October 1, 202320 min Read

Kristian Haagen – The Timepiece Storyteller

By Niclas Berglund

Saturday, July 25th, 1992, in an apartment on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The noise from the lunchtime traffic outside is insistent. Inside the apartment, this cacophony is reduced to a muted hum. The room’s heat is almost stifling, amplified by the intense sun struggling to shine through the half-closed blinds. The ceiling fan turns slowly, offering little relief.

Kristian Haagen awakens on the couch, his head throbbing gently. He casts a glance at yesterday’s pizza box, which only intensifies the growing nausea he feels. In a semi-conscious gesture, he pulls himself up and heads towards the kitchen. As he passes by, he accidentally stirs a sleeping cat, which dashes off, annoyed by the disturbance.

At the sink, he takes a few seconds to rinse cold water over his face. Each chilly droplet feels like a jolt cutting through the fog of his hangover. The young advertiser has Barcelona’s nightlife to thank for his current state – a world of late nights, flashy bars, and people whose names he barely remembers. His thoughts return to why he’s here. That Rolex watch.

He has dreamt of that watch, the Rolex, ever since he was a child. Not for its shine or status, but for what it represented in his eyes. He remembered thumbing through his father’s old issues of National Geographic – with tales of adventurers and explorers, men of steel who not only challenged the world but time itself.

Suddenly, he spots the clock on the kitchen wall. Panic surges as he realizes he’s running late. In just 40 minutes, he is to oversee the filming of a new Spanish porn film. As the head of marketing, it’s up to him to ensure that every camera shot is perfect – or there’s no paycheck.

Kristian Haagen takes out some of his watches from his incredible watch collection.

August 31, 2023.

The rain is pouring, and I stand under a carport, trying to see if I can discern number 48 on any of the houses. I throw myself into the rain and rush to a door. Wrong house, no one home. I run back under the shelter, completely drenched. Concerned about my camera equipment, I wipe off the camera as best I can. I send a message to Kristian Haagen asking what color his house is. While I’m waiting for an answer, I hear someone whistle. I look up and there he is. Dressed in a yellow raincoat, he’s impossible to miss. He smiles at me and welcomes me to Denmark.

We meet in his home just outside Copenhagen. He lives there with his girlfriend and their two youngest children, aged 17 and 14. He also has a 22-year-old daughter who moved out a few years ago.

– When the kids turn 18, I give them a Rolex. The same year they were born, I bought a watch for each of them. They are kept in the bank, and I haven’t touched them since then. My daughter has received hers, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. I remember thinking ahead of her 18th birthday: “What if she sells this watch because she needs money.” So, I had engraved on the back of the watch: “If you sell this watch for a bag of hash, make sure you get at least 1kg, Love Dad.” Considering the current inflation around watch prices, I should have written 3kg.

He laughs before continuing:

– By engraving watches, one creates fun and cherished memories, says Kristian Haagen.

Kristian Haagen’s Rolex GMT from 2018. Photo: Kristian Haagen.

On the backside, he has had a message engraved. Photo: Kristian Haagen.

"There's Something Special About Holding Your Work In Your Hands"

Kristian Haagen is today a global icon in the watch industry. He co-founded the Danish watch magazine TIMEGEEKS. He has authored and released eight books. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as the foremost watch specialist in Scandinavia, and rightly so. His knowledge in the field is extensive, and today, his primary platform is Instagram, where he has 149,000 followers.

– I was at a meeting many years ago where Matt Jacobsson – Instagram’s head of growth – spoke about social media as the future communication platform for watches. Instagram has deliberately targeted this segment and is, without a doubt, the largest platform for watch communication today.

He stands up and walks away to fetch something. When he returns, he holds a book in his hands.

– This is my latest book, here you go, says Kristian Haagen as he settles down.

It’s a beautiful book, and I notice that he has put great emphasis on aesthetics and the striking images.

