In 10 years, Bill Barker has grown to love both IWC watches and also his many get-togethers with fellow collectors. In this interview, we learn about Bill and his special passions.
MF = Michael Friedberg, Editor, IWC Collectors’ Forum
BB = Bill Barker
MF: Bill, by way of background you’re not only a fine collector, but also a wonderful family man. Could you tell us a little about your family?
BB: My wife, Mary, and I live in Moorestown, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia. We’ve been married for 45 years and have three adult children, a son and two daughters. Without hesitation my family is a great source of pride in my life.
MF: And I also know you take great pride in being an alumnus of Washington University in St. Louis.
BB: Absolutely. I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Washington University. I also have an MBA degree from the University of California in Los Angeles, focusing on Marketing, Finance, and General Management.
My affiliation with Washington University continues today. I interview local applicants to WU, and have fund raising roles, including being chair of the Philadelphia Region Annual Fund Campaign. A particular honor was being selected as National Co-Chair of my class’s 50th Reunion where I was the Reunion Commencement speaker to the class of 1964. Interestingly, at one of the local IWC events I met Alan Ross, who along with his wife are fellow WU graduates. Small world.
MF: After you graduated school, you became a corporate executive?
BB: After graduate school, my first job happened to be back in St. Louis. I was recruited into an executive training program at the Pet Milk Company. Over the next 30 plus years, I moved up the marketing and executive ranks at Pet Milk, Pillsbury, and Borden Foods. I enjoyed an interim move out of the food world to be VP of Marketing at Chesesbrough Ponds’ Health & Beauty Products Division in Connecticut. My last corporate job came after I was recruited to be President of two divisions of a major USA food company.
MF: I also understand that you left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur.
BB: Yes. After leaving the corporate world, I along with a couple of partners started a new business importing hand and power tools to sell primarily to the food trade. We quickly grew that company to over $12 million in sales, but we eventually broke up the company and I retired for the first time; it turned out to be a semi-retirement. It didn’t last very long.
After a few months of semi-retirement, I joined a local Moorestown anti-reflective glass coating manufacturing company as VP of Sales and Marketing. I was given the responsibility to market and sell anti-reflective coated glass worldwide. Interestingly, my first post on the Collector’s Forum in 2006 answered a question about AR coatings on watch crystals. I retired from that position in 2004.
MF: Some of us are envious of your retirement. What have you been doing?
BB: Until last year, I was a kept man for 12 years as my wife continued to work as a 5th grade teacher in our community. We now have time to travel to visit family and friends around the world. Fortunately, the luxury of time allows me to continue my involvement in the IWC Collectors’ Forum community.
I take joy in having the chance to meet with fellow IWC “ühren-virus” infected friends not only here in the USA, but also as we travel around the world. Organizing and attending get-togethers has become a very important part of my retirement life.
MF: I also know your affiliation with Washington University keeps you busy along with other volunteer work in your community.
BB: I guess that I am a professional volunteer. I keep saying yes to volunteer work, because the pay is so good. I am Chairman of the Planning Board in my hometown, a Board Member of a large Hospital group in New Jersey, the Chair and member of several Washington University Philadelphia Regional committees, and also a public member of the Office of Attorney Ethics for the State of New Jersey. I am a past Board Member of the Southern New Jersey YMCA association.
Fortunately, the luxury of time allows me to continue my involvement in the IWC Collectors' Forum Community
MF: I also understand that you continue to travel to Europe on business.
BB: To generate some funds for watch buying, I started a small consulting business. After retiring from the local AR glass company where 50% of our volume was in Europe, my European contacts recommended me to a similar business in Latvia. After a few months, I was asked to help start and join the company’s Advisory Board. My major role is to chair the Strategic and Annual Plan Board Meetings along with marketing and strategic consulting for the business. The Board meetings are in Riga several times per year, which fits nicely into my ability to have IWC get-togethers across the pond.
MF: When did you get interested in watches?
BB: Interestingly, my search for a luxury watch began in 2004 two years before I bought my first IWC. Prior to that I really was not into watches although I often would notice my business colleagues’ gold Rolexes.
My personal search for a luxury watch started in Switzerland in 2004. I am an avid skier. I often take one or more of our children to Zermatt, Switzerland to ski. In Zermatt I would walk past the watch shops several times each day. My Swiss skiing buddy was and is a true IWC fan and kept pushing me toward an IWC. After drooling over the IWCs there, I felt I should reward myself, since I did not get the proverbial gold watch upon retirement.
