Journal / Read

A Beauty Editor's Watch Collecting Journey

Beauty Editor and Consultant Hannah Baxter opens up about her personal watch collection, including a Rolex Datejust, Cartier Santos, and more.


Hannah Baxter

March 20, 2023


10 min read

I come by my love of jewelry honestly. The women in my family are never without their personal collections of rings, bracelets, necklaces, or earrings, and my dad has worn a watch for my entire life (he’s a big fan of Tudor). But it wasn’t until my interest in fashion started to take shape in middle school that I felt intrigued by the prospect of wearing a watch of my own. Like many Midwestern teens, I had struggled to find an identity that fit my budding sense of self, and clothes and accessories seemed like the most accessible way to establish who exactly I was in those formidable years (read: angsty, shy, and desperate to reach my goal of living in New York). 

@hannahbaxward – Baxter's Instagram

I’d heard of the major players like Rolex and Cartier by flipping through glossy magazines, where glamazon models stared out of the advertising pages clad in gold and platinum designs. Still, it all seemed so foreign, so unreachable for a young Missouri kid.

Eventually my mom bought me a brown suede wrap style watch for my 16th birthday — heavy on the embellishments. The bracelet was perfectly boho and completely in line with the more-is-more aesthetic of the early 2000s. I wore it everywhere and with every outfit, oblivious to the idea that my watch didn’t always compliment my vintage beaded sweaters and low-rise denim. I felt exceedingly fashionable and cosmopolitan with a timepiece on my wrist.

Once I got to college, I worked in restaurants where a suede watch got in the way of serving beers to impatient customers and I stopped wearing one altogether. I missed the functionality of the watch most of all — I’m perhaps the odd person who really wants to use it to tell time first, enhance an outfit second. But once I moved to New York and continued working at bars, the need for a timepiece never came up, especially considering it was usually dark when I went to work and light when I came home — the exact time didn’t really matter.

But as my career pivoted from slinging Vodka Redbulls to working in offices for various fashion magazines, the way I dressed and the persona I wanted to present gradually returned to my roots, namely someone with a deep love and appreciation for personal style. Less body glitter, more investment pieces (if I could thrift them). 

Baxter's current watch collection.

Bloggers and street style stars were in their heyday when my interest in watches reemerged, with fashion darlings like Garance Dore and Susie Bubble stepping out in their favorite timepieces conveniently perched just above that season’s “it” bag for photographers to capture. I started paying attention to who was wearing watches and why certain people gravitated towards different brands and designs. Why did top fashion editors swoon over the Cartier Tank? Why were NBA stars so loyal to Audemars Piguet? How did you pronounce half of the brands I saw listed in the fashion credits of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar??

Working at lifestyle publications makes you a quick study of designers, watches included. Unfortunately, my career in editorial started after the days when magazine budgets were robust enough that they could employ a dedicated accessories editor or two to teach me even more. But then a brief career pivot to working in the jewelry industry took me behind the scenes of the Diamond District, a singular block in Manhattan through which 90% of the country’s diamonds pass. As a production assistant, I was running in and out of office buildings, crowding into freight elevators, and picking up finished molds, loose stones, and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry five days a week. More importantly, while I was milling around the various showrooms, I studied the watch displays. 

At home with Hannah in Brooklyn.

Masculine-looking Rolexes and Patek Phillipes stared up at me from the glass cases in sizes that were far too big for my itty bitty wrist (37mm is the largest I can go before things start to look crazy). Platinum, yellow gold, two-tone, encrusted with diamonds — nothing felt attainable or exactly my style, and so I shelved the idea of getting another watch for another year. 

Then my great aunt, who was 98 at the time, had to move out of her Manhattan apartment to live with my dad in Florida, so we spent a few days clearing out nearly five decades worth of stuff. She was never one for pricey fashion but I found a teeny tiny 18mm gold Wittnauer within her small jewelry collection, which she probably bought in the 1960s. Although it needed a new battery, it fit my wrist perfectly, and I suddenly realized that I really liked the look of a small watch. It felt elegant and minimalist in a way I never knew a watch could manage. 

Baxter's Omega Constellation Ref. 1465.71.00

A few months later, during the height of the pandemic when editorial outlets and brands were desperately trying to find new ways to connect with their audiences, I began to witness more prominent examples of women working in the watch world. I started following watch dealers on social media, read the GQ watch roundups more intently, and browsed some of my favorite resale sites, like The Real Real and Vestiaire Collective, to see what they had in stock. I was also graciously gifted a Breda Play Subliming watch made out of recycled plastic with a funky Kelly green bezel, which remains my travel watch of choice to this day. But I still wanted a heavy-hitter watch to add to my burgeoning collection. 

