Zenith particularly wanted to forge connections with that community.

He also noted that Mr. Rapkin and Mr. Reilly “wanted to combine an iconic movement with a contemporary design. The approach was so in line with our strategy, I couldn’t say no.”

The pair single-handedly run Collective, and they have worked on the designs for all of the collaborations.

For the Zenith project, which took a year to complete, Mr. Reilly said the idea behind the timepiece was: “Let’s bring Silicon Valley reductive design language to it — white and gray and monochromatic — compared to a stock model.”

The result, executed by Zenith’s design team, “looks like a Silicon Valley watch,” he added.

Once that collaboration had rolled out, the duo worked with the independent watchmaker J.N. Shapiro, based in California, to create a watch for the brand’s Infinity Series, which was marketed as having the world’s first guilloché meteorite dial. The 10 timepieces, priced at $21,500 each, sold out — as did the batch of 50 H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds Rotating Bezel ($15,900 each). The model was the only Moser watch to have a 12-hour travel bezel and a proprietary dial color, named Collective Green.

Late last year, Mr. Reilly and Mr. Rapkin collaborated with IWC on a redesign of its Pilot’s Chronograph, featuring a dark color palette, a matte dial and stylistic touches that nod to the company’s heritage. “What makes it so special is the stark Teutonic vibe,” Mr. Reilly said, explaining that they created “the day wheel in the German language, which IWC hasn’t done since they made the watch that inspired us 20 years ago.” The limited-edition set of 125 models also sold out, at $7,150 each.

Last year, Collective expanded its reach, adding a chapter in Britain. “We saw a lot of people applying from England,” Mr. Rapkin said, noting two factors that might be driving the phenomenon: the lack of opportunities for British watch fans to connect with independent watchmakers, and Collective’s own connections with those makers.

For example, he said, “there’s no Urwerk outlet there.” Collective has a strong relationship with that Swiss watchmaker; in 2021, it collaborated on a Urwerk UR-100V model. That watch, inspired by the cockpit of NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise, was wildly popular with Collective’s members. While working on that project, Mr. Reilly and Mr. Rapkin said, they consulted with the present home of the shuttle, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, which received $50,000 from sales of the 20-piece limited edition ($62,500 each).

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Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

As for the collectors themselves, Mr. Reilly and Mr. Rapkin said that most of them prefer to remain anonymous, although they described the club’s ranks as including an Academy Award-winning director, a Grammy-winning musician and a tech company founder.

The club’s private Facebook page is actually “the primary way members interact,” Mr. Reilly said. “This allows all members to communicate, share and get to know one another.”

Collective also stages private events, like Audemars Piguet’s recent presentation of much of its 2022 anniversary collection at an event in Los Angeles, and this month, the club introduced an online shop offering pre-owned Collective watches. Looking ahead, Mr. Reilly and Mr. Rapkin plan to add both Collective collaborations and independent watches to their online shop as well.

“We’ll try to improve the core of what we do and make it incrementally better, so that being a member of Collective has some real value and means something,” Mr. Reilly said.

One of the most meaningful benefits just might be one that most clubs engender: a sense of community.

Dustin A. Tsitouris, a cardiac anesthesiologist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Ohio, has been collecting watches for nearly 20 years, and counts an MB&F Legacy Machine 101, an A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph from the 50th anniversary collection as highlights of his collection.

Dr. Tsitouris became one of Collective’s inaugural members because, “I thought it would be great to connect with other like-minded collectors,” he wrote in an email. “I wanted an inclusive community with a high level of knowledge and discussion, but without pretense. I got that in spades. And when I heard about the watches — ultraexclusive productions and thoughtfully designed collaborations — that didn’t hurt either.”

But in the end, he wrote, it was the camaraderie that has stood out: “Easily, the best thing about being a member is the truly lifelong friends I have made. For that alone, it is worth it.’’

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