by Nickie Wang
If there’s one person whom we could compare with businessman Leonard Rodriguez, it is none other than Imelda Marcos. While the imeldific former first lady is famous for her shoe collection, Rodriguez, on the other hand is known for his more than 1,200 Swatch watches. And according to some people who know him by heart, as the clock ticks, another timepiece is added to his collection.
A native of Candon City, Ilocos Sur, 44-year-old Rodriguez started collecting Swatch watches in the early 80s. His passion for the trendy timepiece started simultaneously when the brand hit the Swiss market in 1983.
“I was browsing the magazine when my attention was caught by some lovely wrist watches. I got attracted to them because of their fancy color and unique design. I couldn’t wait any longer to have them so I told my brother, who was studying then in Le Roche Switzerland, to buy me those watches I saw in the magazine,” says Rodriguez.
Like an opening stage of a romantic relationship, he got blinded by the thrill of acquiring new designs and even a whole season collectibles. More than just first love at first sight, he took owning Swatch timepieces into a higher level.
He received his first three Swatch watches straight from Le Roche two months after sending the money to his brother. The collector was still a student then at the Philippine School of Interior Design, and little did he know his simple passion would grow into a special hobby that would leave everyone in awe.
“It didn’t occur to me that this passion would grow into something big, but you know what, no one can ever match the happiness these watches give me. It also relaxes me whenever I change the batteries or simply look at them,” the collector mused.
Owning several watches is natural, to have more than 1,200 watches sounds unbelievable, but to purchase very expensive watches is a different story.
In a phone interview, Rodriguez said that every time the question “Which of these watches is your favorite?” is asked to him, he normally answers,” All of them.” But Standard Today did not settle for a generic response and insisted that he give a definite answer.
“To tell you the truth, my favorite item is called the Hollywood Dream. It’s my first collector’s item which I bought in 1998,” he revealed.
Hollywood Dream is a popular diamond studded Swatch released to great acclaim in 1990. It is a regular favorite in art business and fine arts auction houses like Christie’s.
With the number of his watches, some people might think that he’s already going overboard and that his passion for collecting timepieces has turned into an addiction. But just like any other person who got into a new hobby, he asserts that adding more watches into his collection is just a fraction of the whole enjoyment that comes with maintaining thousands of portable ticking machines.
“But I would have to disagree with them. Everyone has his own passion and mine is a little different. These watches play a big role in my life. Collecting them is not a joke, it’s very important to me because it gives joy and relaxation,” he said.
Collecting watches is not really a joke because an ordinary Swatch watch can cost around a thousand peso. Leonard made purchases like P20,000 a piece up to almost a hundred thousand pesos per set.
The Swatch fever
They say Swatch’s history is a marketing Cinderella story. In the 80’s, the watch market was dominated by inexpensive digital Japanese timepieces. As a last-ditch effort to grab the watch market back to the European manufacturers, a division of Swiss Corp. for Microelectronics & Watchmaking Industries, known as SMH, created Swatch (contraction of Swiss [made] watch). It is the same company that produces and markets pricey watch brands such as Omega, Longines, Hamilton and Rado.
Swatch takes cue from the fashion industry and changes designs each season. Starting with unadorned black, brown and khaki generic models in 1983, the designs became increasingly trendy.
“I remember back in the 80’s, I used to wear four or more watches. It was a trend, four watches on your right hand and three [watches] on your left,” Rodriguez recalled. “And they have to match your outfit as well.”
It was the collector’s fashion statement to wear multiple watches that match his attire, but according to him it was before and time has changed.
“A single Swatch to match my normal outfit will do.”
Apart from collecting Swatch watches, he is also fond of giving Swatch watches as a gift or token of appreciation to his friends and relatives.
Life and time
The man resides in Ilocos Sur, where he operates four shops that sell office and school supplies. He also oversees the operation of a family-owned business called 4 Brothers Supermarket, the biggest supermarket in the city of Candon.
Leonard only visits Manila once or twice a month to purchase some goods for his business and to have a visit to a gift shop to look for new designs.
“I recently had an accident,” he said during our phone conversation. He didn’t give the full details of the accident but he said it has something to do with his arms and it took him some time in the hospital to recuperate. The accident happened when he was about to go Manila.
“But I’m okay now. I now look forward to buying a new Swatch when I get there,” he said.
If you would think how he can find time to maintain his collection and attend to his business, he says time management is the key. He cleans and changes the batteries of his collection just once a year.
“The lifespan of the batteries is two to three years. So once a year I get to change the batteries of around two hundred pieces,” Rodriguez said adding that it is not a simple task because it takes him two weeks to change all the batteries.
Some of his collections are still in their original cases while others are enclosed in custom-made casings and shelves. In the future, the collector plans to build a museum in their city to showcase his collection, to tell the whole world about the joy and pleasure of owning precious timepieces, and to share a story of man who owns a thousand watches.
Nowadays, Leonard buys or orders Swatch watches from his friends and relatives abroad, but according to him 80 percent of his watches were bought here in the Philippines. Two of the recent purchases he made were the Ninoy and Cory Aquino collector’s edition watch.
“I bought two designs, the ones available,” he said.