Watches and Music: The Collector’s Approach


When it comes to analog goods, David Hurley’s enthusiasm borders on mania.

Not only does the New York transplant (from Cork, Ireland) serve as deputy chief executive of the Watches of Switzerland Group, the largest retailer of mechanical timepieces in the United States and Britain, he also is a vinyl devotee with more than 10,000 records in his collection.

“I have CDs on top of it and I’m still collecting cassettes,” Mr. Hurley said on a video call last month from his home in Nyack, N.Y. “It’s an issue. Anytime I speak to my mum, it’s like, ‘More? Why do you need it?’”

But as any mechanical watch collector knows, need is beside the point. “When you put on a record, it evokes so many memories,” Mr. Hurley said. “I like having the physical artifact.”

Despite the large number of albums — about 20 percent of which are kept in bookcases at home, with the rest in storage — Mr. Hurley said he did not alphabetize them. So he often ends up buying two or three copies of the same record.

“Sometimes I can’t find them, but I have certain areas,” he said. “Norwegian house music — I’ve got a section for that.”

Mr. Hurley talked about the highlights of his eclectic collection, where he shops for records and what his passion has taught him about the collector mentality. (By the way, he was wearing a black Type 5 watch by the independent Belgian brand Ressence during the interview.) The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you start collecting records, and why?

I had a group of friends that I hung around with in Cork around 1988, ’89, before going to college. All we were interested in was music, movies, books, going to see bands, being in bands, clubbing. Bands like New Order and the Cure — we became fanatical. And from there, you start hearing about their influences. As with timepieces, you start going down a rabbit hole and I’m still in that rabbit hole.

Is your collection focused on any genre?

A lot of it ended up being anything that was associated with certain artists. There was a guy who died recently called Andrew Weatherall. He produced an album for Primal Scream when the whole dance thing exploded in the U.K., in the ’90s. It was groundbreaking. He was the visionary behind that album and I’ve followed him ever since.

I saw him maybe six or seven months before he died. I was the only person in the club. For about 30 minutes, it was just him playing music and me there, texting my friends, saying, “You’d better get here, this is really embarrassing.” And I never went up and told him just how much he’d meant to me.

But in general, my collection goes across every genre of music, from rap to reggae across various genres of African music, German rock, horror soundtracks.

Horror soundtracks — really?

Anything and everything. There was an album I bought a couple years ago and I only listened to recently. It’s called the “Sleeping Tapes.” It was made in conjunction with Squarespace, the website-building site.

Have you seen the movie “The Big Lebowksi”? Imagine an album talking about sleep the whole time and it’s Jeff Bridges speaking, with music in the background. Honestly, I was just laughing so much and it’s really beautiful at the same time. That was probably the latest find I was really happy with. But generally, it does get pretty nerdy. There are certain record labels where I just collect every album they produce.

What’s an example of a record label you like?

Soul Jazz Records. They’ve got a record store in Soho in London called Sounds of the Universe, which is probably one of the best record stores in the world, if not the best. They release a huge amount of their own compilations, a lot of reggae and dub music, from a specific record label from Jamaica. Anything they release I collect.

Is there any genre you don’t like?

Maybe some of the real hair metal stuff from back in the day I wouldn’t like. But then you just never know. Watches of Switzerland has been involved with the Prince’s Trust, Prince Charles’s charity, and Lionel Richie was playing at a benefit. He probably wouldn’t be the person I’d go see, but actually, it was a blast.

It’s very similar to the watch world. People can be very judgmental: “This is good, this is rubbish.” It’s part of the passion. But every now and then you get a surprise.

How do you find records?

There’s an online resource called Discogs. And you can go on there and click on a particular artist — say, Prince. You can see all the records he’s ever released. Then you can click on other things, like what he’s produced. As an archive, it’s incredible. From there you can go on different tangents.

What are the greatest lengths you’ve gone to to get a record?

I’ll certainly travel to get records. Or I’ll know that when I’m in Amsterdam, I’ll go to Rush Hour Records, or when I’m in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where our U.S. headquarters is located, there’s a great record store called Radio-Active Records. Even in Nyack, there’s a store called Main Street Beat. I’ll try to make it to one or two when I’m traveling.

And every now and again, you’ll have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a record — maybe $1,000 or $1,500. For example, this record by Moodymann, from Detroit. He pressed up a record but never released it. Probably made 40 or 50 that he gave to friends and I managed to get a copy of it. I paid through the nose for it, but that’s OK.

You sound like a watch lover justifying a big purchase.

I certainly don’t have as many timepieces as records, but I understand the passion people have for these things. You want to get joy out of what you have. I’m not buying this stuff for investment, given the obscurity of some of my records. And I try to listen to as much as I can. On weekends, if I’m by myself, I’m generally just flipping records.



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