At what age did you start developing the passion for collecting watches?
The passion for watches runs in our family, so it was basically in my blood. At the early age of thirteen, I used to accompany my father and uncle (may they rest in peace) to Kuwait City where we used to have shops selling watches in the Omega Building on the New Street. I guess that is when I started developing an interest in watches.
What was the first watch you ever owned?
My father used to sell Westin, so by default, my first watch had to be a Westin. My father took the brand and turned it into one of the best selling watches in the world. But in all honesty, I was always taken by the more fancy watches. For me, a watch is a statement itself and thus should be chosen carefully.
When did you start collecting?
From the seventies, upon completing my education in States, I returned to Kuwait and bought my first two pieces.
When did you start attending exhibitions and fairs?
The first exhibition I attended was the Geneva exhibition. I went with my father in 1985, and to date, I still favor the Geneva exhibition above all others. Following that trip, I started to regularly attend exhibitions with my uncle and later on with a close friend of mine who shares the same passion.
What do you look for in a watch?
Style. Style and innovation are very important to me. Great movements can be found in a number of watches, but on their own, they are not enough. It is how good the watch looks on the hand that interests me the most. The originality, craftsmanship and uniqueness of the piece. And I have to say, I do have a penchant towards minute repeaters, the sound of the watch speaks to my senses.
Unique pieces are not always easy to get hold of. How did you manage to become a world famous collector with one of the largest, most unique collection? Did you put your collection together through auctions?
I actually never bought any of my watches through auctions. I sold two pieces once at an auction, but never bought. I have enough personal, direct contact with all the manufacturers that I was almost always able to get exactly what I want, even if I had to wait a while to get it.
How long was the longest duration you had to wait for a watch?
I once had to actually wait four years, but at the end of the day, I got what I wanted.
What was the first Jaeger LeCoultre (JLC) you bought?
The first JLC I bought was a Reverso. When I saw it in Bahrain, I was very impressed by the originality of the design, style and craftsmanship though at the time very few people in our region knew of the brand and it wasn’t available in Kuwait yet. After that I started collecting JLC watches as well as JLC Atmos clocks. Today, I have in my collection 20 JLC watches and 6 Atmos pieces, each one of them is so meticulously designed and unique in its style, a true pleasure to the eye.
What made you a loyal collector of JLC?
As I said, I look for originality and uniqueness, and JLC caters to my sense of aesthetics. Value for money is another important factor for me. When investing in a collection, one has to make sure that the pieces will add value with time. In addition to that, I have to say, I never had to send any of my JLC watches or clocks for servicing. The craftsmanship is so high, the movements as reliable as the first day I bought them. Furthermore, throughout the years I have built a strong personal relationship with the JLC team, from the top management to the craftsmen at the manufactory I visited, and I have to say that they are all indeed very fine people with high ethics and values in life, and that for me is extremely important.
How often do you wear your watches and how do you choose what to wear when you have a large collection?
I wear a watch depending on the place I am going to be at and the people that are there. There are often times that I go out without wearing anything, especially when I am traveling outside our region. However, there are some select people who have a real understanding and appreciation for watches, to them I always wear my best pieces.
Mr. Abbas Behbehani is indeed a world famous collector, yet his discreetness, his subtleness, his real appreciation and understanding of watches and watch making sets him on a class of his own. His is a refined taste that comes with a long, fascinating heritage.
Interviewed by Zeina Mokaddam at JLC Boutique at 360 Mall, Kuwait
First published in Men's Passion issue #33 September 2011