– I love printed books and magazines. There’s something special about holding your work in your hands – something tangible. Even if Instagram is my main source of income now, and I recognize that digital media is the way of the future, I’ll always romanticize the printed form.

Rolex Sea Dweller from 1972. Worn by a military combat diver in the 1970s.

Kristian Haagen grew up in Næstved, a city on the island of Zealand, located approximately 87 km from Copenhagen. In his youth, he dreamt of becoming a veterinarian, but a fur allergy put an end to that ambition. Despite this, his parents encouraged his interest and ensured he got to intern with the local vet on weekends. During these visits, they would drive around to different farms in a vehicle that, to Kristian Haagen, felt like an adventurer’s ride – a Land Rover.

His father, who was a dentist, subscribed to National Geographic. His collection of magazines was vast, and young Kristian could spend hours flipping through them, daydreaming about the jungles of Africa or the snow-covered peak of Mount Everest.

– My father had a clinic near where I grew up. In my time, school days were short, so when dad was home for lunch he’d say, “When you’ve finished reading the sixth issue of National Geographic, I’ll be home.” He knew it took me about 15 minutes to flip through an issue. For a long time, that was my relationship with time. You could say my journey in the horological world began there, with my nose buried in those magazines, recalls Kristian Haagen with a smile.

He has a fondness for action heroes and adventurers, which he believes stems from the magazines on his family’s bookshelf. They shaped him and ignited a desire to explore the world at a young age. The heroes in Kristian Haagen’s magazines always wore watches, often a Rolex. Even then, a seed was sown – a dream of one day becoming a hero and adventurer himself. And when that day comes, he has promised himself a Rolex will sit on his wrist.

Kristian Haagen in his Land Rover Defender.

The watch has a rich history from the Balkan War in the 1990s.

The car that breathes adventure, the Land Rover Defender.

Counterfeit Rolex Watches

Barcelona, July 25, 1992.

Kristian Haagen opens the door to his apartment. He can smell the incense and the faint odor of cigarettes. Kristian drops his bag by the entrance, feeling the pressure from the day’s work lift, and sheds his coat. The apartment, a blend of old and new, has an open floor plan. A large bookshelf filled with photographic journals dominates one wall, some of them wrinkled and worn from use. A large window overlooks a narrow street below, and the light from the street lamps casts shadows across the worn-out furniture.

Kristian sinks into the old leather couch, takes a deep breath, and leans his head back. He hears laughter and mumbling outside the door. The door opens, and a group of models from the day’s shoot walks in. They’ve clearly started celebrating already; one of them clutches a bottle of wine in one hand. Their flowing dresses and sparkling jewelry reflect the dim light in the room.

– ¡Hola, Kristian! one of them greets with a flamboyant voice, and the rest of the group laughs.

Kristian, slightly irritated by the sudden interruption of his solitude, responds with a faint smile, “Hola, chicas.”

As the group disperses around the apartment, laughing and joking, one of the women approaches Kristian. Dressed in a shimmering red dress and with curly black hair, she quickly scans the room before leaning in closer.

– I heard you’re selling more than just ads, she whispers, a hint of excitement in her voice. Got any watches for sale?

Kristian Haagen raises an eyebrow.

Kristian Haagen, from his living room outside of Copenhagen, has just taking me to a day in Spain in early 1992.

– Believe it or not, but the porn industry was actually exciting. A lot happened during the years I worked there. I rented a room in an apartment on the outskirts of Barcelona. In that apartment, there were also models who came and went, depending on the shoots. I sold them fake Rolex watches and made a decent amount of money off of that, says Kristian Haagen, covering his face with his hands.

After a few years in the Spanish city, Kristian Haagen decides to move back to Denmark. He’s received an offer to start working at a large advertising agency. Now, he finally feels he can afford to buy his first watch. He buys a Tudor Big Block because he thinks it looks like a Rolex Daytona.

