How John Mayer Became The Watch World’s Most Influential Collector
Yoni Ben-Yehuda, who runs New York City watch shop Material Good’s business development, spends a decent chunk of his day staring at wrists—skinny ones, powerful ones, hairy ones. He outfits customers with new watches, or identifies ones in images sent from covetous clients. But there is perhaps no wrist that Ben-Yehuda spends more time deciphering than John Mayer’s. That’s because Ben-Yehuda receives a steady barrage of text messages and emails, from high-profile and regular clients alike, featuring images of Mayer’s wrist wearing a Patek Philippe with a perpetual calendar, or a gold-and-black Rolex Daytona, or another highly complicated Patek known as the 5004, or a Rolex Submariner stamped with the logo of French diving company COMEX, or a green-and-gold Daytona so associated with the musician it now bears the nickname “the John Mayer.”
What Ben-Yehuda’s inbox suggests, a bit of asking around confirms: for the better part of the last decade, the watch world orbited around Mayer’s wrist, gravitating to the pieces he wore in public, and to the ones he rhapsodised about in videos for the watch site Hodinkee. Experts like Ben-Yehuda will tell you that, in addition to single-handedly spiking the value of individual watches, Mayer is responsible for nothing less than elevating the entire sport of vintage watch collecting. “John Mayer represents the best of us as collectors,” Ben-Yehuda says sappily. It’s for both of these reasons that Mayer is likely the most influential watch collector on the planet. (Mayer did not respond to an invitation to toot his own horn.)
What Ben-Yehuda means is that Mayer’s influence doesn’t just emerge from his status as a super-handsome and stylish rockstar. He is those things, of course, but his impact is also thanks to something nerdier: “John Mayer is a student of watches in the sense that he's just excited about an IWC ‘Big Pilot’ as he is some super obscure Audemars Piguet Tourbillon,” says Nathan Nerswick, a Watch Specialist at online watch shop Crown & Caliber. Translated: Mayer can find beauty in the watch world's most impossible-to-find treasures, but he's just as into stuff that's available in mass quantities. Ben-Yehuda puts it a little more plainly: “John nerds out. He, like, talks about the sharpness of gears.” As a result, he adds, “There is a tastemaker’s seal of approval” on any watch Mayer owns.
And when Mayer applies that seal of approval, he causes an industry-wide quake. Last March, when Mayer talked up a then-underloved gold Rolex Daytona with green dial during a second Hodinkee video, the watch was selling for below its $36,650 retail price. Nine months after his co-sign, it’s trading for close to $50,000, according to Paul Altieri, CEO of authorised Rolex dealership Bob’s Watches. (Even Jonah Hill, a style icon in his own right, bought one!)
As a result, smart dealers are said to be going all-in on Mayer spikes before they even materialise. Mayer wore a steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar during a self-styled GQ shoot last year. Eric Wind, owner of Wind Vintage, told me he knows of collectors and dealers who have bought up that reference in massive quantities, for precisely that reason. Somewhere, a dealer is sitting on 20 or so Royal Oaks from the ‘80s, all in the name of John Mayer.
While Mayer has given wings to the prices of individual watches, his greater impact, these experts say, is what Mayer has done for collecting generally. “If it weren’t for John, would we get to this level with vintage watches?” Nerswick asks, referencing the currently exploding market. “Yes,” he says, guessing that it might have taken as long as another decade. “He definitely spurred that growth because he has such a wide audience.” Ben-Yehuda appreciates the way each of Mayer’s watches comes with a story, which are worth as much as gold in the current provenance-obsessed timepiece market. Think back to Mayer’s first Hodinkee video, when he spoke about his COMEX-stamped Rolex like a dreamy teenager. “This is a watch, if you wore it to dinner, it’s invisible to people unless they know what it is,” says Mayer. “Those are my favourite watches.” Consider how notable that is compared to other celebrity collectors, who often gravitate toward the super luxurious or super bust-down: watches Mayer’s hypothetical dinner party patrons would gawk at until the creme brulee arrived.
Mayer stewards a mode of collecting that resonates because of its accessibility. While there are other prolific and famous modern collectors—Ed Sheeran, Kevin Hart, and Ellen DeGeneres all have seats at the table—they tend to focus on the loveliest and most expensive examples from brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex (and, in Sheeran’s case, Richard Mille). Accordingly, in terms of influence over today’s watch market, Nerswick says, “John is in a league of his own.” At most, those other collectors can influence a tiny percentage of the watch community—their examples are just too rare and expensive to follow. It’s easier for newbie watch nerds to follow in Mayer’s path, falling head over heels for their own steel Rolexes, dreaming of some story of their past exploits.
But what’s most notable to those I spoke with is Mayer’s free-agent status. Today, any celebrity who has shown an ability to read a clock is typically lassoed into a paid ambassadorship with one of the larger brands. Mayer’s love of watches, unburdened by corporate commitments, is accompanied by a sheen of authenticity.
And at this point, Mayer has the added benefit of being John Mayer. He no longer needs to adhere to any watch-world trend, if he ever did, and is free to do what we’d all love to: follow his own tastes. He is, by now, a one-man trend-setter: he has proven himself to have great knowledge and taste, so the watches he likes must, therefore, be good and tasteful. Which sounds great, but is not without its own challenges. “I bet that that's kind of a hard position to be in as a collector,” Ben-Yehuda says. “Like, every watch has to be fire. But I guess from his point of view, if he wears it, then it's fire."