Boomers Love Watches (and you can too!)

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.

53 comments on “Boomers Love Watches (and you can too!)

  1. John Burgess

    Sadly, I developed a bad habit in my early days. I’d take off my watch when I was about to engage in activity that might damage it and then forget it. Put it on a car roof or hood and discover it crushed when the car moved. Take it off while hoisting crates into a truck and never think to find it and put it back on. It’s because of people like me that people like me don’t own expensive watches.

    I still wear a watch, though, a ~$30 electronic doohickey that provides me with information important to me, like moon phase and best times for fishing. That it also has lots of functions that I never use — don’t need split times for fishing, for example — is immaterial. I just don’t use them.

    I’ve never been attracted to men’s jewelry, other than rarely-worn cufflinks, so the fact that my watch isn’t make of 18k gold doesn’t bother me. I’d probably lose it overboard anyway.

    Watches, though, are nicely functional.

    1. SHG Post author

      While I have a gold watch for formal occasions, most of us watch nerds eschew the fancy metal (gold, platinum) because these are tool watches, and are appropriately steel for utility rather than gold for flash. There is nothing wrong with a $30 electronic doohickey. That was what Clinton wore. But it lacks the craftsmanship that I personally admire so much.

  2. Kathleen Casey

    I’m a boomer but I do not love wristwatches. Never did. Never wear them. I did a couple times and after a few days I stopped. The last one, a gift, is in the kitchen junk drawer. Rolexes are ugly.

    1. Steve

      I assume you’re trying to be funny, but you’re not and your comment just disrupts the thread. You may not be trying to be a troll, but you are. If you have nothing to add, then don’t comment. You’re a jerk.

      1. SHG Post author

        Kathleen is an old friend, and so she gets a bit of a pass on comments. Yes, it is an odd and pointless comment, but she is be no means a troll or a jerk. So you don’t share her sense of humor? Chill out.

  3. Turk

    Just don’t try to take away my Timex Ironman. It tells me the time, keeps track of my running, don’t need to take it off for the shower, and most importantly, won’t break my heart if it got lost/broken.

    But that Patek Phillipe sure did look sharp to my eye….nice clean lines.

    1. SHG Post author

      I never understood showering with a watch on. Doesn’t that leave a swatch of wrist perpetually dirty?

      1. Turk

        Doesn’t that leave a swatch of wrist perpetually dirty?

        Yes if you have it on really tight and elect never to clean your wrist.

        1. SHG Post author

          Yeah, that’s what they all say when someone mentions that brownish ring around their wrist.

          Seriously, that’s the perfect watch for you, given your love of running. The right tool for the right person. That’s all it takes.

  4. Jack

    While I wouldn’t ever buy a Caltrava, let alone any Patek Phillipe, at least Mr. Gross isn’t sporting a gold Rolex Yachtmaster and driving a red Corvette convertible so I don’t see why anyone would make fun of him for that, but I doubt he is a watch nerd at all. If you, or any watch nerd, had $20k to spend on a watch it wouldn’t be a Caltrava would it?

    While I am certainly no watch nerd either, when you don’t have 2-3 grand to spend on a new watch and can only budget 1/10th of that, finding a unique watch can be a much more difficult task that requires learning a little something. Especially when the vast majority of watches in that price range are actually $25 watches with a $275 name.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s why I mentioned the Glycine Airman, which can be had for under $1000. There are great classic watches at many price points. And yes, it takes a little work to get something really cool.

  5. Rick Horowitz

    I’m probably going to out myself as uneducated, or gauche, or something. I’ve always loved simplicity.

    My favorite watches are small, not large; simple, not all encumbered with dials and knobs, and such.

    I have a Rolex a client’s father once gave me as a gift. I think it’s called a “Submariner.” I almost never wear it. I prefer my Movado Museum Classic.

    I do wish pocket watches were still readily available, with pockets for them!

    1. SHG Post author

      I had a Movado Museum that my wife bought for me in 1984. My tastes have since changed. But if you’re not enjoy the sub, let’s trade for something you’ll like. I have a few that might interest you. Maybe a nice pocket watch?

