“When I started working as a jeweller at the age of 18 in the Gold Souk in Dubai, I did not know watches – at all. The first two years we did not even have the tools to open the casebacks – so we opened the watches with a hammer, discarded the innards and sold the gold by weight.” Claude Sfeir, today one of the world’s top collectors of vintage, modern, independent and historical watches, laughs at the memory. The son of a cab driver, Sfeir was adamant about making a good living for himself and his family. He was not afraid of working long, hard, 16-hour shifts in the souk, or visiting clients in their homes and their palaces. The first thing he did – once the hard work paid off – was to make sure his father could retire early. View this post on Instagram Where the world’s top #watchcollector spends his day #claudesfeir among #rolex #patekphilippe #metiersdart #memorabilia examining his #fpjourne from #onlywatch #charityauction #apassionforcollecting #beirut #lebanon read my #nyt profile here: https://goo.gl/kPPBke A post shared by Nazanin Lankarani (@nazaninlankarani) on Jul 11, 2018 at 6:24am PDT A trip to Italy in the 1980s was the beginning of the end of Sfeir’s horological ignorance. “By visiting auction houses and reading their catalogues, I learnt that vintage watches lose value if they are polished, and that the dial often represents 98 to 99 per cent of the watch’s value. But it was not easy – back then the experts often did not want to share their knowledge, even if you paid them. Today it’s easier; there are many experts who want to teach others. But not everything that is posted online is correct,” Sfeir warns. Which watches sold for the most in Hong Kong in 2019? A jury member of Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, Sfeir has since built up an impressive collection including unique pieces, prototypes and number one watches. “Jewellery is my profession. But watches became my true passion. I have two unique Patek Philippe watches in titanium; the Celestial 5102T and the Sky Moon Tourbillon 5001T. The titanium just has a beautiful colour – and there is not another one of them! Another special watch is the 1942 Rolex Antimagnetique Reference 4113 split-seconds chronograph. There were 12 made; the whereabouts of eight are known. In the last few years, three or four of them have been to auction, fetching millions. It is a very light and beautiful watch.” View this post on Instagram Claude Sfeir, Collector, gemmologist, jeweller / Lebanon Judging is a delicate task. How are you approaching your responsibility as a juror? I take it very seriously, since the prizes reward the work of talented watchmakers and artists, which must be judged with a humble, respectful attitude. How would you sum the GPHG in a few words? The GPHG is the high point of each watchmaking year as well as a significant meeting point. A personal thought that you wish to share? I support the GPHG notably because it encourages brands to be ever more creative. . #gphg #gphg2018 #ceremony #jury #watch #watches #timepiece #claudesfeir A post shared by GPHG (@fondationgphg) on Aug 27, 2018 at 11:58pm PDT Because Sfeir spends a lot of time on the road, he loves being at home whenever he can. “I like to read two hours every day – watchmaking books and other topics to expand my brain.” Which luxury watch brand sold the most expensive timepiece in Asia? An important part of his collecting is relationships. “I spend a lot of time with watchmakers: we discuss, we go out to dinner. The independents especially are really open to spending time with collectors. Thus you learn more and more about the watches, which become like family members. The vintage watches are the parents, the independent modern watches are the children, and the historical pieces are the grandparents,” he says with a laugh. Since Sfeir is obsessed with history, it makes perfect sense that he has an overarching plan for posterity. “I want to open a watch museum. I don’t know where, I don’t know when – but I am quite sure it will happen,” he says. Claude Sfeir’s preferred watches “This is a watch I really like to wear because it is modern, but the look and feel are vintage. The Souscription is the first tourbillon that Journe ever made, in an edition of 20 pieces – and I have number 20.” “The case is a prototype of the Nautilus Jumbo. It has a white, ribbed dial in the typical Nautilus style, which was a special order from the original owner. Together, they make for a very special watch.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .