What busboy imagines that he'll someday own one of the busiest nightspots in Cincinnati? This is the American dream come true for Mike Hama, proprietor of Hyde Park's Beluga restaurant.

Hama seems to have a few things in common with his trendy sushi bar. Just as the routine exterior of Beluga is a bit deceiving at first glance, you'd never imagine that this lanky man in a lime-green Hawaiian shirt "” sporting a seemingly ordinary lime-green watch with a round, orange face "” would have such a deeply passionate secret obsession.

"I am always late, and have always been fascinated with time," Hama explains of his watch collection. "I have so much appreciation for art, beauty and craftsmanship."

Hama's love for watches started when he was 23, when he bought a Rolex for about $3,000. Hama clarifies that a Rolex is not "the ultimate" in watches. "It's more of a Ford or BMW. Anyone could spot a Rolex from a mile away." After the Rolex, Hama began to read more books and magazines about watches, which only fed his obsession.

Today, Hama owns about 30 watches, most of which he keeps locked in a safety deposit box. However, he always keeps a few that he likes to wear around at his house. Among his favorites in his collection are a $16,000 Audemars Piguet, which he purchased six years ago. The Audemars Piguet is most recognized as Arnold Schwarzenegger's watch of choice, but Hama is careful to point out that he wanted one long before Schwarzenegger did.

A few of Hama's watches also come with fascinating stories, such as his Luminor Panerai submersible, which was created during World War II for Italian combat divers who planted bombs underwater.

For some people, expensive material possessions are a status symbol used to flaunt their wealth. But for Hama, these possessions mean much more.

"If something makes you happy, pursue it. It was never about wealth, always passion. People do the same thing with antiques or stamps. At least with watches you can wear them, look at them. It's crazy, but all people are crazy in their own way. If you had a million dollars, why wouldn't you spend it? You can't take it with you. So spend it on something you enjoy."

Hama admits that he often checks out his customers' watches, and if he likes your watch, he'll tell you. In fact, he can tell what kind of watch someone is wearing just by the wristband.

"Just like someone in love with cars can tell a Honda from a Chevrolet just by the headlights, I can tell from the wristband if it's a Patek Philippe or a Cartier. It's in the detail."

Watches can be quite an expensive pursuit. According to Hama, some can cost up to $100,000, although most average from $5,000 to $10,000. "It sometimes makes me feel guilty. I stopped for a while. I chose not to go to Web sites or read magazines. If I did, I would go crazy."

But when someone possesses an obsession, it becomes almost like a game, observes Hama. If you have $10, you'll want $20. It is never enough.

"I think this applies to most peoples' lifestyles. People always want more, they want to succeed. Even if you don't believe in money. If you could be another Picasso, wouldn't you be?"

Right now, Hama has his eye on an IWC Aquatimer, but also favors Chanel, Cartier, Brequet, and Breitling. "So much work and craftsmanship goes into these. Just look. They're beautiful.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a good watch." Watches are about personality, and Hama finds personality in everything from a Timex to a Blancpain. "Each watch is different. I can like one more than another, but I can't say 'this is my favorite.'"