– I thought then that this would be my only watch for the rest of my life – it didn’t turn out that way, as you probably already know by now. I later went on a vacation with my then-girlfriend to Miami and bought a used vintage Rolex Submariner. But I was so afraid that people would notice I bought a used watch that I went to my local dealer in Denmark and had them replace the dial and put on a new metal-bracelet, Kristian Haagen chuckles at his past self.

– It’s easy to think that everything new is good and everything old is bad. That was what I believed about my first Rolex Submariner.

Kristian Haagen’s Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700. The first time he saw the watch was as a young boy in a National Geographic magazine.

It was this icon from Patek Philippe that marked the beginning of Kristian Haagen’s journey into vintage watches. Photo: Kristian Haagen.

Kristian Haagen’s Patek Philippe Nautilus ref: 3700 from 1976.

Concerned About The Development Surrounding Watches

He stands up and walks to the kitchen, which has an open floor plan connecting to the living room and dining area, creating a spacious feeling. The rooms are tastefully and stylishly decorated with Danish designer furniture. From the kitchen, he asks if I’d like a cup of coffee and begins to prepare it, continuing our conversation.

– Over the years, I’ve owned many watches and had a large collection of Patek Philippes. However, I eventually realized that the value of these watches had reached a point where it would be highly beneficial for my family if I sold off parts of the collection. I remember buying my Patek Philippe Nautilus ref: 5980 while I was in Monaco. I had indulged in a bit too much champagne before I walked into the store. On a whim, I bought the watch, and when I woke up the next day, I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I’d purchased a watch worth several thousand euro while intoxicated. Probably the worst hangover I’ve ever had. Yet, with time, that impulsive decision turned out to be a fortunate misstep, says Kristian Haagen.

He continues:

– I see myself as a passionate connoisseur, engaged in watch collection purely out of love. My collection is all heart and nothing else. Yet, I feel a bit hypocritical saying this. Let me explain. The significant increase in the value of watches in recent years has undoubtedly affected me, even though I never thought it could. Look around you. This kitchen is brand new. My Patek Philippe 5980 chronograph paid for this and a new bathroom upstairs, says Kristian Haagen.

He’s concerned about the direction the watch market is taking. The steep price increase means many cannot wear the watches they adore. I’m reminded of a comment Kristian Haagen made to me over the phone while we were scheduling this interview. He had said, “You can come to my house for the interview; that way, I won’t have to worry about someone sneaking up and robbing me of my watches.”

– I never keep any watches at home anymore; they all have to be in a bank. My family’s safety could be at risk. Watch thieves are some of the greatest connoisseurs out there. They’re highly knowledgeable about all models and can spot your watch from miles away. They’ll tail you and steal your prized possession, says Kristian Haagen.

The rain pours down as we take the photos for the report, but Kristian believes it does justice to the watch.

The model is called “Double Red” because the dial features two red lines of text. A highly sought-after variant of the Sea-Dweller.

"Barbour-Wearing, Land Rover Driving, Middle-Aged Watch Collector”

On Kristian Haagen’s Instagram account, he describes himself as a “Barbour-wearing, Land Rover driving, middle-aged watch collector.” Here you can get a glimpse into his private collection, but he also highlights news and exciting watches from the industry. His photos are well-composed, and in a stylish manner, he captures the beauty of the watches. His images often evoke a sense of wanderlust, as if he’s always ready for the next adventure.

– My wrist is quite recognizable. I always wear my bracelets, which have attracted both a lot of love and criticism over the years. Many wonder if I don’t scratch my watches with the bracelets. Yes, sometimes it happens, but what’s the big deal? What can one do to stand out? The bracelets have become my signature in the watch world. Ever since I was young, I’ve liked wearing bracelets, says Kristian Haagen.

He shares his experience with photography, and how the Leica Q2 revolutionized his approach.

– I’ve tried most things when it comes to cameras. I first noticed the Hodinkee team started using the Leica Q2, and then I saw more influencers with the same camera. I remember meeting Adrian Barker from the YouTube channel Bark and Jack. He described how the camera gave the images a three-dimensional feel, says Kristian Haagen.