Like many New Yorkers, I eventually landed a COVID deal on a new apartment the following spring and started the process of cleaning out my closet. Being a former fashion editor, I had a staggering amount of clothes and shoes that I just never wore, so I worked with a (now defunct) vintage resale company to offload some of my wardrobe. 12 garbage bags-worth of clothing later, I decided that I would earmark the funds for a grownup watch — a tangible shift from quantity to quality that I have embraced in my 30s. Now the hunt was on. 

On location in Croatia.

I scoured the internet looking at photos of watches, grateful that websites like Dimepiece were bringing women to the forefront of this heretofore unknown world (at least to me). Eventually I decided I wanted something classic with a bit of a twist, and since I had saved up some money from my closet sale, I wanted to go for the gold — literally. After months of searching and hyping myself up (I deserved this!) I pulled the trigger on a 1979 Rolex Lady Datejust President ref 6917 in yellow gold with a 26mm navy dial and fluted bezel.

But buying secondhand on the internet is a bit of a risk, and my new watch, while gorgeous, had a lot of stretch in the bracelet, and there weren’t any more links that could be removed without cutting into the watch (tiny wrist problems). Unsure of what to do without permanently altering the watch (a major no-no if you ever want to resell), I hit up Zoe Abelson, aka @watchgirloffduty to find out who in the city could safely repair the watch and resize the bracelet. She suggested I send it to a contact of hers — in Hong Kong. 

Baxter's Rolex Lady Datejust Ref. 6917

There’s nothing quite like packing up the most expensive item that you own and shipping it halfway across the world, but I trusted Zoe, and the repair guy I had been chatting with on WhatsApp. And so, with the help of a very nice man at FedEx who dutifully triple boxed my watch until it looked like I was shipping a dishwasher instead of a Rolex, I sent it to Asia. Five weeks later, I unpacked the watch (which he returned in a much more reasonable package) and marveled at how immaculate it looked. You’d never know it had been repaired — even the man who appraised it for me didn’t believe the bracelet had been taken apart and rebuilt. 

Now that I could finally wear my first Rolex safely (meaning it wouldn’t accidentally slip off in the subway), I couldn’t believe it when I looked down at my arm. It looked so perfect on my wrist — like it was meant to be there. My watch obsession was officially moving at full speed ahead. 

Baxter's Santos Ronde de Cartier Ref. 187902

My social media feeds are now packed with watch dealers, women and men, sharing details and assorted histories about watch brands. My timepiece education is expanding and I feel myself sinking more and more into the rich culture around watches. It even helped me feel empowered enough to buy my second watch: a 1984 Tag Heuer Night Diver Ref. 980.113 with a 32mm dial that glows in the dark — epic. I’m learning that I like watches that are a little funky and a touch unexpected. The classics, like the ubiquitous Cartier Tank, are timeless for a reason, and I’d absolutely love to have one in my collection one day, but I’m having fun learning about lesser known styles from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that fit my eclectic personal style for the time being. 

My list of grail watches is… extensive at this point, and while I’d love to pick up a Patek Phillipe Nautilus or Vacheron Constantin Phidias, I’m focusing on learning as much as I can about the styles and brands that truly feel like me — and hoping that more brands offer styles in smaller sizes, without designing “ladies watches” with such drastically different visual languages (girls like chronographs, too!). 

As I explore the seemingly endless options on the market, I’ve been utilizing Bezel as my main marketplace to source my favorite brands. The concierge team has helped me find not just one but two gorgeous new pre-owned watches to add to my collection: a steel Omega Constellation Ref 1465.71.00, which clocks in at 22.5mm — the ideal itty bitty watch with a chic diamond bezel — and a 30mm two-tone Cartier Santos Ronde Octagon Ref 187902 — a true dream piece that is just a bit outside the box when compared to the popular Santos style.

After chatting with the concierge on the Bezel app about what I liked, he immediately got to work sourcing the Cartier (which they didn’t have in stock originally) and sending an offer to the owner of the Omea, which we confirmed for a few hundred dollars less than the asking price. They even helped find a Universal Genève Compax that has me swooning, but I’ll have to shelve it for a few more years since my budget is sadly not unlimited at the moment. It’s saved under my “Wants” list in the app so I can track pricing and reference my list of favorites when I feel the itch to buy something new. It’s nice to identify certain styles, colors, and brands that feel in line with my personal style, because for as much as I’ve studied and worked in fashion, I’m still something of a newbie when it comes to watches and figuring out what I like best. But it really puts my mind at ease to know that the Bezel team can authenticate and secure the best deal for my next purchase, especially since I still have a few years before I consider myself an expert. 

From the first teeny tiny timepiece to my latest timepiece additions, I’m pleased to know that my inner Midwestern teen would be thrilled by the watches I’ve collected at this point in my life — and just as proud of the woman who is empowered enough to buy them. 

Shop Hannah's curated picks here


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