      1. Jim Tyre

        I have a gorgeous pocket watch. It was made in 1871 and still keeps perfect time. But I hardly ever wear it. No self-respecting pocket watch should be tied to a belt loop, put in a pocket, it must be strung across the vest of a three piece suit. Alas, one just doesn’t see three piece suits very often these days. (My every day wristwatch is a Timex, though immediately a replaced its butt-ugly band with a nicer one. It keeps great time, it serves my needs otherwise, and no one thinks its a Timex.)

        1. Mark's Dad

          As a pre-boomer, I bought a Superlative Chronometer – Officially Certified in Singapore in 1969 before they became, “well, common and flagrant”. I wore it almost every day for forty years until I decided I wanted a watch that kept accurate time. I’ve now replaced it with one that looks much like the Patek Phillippe Calatrava, a Timex T2H281.

          1. SHG Post author

            Ahem, still have that “Superlative Chronometer” lying around taking up space? I’ll give you two Timex’s for it, so you will never be late again.

            But it really doesn’t look like a Patek. Just sayin’.

  6. Marc R

    Awesome post.

    “But the wristwatch is one of the two (arguably three) things a man can wear without looking like a dandy.”

    I’m assuming the “arguable” third is a hat of some sort. But what’s the other thing besides a watch?

    Also, what do you think of Lucien Piccard for cheaper watches? Any recommendations for watches under $500?

    1. SHG Post author

      1st: A watch
      2nd: A Wedding band
      3rd: A school ring (questionable unless it’s a brass rat or you went to West Point)

      As for Lucien Picard, who cares what I think, or anyone else for that matter. Get what’s cool for you. If I had to, I could probably find 10 watches available at this moment for under $500 what I would love to have. They’re out there, but you need to know what does it for you.

      1. Keith Lee

        I was presuming these were the three things you were thinking of when you mentioned the limited number of accessories a man is allowed to wear.

        I would suggest cuff links as a final addition to the list of acceptable accessories. While cuff links are not necessary, they can afford a subtle means to express different varieties of style. Nothing too gauche though, some people go way overboard with cuff links.

        1. SHG Post author

          There are some things, like cuff links for French cuffs, or studs for evening wear, that are appropriate under special circumstances, like when you wear French cuffs (only with a suit, Rushie; never, ever, with a sport jacket) or evening wear.

          1. Brett Middleton

            Tie clip or tack? I never much cared to leave my tie swinging loose, begging to be caught in a rogue line printer, man-eating card reader, or charging hay baler. But, then again, I’m a mere scientist and not up on the fashion rules for lawyers and such.

            1. SHG Post author

              The last officially acceptable tie clip died with Spiro Agnew. Also, given your concerns, make a special effort to be sure your fly is zipped.

    2. Tim Knowles

      For under $500 (actually under $300), I have a Christopher Ward C3 Malvern Chronograph that I like.

      1. SHG Post author

        In about 1 minutes on eBay, I found a 1941 Girard Perregaux (an exceptional quality marque) chronograph that’s got fabulous patina, a 281 movement, and only 30mm for those who don’t care for big watches. With 8 hours to go, price is $257. Never buy a Rolex on eBay, but for less pedestrian marques, you never know what you will find.

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-GIRARD-PERREGAUX-CHRONOGRAPH-WRIST-WATCH-ORIGINAL-DIAL-JUST-SERVICED-/261408467056?pt=Wristwatches&hash=item3cdd28a870

        Want something a tad bigger? What about a Universal Geneve bi-compax at 35mm with a 285 movement for $840 with 5 hours to go?

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-UNIVERSAL-GENEVE-UNI-COMPAX-CHRONOGRAPH-STEEL-WATCH-BLUE-HANDS-/151241464151?pt=Wristwatches&hash=item2336b19957

        They’re there, waiting for someone to love them.

  7. earlwer

    What about maintenance? I used to wear an expensive watch (gift) until I went to have the battery changed.
    The service fee was over $200.

    Now I wear a cheap Casio and change the batteries myself.

    1. SHG Post author

      Battery? I think we’ve figured out your problem. When you get one that winds, whether by your turning the crown or by your movement while wearing it, you’ll understand.

  8. GeorgeB

    A friend works in a SCIF, a highly secure area. Needless to say, no cell phones allowed in such.
    A new employee noted to him they must stand out in public, as they are the last folks who own watches…

    1. SHG Post author

      Let me complete your sentence for you.

