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The 16 Best Watches at California’s Swankiest Car Show

May 14, 2024May 14, 2024

By Cam Wolf

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“It’s like going to a five-star restaurant and having a car show break out.”

That’s how Gordon McCall describes the Quail, the fanciest-schmanciest event of the already very fancy-schmancy Monterey Car Week. McCall is the director of motorsports at Quail Lodge & Golf Club, a stunning golf course set against the mountains of the Carmel Valley, where the event takes place every year.

The Quail is ostensibly a car show (a “motorsports gathering” is the official language). In practice, it feels more like a garden party where there just so happens to be, among other displays, a colorful array of nine Porsche RS Carreras from 1973 parked in a neat line. “It looks like somebody opened up a Skittles bag and threw them out on the lawn,” McCall said. “We have nine of them here. There were 10, but a transporter got held up.” Such are the problems you encounter at the Quail, which held its 20th edition last Friday.

The attendees of the Quail, where tickets start at $1,295 a person, dress for the environment. “I just wrote to a friend of mine and said, ‘I'm happy to report there's no recession in sight at the Quail,’” said a watch collector named Dennis. The watches at the event were so outrageously good that I spent most of my time there staring at everyone’s wrists, almost forgetting about the automobiles. (That might be more of a me problem, though.) You wouldn’t know there was a years-long waiting list to get Rolex’s beloved Daytona based on what the car-loving attendees wore to the Quail. Rolex, in fact, plays an official role at the event; each year, the car collector voted Best in Show wins a watch from the Crown. This year, the owner of a 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica “Super Fast” went home with a Datejust engraved with their new honorific on the back.

I scoped out the very best watches at the event, including a Rolex Daytona that spent 13 years in a safe until the event Friday, an Audemars Piguet bought specifically for the Quail, and a quadruple tourbillion.

It's crazy that you spotted it.

Can you tell me the story behind the watch?

I bought it in 2007 off someone in Texas, a well-known dealer. I sold it to a friend in Zurich in 2008 or 2009, bought it back in 2010, and the first time I've taken it out of my safe was yesterday.

You've had it for 13 years?

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

Yeah, it's been in my safe for 13 years, still running well.

Are you really into Rolex?

Yeah, you can look at my Instagram, @WorldyWatches.

Oh, I follow you! Is your love of the Daytona connected to your love of cars?

I've been into cars longer than I've been into watches, but I started collecting watches 35 years ago, so very young.

This collector, who we'll call Bob, owns three Patek Aquanauts, including two simple three hands plus the travel time he wore at the Quail. He started collecting in 1967 with a Rolex Explorer. He was working on a freighter and needed a workhorse timepiece. Now, he describes it as "an heirloom. We wear it around for holidays and things but it doesn't really leave the house." He still has the full set of box and papers for the piece. In 1973, Bob started folding Patek into his collection.

Bob is the patriarch in a family of watch collectors. During the holidays, he and his sons bring out all of the watches they own and fight over who gets to be the custodian for each piece over the next few months. They break out bottles of wine and bourbon and start deliberating. The first to go is always the "Kermit" Submariner—the piece with the black dial and green bezel.

Bob: This is at Christmas, we wanted to weigh them.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

Why weigh them?

Because we were drinking a lot of wine and figured: What else are we going to do?

How much does it weigh?

Almost 2.5 pounds.

Wow, 2.5 pounds worth of what looks like mostly Rolex.

That was all just Rolex. My boys and I will next get together over Labor Day to fight it out with these and the Pateks to see who gets what until Thanksgiving. It’s the most fun we all have with our watch collections.

Are you a big AP collector?

I’m not a collector. I just buy one. A few here and there.

This is the one?

Homie told me to buy it so I bought it. I’m not a big collector.

You’re a trusting friend.

He's the watch plug. That's actually his name, @watchplug. He's the one who told me to get it. I’m like, I need a watch for Quail.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

I imagine this isn't your only piece.

I have a few, but not many. I try to get them for milestones.

What was this one?

This was when we IPO'd our company. The ticker is engraved on the front [BFLY]. So there's a 60-second internal tourbillon, a 4-minute outer tourbillon, world time, second-time zone.

What drew you to this piece?

It was released two days after we listed the company and I love GMTs, I love Greubel. This is their first model in titanium instead of a heavy metal. It has this gray and blue look—blue is our company color. And I did a lot of trips to Taiwan—14 times in one year—so the GMT made sense. I also like watches that nobody knows what they are. Greubel was first to do the full sphere [of the globe] and it became their special trick.