He now exclusively works with Leica cameras, and later the same day we meet, he has an appointment with the camera manufacturer, who will introduce him to the Leica M11.

– All the photos I post now are taken with a Leica. And I would say that the “Leica magic” is real. It has truly elevated my photos. Tomorrow, I’m traveling to Geneva for the Geneva Watch Days, and I’ll be photographing with the Leica M11. I’m genuinely looking forward to it, says Kristian Haagen.

Kristian Haagen’s Rolex GMT “Pepsi” from 1968. The watch that was worn by his great idol, war correspondent Jan Stage.

"I Was Offered To Buy My Idol's Watch"

He pulls out a watch from his watch box and shows it to me. It’s a Rolex GMT. The model is known as the Pepsi in the watch world due to the blue and red color of the watch’s bezel.

– This is by far the most important watch in my collection. My Rolex GMT-Master (ref: 1675) from 1968. The watch was owned by my greatest idol, the late Danish war correspondent and journalist Jan Stage. In the 1960s, he became part of Cuban intelligence and wanted the same watch as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. This watch has seen a lot; he wore it on all his reporting trips. He was also wearing this watch when he was kidnapped in El Salvador.

He continues:

– I vividly remember spotting him as a young boy at the Copenhagen airport. He was standing there in his leather vest, you know, that typical vest that journalists wear, says Kristian Haagen, laughing.

– I so wanted to ask him about his watch. I didn’t know then what type of watch he was wearing, but it looked cool. I unfortunately never dared to approach him. He was a man known for his fiery temper, and as a young boy, it made me nervous, says Kristian Haagen.

Years later, as an adult, Kristian Haagen appeared on a Danish TV show discussing his watch collection. What he didn’t know then was that Jan Stage’s wife was watching him on TV. She noticed he lacked a specific watch model in his collection: a Rolex GMT, the same watch her husband wore throughout the years he traveled in war zones around the world. After the TV broadcast, she decided to get in touch with Kristian Haagen and sent him an email.

Kristian Haagen at his living room table in his home outside of Copenhagen

Jan Stage’s GMT. The most significant watch Kristian Haagen has in his collection.

Jan Stage, on a journalistic assignment, wears the iconic Rolex GMT “Pepsi” on his wrist. That exact same watch that Kristian Haagen has in his collection.

– I had to read the email three times. I couldn’t believe it was true. I was offered the chance to buy my idol’s watch. I didn’t have the money to purchase it right then, but we met a few times and established a good rapport. She said to me, “Kristian, the watch is yours when you’re ready. It’s waiting for you here. If anyone is going to buy this watch, it’s you.”

When I ask him how it felt when he finally managed to gather the money to buy his idol’s watch, he pauses, searching for the right words.

– I looked at the watch without seeing the time, says Kristian Haagen.

The watch is a pristine example of the classic Rolex model. But for Kristian Haagen, it’s not about that. What the Danish watch collector values more than a perfect condition is a powerful backstory. The watch is today the most valuable one he has in his collection, and that’s because of the rich history it carries with it. Just like his father’s magazine did when he was a young boy.

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– When you buy a new watch, you have to create a history with it. When you buy a vintage watch, it already comes with a history. I find that exciting, and it appeals to me more, says Kristian Haagen.

He has a strong attraction and fondness for vintage watches, which is connected to how, as a young boy, he read about his heroes in National Geographic. The stories from those magazines are represented in various ways in his watch collection. The watches that have been worn by adventurers and explorers; he sees these watches in many ways as the action heroes of their time.

– I don’t like war; terrible things happen around us, and it’s sad. But again, the “heroic aspect” that comes from the magazines I read as a boy is reflected in my watch collection. Take my “Double Red” Sea-Dweller, for example. I bought it at an auction. After I won the bid, the previous owner contacted me. It turned out he was a combat diver in the military. He had bought the watch in 1975 even though it was manufactured in 1972; back then, watches could sit in a store for years before someone purchased them. He wore this watch in 1992 when the Balkan War broke out, and he was there building mobile hospitals.

