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Cecil Purnell and The Art of Collecting


We all, whether intentionally or unintentionally, collect objects. There are hobbyist collectors for everything imaginable, from stamps (philatelists) to subway tokens (vectorists). Due to its almost universal appeal, the psychology of collecting has been the subject of study for years. 


There are almost as many theories as to why we collect as there are objects themselves. One of the most interesting is that we collect to have a tangible link to the past. This is especially true of two collecting disciplines – numismatics (coin collecting) and horology (watch collecting).


Horology is perhaps the most interesting because it deals directly with time itself. Antique timepieces are extraordinarily crafted and highly precise, and it isn’t unusual for a piece to sell for six figures. Ten years ago a Patek Phillipe timepiece was auctioned for an incredible $ 11 million. Naturally, this kind of purchase is rare, but it does indicate how sought after timepieces can be.   


One famous collector’s legacy is still going strong today. In 1918, in the Jura of France, a man named Cecil Purnell began what would become a lifelong fascination with mechanical devices. His collection included a plethora of early mechanical devices, but always revered and aspired to his most treasured caliber, Tourbillon watches. Developed in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the Tourbillon was an ingenious innovation that overcame the effects of gravity on the watch’s measurement. The key innovation is partially visible to the wearer as a testament to its ingenuity.


Cecil Purnell’s passion was an inspiration to his grandson, Jonathan Purnell. By the age of eight, Jonathan was already dismantling timepieces in his grandfather’s collection. This would spark a life-long love of horology that would culminate in 2006 when he founded a new company dedicated to crafting high-end Tourbillons.


He and his partner Stephane Valsamides named the company in honour of Cecil Purnell, and in 2009 launched their first in-house calibre to strong reviews. Today, Cecil Purnell is the only watch brand dedicated to exclusively crafting high-end Tourbillons to exacting Haute Horlogerie standards. They made to order just fifty watches a year, often customising for their clients. This attention to detail flows all the way down to the individual components, 80% of which are sourced in-house.


What is fascinating about Cecil Purnell is that it represents a full-circle of collecting. The brand itself bears many of the same qualities of an avid collector; meticulous attention to detail, finesse and connoisseurship. Most interesting, however, is that it has taken what was a 19th century antique and brought it into the modern world with all the same finesse that makes the Tourbillon so attractive to collectors