Mrs. KillsBugsFast: I bought him that for his 40th birthday.

KillsBugsFast: It's a birth-year GMT.

I was going to say, the indices have nice patina.

KBF: Yeah, it's from '83.

Why the GMT for the birthday?

Mrs. KBF: Just because he's always going on about the vintage Pepsi GMTs.

KBF: I love the Pepsi.

Do you have multiple?

KBF: Not at all, this if my first Rolex. I rock Casios, bro. I've got an AP and an Ultraman Speedy Tuesday Omega and that's it. Those are all watches that my friends told me I should buy and I bought them.

Mrs. KBF: I got really lucky because we had a mutual friend who's a watch guy and he sourced.

KBF: Yeah, it's from Davidoff Brothers.

You know Sacha and Roy?!

Mrs. KBF: They're lovely.

KBF: All my friends are super into watches so they bully me into buying. So it was like, full papers and came from the original owner.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

The Pepsi’s my favorite GMT, too.

Yes, I'm not really like a Rolex guy but I love this thing.

I'm glad you got it on the Jubilee versus the Oyster bracelet.

KBF: It's super nice, trying to class it up a little bit. But I'm much more of a car guy than a watch guy.

Is the Rolex love connected to the car love at all?

KBF: Not really. I just like old shit. All my cars are old. I'm a '90s car guy so I like the '80s and '90s aesthetic.

Do you collect a lot of RM?

Tommy: To be honest, I'm not a big RM guy. I'm a big Ferrari guy.

So what's most of your watch collection?

Tommy: Really Patek and Rolex. I got an F.P. Journe and I'm getting another one now. I have an AP skeleton. My loyalty is really to Patek and Rolex. I started buying from the Geneva Patek boutique probably five or six years ago, before the hype was real.

Adam Golden, owner of Menta Watches: Perfect time to get into it.

Tommy: Exactly, and I've maintained my relationship with them.

This is your only RM, though?

Tommy: This is, at the moment, my only RM. I got the 67-02 on order.

Adam: That's the only one I like.

Tommy: This one and that one are the only ones that are wearable.

These watches are crazy light.

Tommy: They make this watch in rose gold, ceramic... This titanium finish is the best one, I think. The wearability of it is great. I've had the strap in baby blue, I've had it on black. It's all fucked up because I ski with it, I hike with it, I swim with it.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

Do they just send you every strap?

Tommy: No, so, it's funny because it's very difficult to get them in Miami [where he's based]. But the RM store in Geneva is right across from the Patek store, so I end up bopping into there. Now I know to bring this with me, because they won't sell you a strap unless you have the watch on you.

So I've gone there with this watch and they gave me the blue strap. I'll go a month later and they're like, “Where's the watch?” I'm like, “Guys I was just here.” They're like, “No, we won't give you it.” I have red, white, lime green, I have them all.

How much do they charge you for a strap?

Tommy: I think it's like 500 Swiss francs over there.

Adam: But you can use them, resell them, and get most of your money back. Because they're hard to get. David [Sylvestre-Williams, of watch retailer DavidSW] is wearing a 67-02 and he has rubber with vents on them, which is like an impossible strap to get from them. So there's resale value there. If you use it, you're not going to lose $500. They'll resell for $300 but at least you get something back after.

I like that you stacked everything.

Yeah, because I'm an Aries. So I have my ram.

It's beautiful.

I just picked it because of my strawberries [on her dress]. Otherwise, I was going to wear my platinum Daytona with the diamond dial and bezel.

How many Daytonas do you have?

A few... Yeah, I have a big collection.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

Neil: I own a Swiss-made kids watch company, it's called Blok. I was one of the two founders. I'm a watch nut, mostly vintage Heuer.

This is very different than a vintage Heuer.

Neil: I have a couple of little middle-finger pieces. I'm a massive independent fan. I'm a good friend with the Urwerk guys and I know Max[imilian Büsser, MB&F founder] as well. He's an animal. I also own Bulgari Octo Finissimo sketch-style, the anniversary one, because I own a design firm. So, having a sketch-style felt right. That was a beg, though. I begged my friend: “Please, it's me in a watch.”

[Neil walks over to his friend Riley, who just happens to be an ambassador of Tag Heuer and is wearing the brand's sparkling new Skipper Carrera]

Neil: Give me your arm.

