It was what Paul Boutros calls his “shimmering moment.” In 1986, as a ten-year-old boy, he was trudging along Fifth Avenue in New York behind his coin-collecting father; suddenly, he caught a glimpse in a jeweler’s window of a watch. “I was hooked; it was love at first sight,” he says, remembering the salesman patiently displaying “the beauty of the movement, the ticking balance wheel, the shining jewels and bridges.”
Soon afterward Paul was poring over ads in newspapers, calling numbers and requesting catalogs, learning everything he could about high-end wristwatches. He shared the hobby with his father, a true bonding experience, until the elder Boutros died when Paul was just 26. “What brought us together was this passion for watches—when we were hunting for them, talking and learning about them together. Happiest moments in my life. Since then, I’ve been head over heels into watches, perpetuating his legacy.”
Indeed, Boutros is now one of America’s most passionate—and prolific—watch collectors. “Any time or extra money I get goes into watches, and honestly, I take fewer vacations than most people do,” says the now 37-year-old business developer from the East Coast, who also writes about timepieces, runs a monthly watch club and is a moderator on fan site TimeZone.com. His more than a hundred-strong collection includes multiple vintage Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Vacheron Constantins and Omegas, as well as a smattering of prime designs from Cartier and IWC. No brand is more of an obsession, though, than Audemars Piguet.
That singular passion began when an unsuspecting dealer produced a timepiece, pronouncing it a fine “Odemars Pijooet.” Cannily, Boutros snapped up the $14,000 watch for just $800. “Everything about it was perfection: the tiny hands, the subtle curvature tip to the tail. I just felt the quality.” Since then, he’s been single-minded about acquiring outstanding examples of Audemars workmanship. The Jules Audemars Skeleton Equation of Time watch is a standout in his hoard: Ultra-thin with a complex movement, he calls it “as good as Swiss watchmaking gets.” The model that has so far eluded him is a vintage Classique Day Moonphase chronograph. “It’s rare as hell and the epitome of beauty,” he says.
Boutros isn’t a cold-blooded collector, though. These are passion pieces rather than pure investments, and he cycles through the holdings to wear each in turn. “When I get a new watch, it’ll come to bed with me: I put it on the nightstand and wake up in the morning to see it,” he says with a laugh. A parent himself, he now has a bond with both of his children via those watches. “My daughter is 7, and she just loves it,” he says. “She could tell you how a watch works and she is just so happy to talk about it.” No doubt his own father would be proud.