Jay McInerney: ‘The watches that I own have a story’

Writer, columnist and collector Jay McInerney on how he caught the watch collecting ‘bug’, and why ‘almost all the watches I buy now are at auction’

Novelist Jay McInerney is best known as the author of Bright Lights, Big City, which saw him hailed as the voice of a generation when it was published in 1984. In more recent times he has found acclaim as a writer about wine for The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and House & Garden. He is also a passionate collector of watches. 

‘At some point I caught the bug, I guess. I wanted another watch. Then another…’ he explains of a passion that was inspired by his father. ‘He had a number of watches that I liked quite a bit, I think that’s where the interest began,’ he reflects, before adding with a laugh, ‘I don’t want to say, “obsession”.’

After Bright Lights, Big City was published, McInerney treated himself to a Rolex. ‘It’s called a Sea-Dweller,’ he says, handling it affectionately. ‘It’s kind of a scuba-diving watch. I don’t scuba dive, but I like the idea that I could. They still make this model, but this is cool because it’s the original.’

His most treasured watch, however, is a 1947 Patek Philippe. ‘I love Art Deco designs in general, and Patek seems like the ultimate — they hold their value more than any other brand I can think of.’

Almost all of the watches in McInerney’s collection have been acquired at auction. ‘They have a history,’ he says. ‘They’re not on everybody’s wrists. As a storyteller, not only do they say something about you, but they often have backstory. It’s a great form of self-expression, as they say.’ 

And as they say of the collecting bug, once it’s got a hold on you, it can be difficult to feel your collection is ever complete. ‘I still haven’t gotten enough watches for all of the occasions in my life,’ he notes wryly. ‘So, I guess I’m gonna keep looking.’