I can't believe they're getting sent out already.

Riley: I don't know if they are or not. I'm an ambassador for Tag so I got the early jump. It's so good. I saw the photo of it six or eight months ago and I was like, waiting very patiently.

And you said you're into vintage Heuer.

Neil: They've got a few of my watches there in the museum. I started off with my grandfather's Monaco. I got it for my 18th birthday and then I went apeshit. I got a cease and desist from LVMH at one point in time because my company, Discommon, did these Discautavia. We fully restored five '60s Autavias, DLC-coated them black, found new old-stock dials, and made a strap for them.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

I feel like people get hooked on Lange.

Yeah, for me it started with mechanical watches, and you get into the brands, and then you realize that there's a craftsmanship with these guys. What I love about this watch is that the movement they use is made out of German silver, so it oxidizes over time. It starts off a silvery color and the inside turns into this pale yellow.

The longer you have it, the more it turns into a different color, which I think is a cool thing. You can see it's starting to go a little yellow. This was completely silver when I first got it.

How long ago did you get it?

I've had this 10 years or something like that.

Do you own multiple Lange pieces?

Yeah. This is my favorite, though, despite the fact I've got complicated ones or whatever. I tend to like the simple ones. It's an easy watch. You don't have to set the date. I have a Datograph but it's super complicated so when you take it out of the safe, you have to put it on, get the date right, blah-blah. It's a whole process, which is less cool.

But I love Lange, I think they are amazing. I also like that it flies under the radar. I think a lot of people buy watches because of the image.

I was going to ask if I'm the first person to ask you about it today.

You are the first person and you will probably be the last. I like Grand Seiko. I like brands that a lot of people don't know about.

Which Grand Seikos do you have? A Snowflake?

Yeah, I have the Snowflake. The Snowflake's insane.

Can you tell me about this watch?

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

I got it for my 30th or 40th birthday, I forget which. But it was a birthday present for myself. It's an annual calendar.

Do you have many watches?

I have a few but not many. I have a couple Pateks and then I have some Rolexes. I stick with those.

Is this your daily piece that you wear?

Actually, I hadn't worn this in a couple of years. I had it tuned up at H.Stern and then it's just been sitting there. A lot of times I don't wear a watch, and then I just thought, “Oh, the rally, I'll put on this watch.”

Are you a big watch guy?

Yeah, I'm a big watch guy. I'm actually on my way to go pick up my buddy Eneuri [Acosta], the COO at Hodinkee. Yeah, we're all watch nerds.

By Sean Manning

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

I just got this for my birthday from him [nods to boyfriend].

Tell me about it. What is it?

A little mini Hermès.

Did you pick it out or you got the hint she wanted it?

We collaborated a little bit.

What’s your watch collection like?

I'm getting into 'em. This is a pretty heavy starter.

Can you tell me the story behind the watch?You've had it for 13 years?Are you really into Rolex?Oh, I follow you! Is your love of the Daytona connected to your love of cars?BobWhy weigh them?How much does it weigh?Wow, 2.5 pounds worth of what looks like mostly Rolex.Are you a big AP collector?This is the one?You’re a trusting friend.I imagine this isn't your only piece.What was this one?What drew you to this piece?Mrs. KillsBugsFastKillsBugsFast:KBF:Mrs. KBFKBF:KBF:Mrs. KBF:KBF:Mrs. KBFKBF:The Pepsi’s my favorite GMT, too.KBF:KBF:Do you collect a lot of RM?Tommy:So what's most of your watch collection?Tommy:Adam Golden, owner of Menta Watches:Tommy:This is your only RM, though?Tommy:Adam:Tommy:These watches are crazy light.Tommy:Do they just send you every strap?Tommy:How much do they charge you for a strap?Tommy:Adam:I like that you stacked everything.It's beautifulHow many Daytonas do you have?NeilThis is very different than a vintage Heuer.Neil:Neil:I can't believe they're getting sent out alreadyRiley:And you said you're into vintage HeuerNeil:I feel like people get hooked on Lange.How long ago did you get it?Do you own multiple Lange pieces?I was going to ask if I'm the first person to ask you about it today.Which Grand Seikos do you have? A Snowflake?Can you tell me about this watch?Do you have many watches?Is this your daily piece that you wear?Are you a big watch guy?Tell me about it. What is it?Did you pick it out or you got the hint she wanted it?What’s your watch collection like?