In August 2006 after due deliberation with my wife, I bought my RG 5001 Portugieser. There has been no looking back since then. In the end, my taste and preference is for clean, uncluttered, well-designed watches. IWC met and exceeded these expectations plus I became enthralled with the history and tradition of the brand.
MF: What happened then?
BB: After taking that first luxury plunge, I quickly added to my IWC collection. Acquisitions occasionally were serendipitous and often a purchase was planned after attending SIHH or admiring a fellow Forum Members’ IWC seen in person or on the Forum.
MF: May I ask how many IWCs did you get? Can you recall them all?
BB: Sure. Since catching the IWC virus, I have acquired, some might say accumulated, 15 IWCs and sold two of them. Here are all of them, in time sequence:
- Portugieser 5001, the one that started it all
- Ingenieur 3227. I wish I were around for the CFI, but this one will do
- Laureus Chrono, 3717, a true blue favorite
- St. Exupery Power Reserve, 3201, (sold)
- Der Doppel Chronograph, 3711. Brilliant watch.
- Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 5022, to celebrate my daughter’s wedding
- RG Cal 89, now my wife’s favorite
- Porsche Design Chronograph 3702, recently sold to a good Forum Friend in need of this one in his collection.
- VC Portofino Moonphase, 5448.
- Golf Club, 1829, worn by my wife
- AT 2000, 3568, the White Dial AT
- 5002 BP slow beat. A big favorite
- DFB Big Pilot, 5004, a really big favorite
- Galapagos AT Chronograph, 3767, for which there’s a story.
- CFP, Collectors’ Forum Spitfire, 3878, with its own story as well.
MF: They all seem to be favorites. But are some “especially special”?
BB: Three come to mind.
The first among my favorites is the 5022 PPC. Not only is it a very special IWC in design and special functions/complications, but I bought it the day before my daughter’s wedding.
Also, the Galapagos Aquatimer has special meaning to me. It belonged to Kevin Devine. When I traveled to the Galapagos, he offered to lend it to me for the trip. I did not take him up on the offer. After he passed away, I knew I had to buy it from his widow, Nancy, to remember Kevin.
Finally, my recently acquired CFP (CF3) is a significant addition to my collection and it is becoming an all time favorite quite quickly. I made a huge mistake not ordering the Collectors’ Forum Pilot’s Chronograph when it was offered to collectors. When another fellow collector passed away leaving us way too soon, I had the unique opportunity to correct that mistake and to simultaneously remember our friend, Giovanni Ambrogio. His name will always be engraved on the case back. Right now the CFP is in on its way to Schaffhausen to have my name engraved on the back alongside Giovanni’s.
MF: It’s quite a meaningful collection. It seems that the forum might have be instrumental here.
BB: Indeed, the Forum has been instrumental in my collecting. I spend many hours each day visiting the Forum multiple times a day. The Forum became central to my interests given my need to climb the steep learning curve of Haute Horology and to learn more about the history and tradition of IWC in particular. How did I become introduced to and infected with the Collectors’ Forum virus, you might ask? Well, immediately after buying the 5001Portugieser in August 2006, I discovered the IWC Collectors’ Forum with a Google search. I think I had a question that was not being answered on the other watch forums.
I quickly realized the IWC Collectors’ Forum was the place to go for expert advice and input about the IWC brand and its history and traditions. From that point on, I was hooked. The Moderator-led discussions are professional, focused, courteous and informative. It was clear that IWC had a strong, two-way relationship with Collectors. No other luxury brand has done this.
As I have often said in my posts, an equally important benefit, if not the most important, is the friendships made on the Forum. The other forums mostly were “what are your wearing today” type discussions.
MF: You’ve really developed from a “newbie” to a strong, helpful and expert forum contributor.
BB: I’m at 5,950 posts today and still going strong. I remain in awe of knowledge shared here. I have many, many friends worldwide because of the things IWC does for us. I am proud to be part of that tradition. Getting into watch collecting and understanding the history and tradition of the brand can be a steep learning curve. It is made enjoyable and available here on the Forum.
Thank you IWC for sponsoring the Forum. All of us greatly appreciate the effort made to cultivate this diverse, international group. No other luxury watch company compares to IWC. We also owe our moderators, past and present, a huge thank you for your time and effort on our behalf.
MF: I also suspect attending SIHH and visiting Schaffhausen helped develop your interests.
BB: I’ve been lucky to be invited to four SIHH shows. My first was in 2007 followed by visits to Geneva in 2010, 2011, and 2016.
MF: Could you tell us about your first visit to SIHH?
