In the loupe: How an industry tool became a collecting obsession
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Anyone familiar with the world of watches or jewellery will know what a loupe is — though it is not a word that would crop up in most people’s everyday vocabulary. These dinky little monocular magnifying glasses are never out of reach when a finely decorated Swiss movement or internally flawless diamond needs close examination. Watchmakers use them for hours at a time, clipped on to glasses or worn around the head on a simple wire band.
Loupes are produced by almost every watch brand and run from simple rubber-and-plastic giveaways to laser-etched and polished versions in wood, brass and even precious metals that are works of craft in their own right. They are produced to mark significant anniversaries or product launches — sometimes designed to imitate the watches themselves — and are often just as rare, becoming collectibles in their own right.
Beran Toksoz, a Turkish-born architect and publisher living in London, has exactly 625 loupes, which he keeps in a specially adapted filing cabinet. “My first loupe was given to me when I was in Milan; I was with a friend who was buying a Vacheron Constantin, and the retailer gave me a loupe — a wooden one with an engraved gold top,” he says. “I quite liked it, but I put it aside.
“After few years, I started writing about watches for some magazines, in Turkey. I did an IWC watchmaking session, and was given a plastic loupe. After that, as soon as I had two, I was collecting. They stuck in my mind, and I started dreaming about them. Do you remember George Clooney wearing one in the Omega adverts? I started to see them everywhere. I was cursed.”
Over the past 15 years, that curse has shown no sign of lifting, resulting in a hoard that may be the largest in the world. Toksoz estimates there may be 20 similarly minded collectors and, occasionally, he will make an offer to buy up a rival collection outright.
“In the last five years, I bought 150 here and 42 there, and they only added 10 unique ones to my collection, but I didn’t care because those 10 had to be in my collection’” he says. “I would search for 10 years to find them.” Given their appeal to watch collectors, loupes tend to be traded through online watch platforms, such as Chrono24 and Chronext, as well as eBay.
Part of the eccentricity behind collecting loupes is that they are largely written off as pretty but inexpensive trinkets. Like anything concerning luxury brands, however, where there is rarity there is value. Toksoz recalls being gifted a Cartier Pasha loupe by another collector. “If you can find one of these today, it would cost at least €2,000.”
Toksoz’s favourite pieces, however, are not necessarily the priciest. He picks out a black plastic loupe bearing the inscription of Gérald Genta, the Swiss artist often described as the first celebrity watch designer.
Toksoz also maintains a “target list” of loupes, with Rolex-branded examples firmly at the top. “Officially, they have never produced one for marketing purposes or for customers, since they made one in sterling silver for the 2005 Baselworld trade fair.” Naturally, he has one — lustrous and weighty, with that famous logo on the side. “If you saw this in an auction and there were a couple of collectors, it could fetch £10,000.”
By his own admission, Toksoz is an obsessive collector of all manner of objects. His other active collections are eclectic, including Turkish contemporary art, Hibiki whisky limited editions, Lego Speed Champions sets (two of each; one to build, one unopened), Caran d’Ache pens and hotels’ headed notepaper. He has, he says, more than 12,000 fridge magnets.
It is a mindset he attributes to his mother and uncle, who share the same acquisitive nature. They are also responsible for instilling in him an early love of watches — but these are items he does not see as a collection. “If I’m collecting something, it means I never have to use it,” he says.
The loupe, then, hits a sweet spot: a “true collectible” that speaks to his passion for watches, is not ruinously expensive and has some intrinsic meaning. “This is how watchmaking starts,” he says. “If there is no loupe, there will be no micro-mechanism like the tourbillon, because you can’t see small enough. It’s a tool. It’s a unique bridge between the technology, the heritage and the culture of watchmaking.”
Toksoz feels loupes distributed at private or trade events can also be status symbols for collectors and watch aficionados. “Some collectors are always competing, even if they never talk about it.”