He continues:

– So, this isn’t just a “Double Red” Sea-Dweller with a tobacco brown dial (tropical dial). This is a “Double Red” Sea-Dweller with a tobacco brown dial that carries a war story. It’s an amazing watch, says Kristian Haagen, smiling.

Rolex Sea-Dweller with a dial that has aged and now taken on a brown color, known as a Tropical-dial.

"I Got Another Special Watch And Story For My Collection"

Kristian Haagen moves on to the next watch in his watch box. He pulls out his Vacheron Constantin American 1921 (VC 1921), a gold watch he often wears on a NATO strap.

– I was at a dinner when a man walked into the room. He was wearing a lavish suit, you could tell it was tailored, his shoes the same. His fingers were entirely adorned with gold rings – and then he wore this watch, says Kristian Haagen, pointing to the VC 1921.

He continues:

– I think everyone has to realize that sometimes you fall in love with a watch because some cool person has worn that exact watch. He made a strong impression on me, and I was so taken by his persona.

We are interrupted when Kristian Haagen’s son returns home from school. He calls out to him, asking if he could go outside and walk the family dog. “He can,” replies the son, and Kristian Haagen thanks him. Then he picks up where we left off.

– I couldn’t stop thinking about this watch after that dinner. I had my Patek Philippe ref: 5711 in the bank which I never used, so one day I decided to sell it to buy the VC 1921. Two weeks after I sold my 5711, Patek Philippe stopped producing the watch, and its value skyrocketed. That sort of thing happens sometimes, but I added another special watch and story to my collection, says Kristian Haagen.

The Vacheron Constantin American 1921 is a watch that Kristian Haagen has managed to personalize with a NATO strap. The watch is frequently featured on his Instagram account.

On his Instagram account, Kristian Haagen shares a picture of his Vacheron Constantin American 1921. Photo: Kristian Haagen.

"Is This Real, Do I Own All These Watches"

His desire to tell a story with his watches is a recurring theme for the Danish watch collector. He talks about how he has often bought watches to commemorate an achievement.

– I like buying what I call “occasion watches”. For instance, I buy a new watch every time I release a new book. Sometimes, I buy a watch and set it aside, waiting for a goal I want to achieve. When I reach that goal, I bring out the watch. Sometimes that day never comes.

Kristian Haagen gathers himself before continuing:

– When my father fell ill, I bought a watch that I would bring out when he recovered. Sadly, that day never came, and my father passed away after an illness.

He drifts off in thought for a moment. I see how he gets emotional talking about his father.

– I sold the watch when my father was no longer with us. It became associated with sadness, so I let that watch leave my collection, says Kristian Haagen.

Today, he’s 53 years old and talks about how he now sees more clearly about his watch collection. Watches are his great passion in life, but at the same time, an investment. It can be that way, believes Kristian Haagen. He sees his watches as security. He won’t be active in the watch industry forever. But visiting his watches in the vault gives him something that the magazines gave him as a child – a sense of adventure and the infinite.

– I know this might come off as a bit arrogant, but I love visiting my watches. They represent something special to me. Many of the watches tell a strong story to me, taking me back in time.

He continues:

– Sometimes, when I open the box to my collection, I can be mesmerized by them and think – is this real, do I own all these watches?

Kristian Haagen outside his home in Denmark, wearing his Sea-Dweller from the 1970s.


In conclusion, I ask him if he himself has bought any watch recently.

– I’ve bought a Rolex Air King, simply because it’s so ugly. There’s so much wrong with that watch that I can’t help but find it cool. Even ugly dogs need a loving home, right?, says Kristian Haagen with a laugh ⏱

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🎥 See the trailer with Kristian Haagen.