BB: I was quite surprised when you contacted me in late winter 2006 inviting me to the 2007 SIHH held that year in April. After all, I owned exactly one IWC acquired in August 2006. Of course I said yes. I was a real honor to be considered and invited.
Upon arrival in Geneva, I was a bit bewildered at what to do or expect. The first person to walk up to me at the hotel was Tonny Berteloot. Somehow, he knew I was a newbie. We closed the bar that evening after consuming a lot of wine and a dram or twelve of Single Malt, courtesy of Andrew Thomas, if I recall.
The next morning I walked into the breakfast area and none other than you and your bride, Kay, invited me to sit with them. What a special welcome for a newbie.
That same morning I sat down in the hotel lobby’s computer area to check my emails. Sitting next to me at a computer was another person more my age. I admired his watch, not knowing who he was or what he was wearing. That person was Kurt Klaus and the watch was his KK Platinum DaVinci #1. SIHH that year was the year of the DaVinci and his KK edition was the lead item of the Collection. He took it off his wrist and asked what I thought. I was dumbfounded. I am sure I said something, but I don’t recall.
Since then as I noted earlier, I have had the honor to attend three other SIHH shows…in 2010, 2011 and 2016. All were special. Not only is there the excitement of seeing up close the new Novelties, but, at least to me, there is the chance to see old friends and make new ones.
MF: You’ve also had some good visits to the manufacture in Schaffhausen.
BB: Like many before and after me, visiting SH is a significant, unforgettable experience. I’ve had the privilege to have meetings and tours of the factory on five separate occasions. My first was in September 2006 right after buying my 5001. I was on a business trip to Zürich and you helped to arrange a tour of the factory for me. There’s a lengthy picture-laden report on the Forum from this visit.
Two of my five Schaffhausen visits were organized events for Collectors... October 2007 and January 2009. There is nothing like these visits to help a collector understand the history and tradition of the brand and to meet the key people involved in designing, manufacturing, quality testing, marketing, and selling IWCs. My first Museum visits were in the old, upstairs attic location. The new Museum is a joy to visit. Anyone in the area should take time to visit the factory and museum.
MF: Above all else, you seem to immensely enjoy interacting with other collectors.
BB: Maintaining IWC connections and friendships is a passion of mine. Starting in 2012, I, along with other local area Collectors’ Forum members, have hosted or attended over 20 formal and informal get-togethers in New York City.
Many of our guests were from Europe, but we also had the opportunity to host guests from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. We also hosted fellow collectors from right here in the USA and Canada. We meet at the Boutique, have local watch excursions, and usually share a meal together. My co-host for many years was Kevin Devine. Sadly, he passed away leaving a big hole in the group.
At the Boutique, we have a home away from home to hold our get-togethers and share our passion. The staff of the Boutique, the USA IWC Management Team, and the forum moderators have been active participants and organizers of these events. No other luxury brand I know has this kind of collector engagement.
MF: And you expanded from New York to Amsterdam, too.
BB: I guess that the Amsterdam get-togethers have become legendary. This year’s version, the fifth edition, was the biggest ever with some 22 collectors and 8 or more guests. The BBAMSGTGs (Bill Barker Amsterdam get-together) are really just an excuse for many of us to come together and share our passion.
I’m the excuse, not the vital link in what happens. The timing of these is generally timed to tie into my June trip to Riga for a Board Meeting. But we have also had them at other times of the year.
MF: What are these events like?
BB: The local Dutch and Belgium guys organize the events. Mark L., 8541 and Clemens, Cinq, are the lead in getting the venues and activities in Amsterdam set for us. The events include lunches in Vondel Park, a luxury dinner with special guest speakers and presentations, canal boat rides, and visits to the Boutique.
We had a special guest join us in June ... Natascha Ambrogio, the wife of our late friend Giovanni. She came to meet her husband’s fellow collectors. It was time for us to pay our respects to our buddy who left us way too early.
Last year, Tonny Berteloot suggested we moved the GTG to Ghent, Belgium. Once again we had fine meals, canal boat rides, and sadly a tribute to our departed Forum member, Kevin Devine.
It is my great pleasure to have the opportunity to share my passion and time with so many friends.
MF: Indeed, this seems to be something special.
BB: I treasure the friendships and the shared passion. In retirement, I have the time to meet with fellow collectors almost any time anyone is in NYC or at least annually in Europe. Doing this is an important part of my life exceed only by the importance of family.
MF: I appreciate how you love your watches and your friendships here. Thank you so much for your time sharing this with us.
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