It was the couple quick glances at a wristwatch that derailed the re-election campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush during a presidential debate with Bill Clinton. But for a watch, we wouldn’t have had Monica Lewinsky to talk about. How could you live with yourself?
I’m a watch nerd. That means I love watches. Wrist watches. Dash timers. Pocket watches. Not clocks, so much, but watches. It’s not that they’re fancy, but that they’re tools reflecting the artistry of the watchmaker’s craft. Telling time is easy. Watches can be a thing of beauty. If you can’t appreciate beauty, ingenuity and craftsmanship, then your life is empty. I’m sad for you.
In a post the other day, a tangential piece dealt with a lawyer whose watch of choice was a Patek Phillipe Calatrava. This gave rise to no small issue, because of its expense as well as its, well, uninspired appearance. It’s not that Patek isn’t a fine watch. Oh no. It’s regarded by many as the best watch ever. But cost has never been a significant criteria for watch nerds. There aren’t many Pateks that one would call interesting or attractive, so despite their quality and price, interest in them is limited.
At the next level is the ubiquitous Rolex, which is a standard for those who know nothing about wristwatches, but want to impress their friends and neighbors. It’s not that Rolex doesn’t make a wonderful watch, particularly the Rolex Daytona which is one of the most gorgeous watches ever made. But there is something about wearing a Rolex that’s, well, common and flagrant. It’s like trying too hard to impress. The fault isn’t with the watch, but with ourselves.
The same folks who questioned the Calatrava were quick to make fun of “lesser” watches, which are only lesser if one is ranking them based on how much they cost, a terrible metric for wristwatches. Of all the factors to consider, cost is the least important, and true watch nerds see judging a watch on price as more of a dividing line between those who know quality from those who only know price. Cue Oscar Wilde’s “a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
My flavor of watch love tends to go with tool watches. No, not because I’m a tool, but because they were created to serve a function. These are watches like the Omega Speedmaster, which was so rugged that it was chosen to go to the moon, or the Heuer Siffert Autavia, a rare and beautiful variation on perhaps the best timing automatic watch created.
These aren’t cheap watches, mind you, but they aren’t in the stratosphere of Pateks for the most part, though some have increased in value to surprising heights. The point is that watch nerds pick out watches for their effectiveness, their functionality and their cool factor, not their price. Some of my most recent buys, such as my Vietnam-era Glycine Airman with a 24-hour dial and hack, is quite reasonably priced, but still a great piece of history, and has lately gotten the lion’s share of wrist time.
Then there are the watches that only watch nerds pay attention to, like the watches from Helmut Sinn, formerly of Heuer (note that the TAG part of the name, added in 1985, is never to be found on any Heuer worth owning), that are incredibly accurate, beautifully constructed and a favorite of people who know watches. Never heard of it? That’s right.
Coming to appreciate the elegance and craftsmanship of a fine wristwatch is an epiphany. Most won’t reach that height, which is how it should be. But the wristwatch is one of the two (arguably three) things a man can wear without looking like a dandy. It not only enables you to take a quick glance at your wrist rather than pull out your iToy to tell the time, but it makes you a member of the elite group of people who appreciate the genius of the watchmakers who, somehow, figured out that a bunch of gears oscillating at just the right speed could actually tell time. What an extraordinary thing to do!
Wear a wristwatch. You don’t need to spend a fortune or wear one to impress the least knowledgeable person in the room. Know that there are people, a lot more than you think, who will see what’s on your wrist and know that you’re part of the club. And it’s a great club.