      A new employee noted to him they must stand out in public, as they are the last folks who own watches…

      …at Starbucks.

  9. Jeff

    I honestly think that younger generations would appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of a wristwatch, if they ever tried owning one and wearing it. For me, I’ve never invested in a watch simply because I’ve never had a daily routine that involved the use of a wristwatch — it’s a habit-forming process that probably takes a few months, to make sure you remember to put it on or take it off when you need to, et cetera. Since young people now check their cellphones to see the time, there’s never the necessity to go out and buy your first wristwatch, so the habits that go along with owning a wristwatch never form.

    It will be interesting to see once Apple releases the iWatch, if that will cause an increase in ownership of actual watches since people will get used to looking at their wrist to see what time it is, and they’ll discover that they want something that looks nicer than an iToy.

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe they could think of it as a tattoo, except they can take it off and it won’t make them look ridiculous when it sags and wrinkles 20 years later.

      1. Jeff

        Wow. I think you just came up with a winning marketing slogan for watch sellers wanting to break into the millennial population.

  10. LTMG

    The very understated Nomos Tangomat I wear daily attracts little attention but keeps excellent time and is a fine example of watchmakers’ craft.

  11. John Barleycorn

    Ever notice how a wrist watch can accentuate the radiance of a vibrant outer smock and blend in the wide collar perfectly?

  12. Bill

    Scott- just curious if you were familiar with the brand Shinola (no link to respect your policy). They are handmade in Detroit and they’re pretty darned cool (pricey for the average joe, but for a watch guy they’re on the lower end of price spectrum). I’m curious if you have an opinion on IWCs? I’ll never be able to look at my Kirium the same way again (it’s durable, subtle enough and has served me well, but when a much more learned man makes comments like that, they’re hard to ignore. I couldn’t cough up the money for a Patek but treated myself to an IWC right before I got married. No one knows what it is but fellow enthusiasts, it’s nice to wear and stunning to look at – just too delicate to wear very often. If it’s not too much to ask, do you have any other favorites on the low-mid end of hte price spectrum? I was eyeing an Oris until i got a client in Detroit and encountered Shinola. Really interested in any additional thoughts you had – and I doubt you want my validation, but this post was a perfect context switch on the normal posts.

    1. SHG Post author

      Never heard of Shinola, so I can’t say, but I don’t really care for the name. IWC is obviously a great watch. I’m not big on fashion watches or quartz, as they lack the mechanisms that make watches awesome. But what I think doesn’t matter. I’m just a watch nerd, not a guru. Who cares what I like. Find what you like.

  13. Mark Draughn

    My wristwatch broke a few years ago, so I resorted to pulling out my iPhone whenever I needed to know the time…and I never got around to buying another watch. I guess I just don’t need one. And I certainly don’t know enough about them to justify spending more than $100 for one.

    Except…

    I do know a little about railroads. An awful lot of trains share the track system — often traveling in opposite directions on the same track and waiting in sidings for opposing trains to pass, following a carefully synchronized system of train orders. Get the timing wrong, and it could snarl traffic for hours, or even cause a collision. It’s all done with electronics now, but in the early part of the last century the whole system depended on train conductors with really good pocket watches. Watches that kept Railroad Time.

    The one I want is a classic Hamilton 992B, the second most popular railroad watch ever made (after its predecessor, the Hamilton 992). The movement has 21 jewels and has compensating mechanisms that enable it to keep accurate mechanical time over a wide range of temperatures and six positions (lying flat with the face up or down and vertical in your pocket with the crown facing up, left, right, or down). The winding stem can’t be used to set the time until you remove the bezel and throw a hidden lever, so there’s no chance of pulling the stem out and changing the time by accident.

    I like the gold case, and I’m indifferent about the bar-over-crown feature, but I can’t make up my mind about the face style. The Montgomery safety face with individually numbered minute marks is more of an authentic railroad watch — the numbers help you avoid misreading it by 5 minutes when you glance at the face at an odd angle — but the face with only hours numbered is so much more elegant.

    It is really only this last dilemma that has kept me from spending hundreds of dollars on an antique watch for which I have no possible need.

    1. SHG Post author

      Hamilton railroad watches are not only great, but steeped in history. The guy who tunes my SU carbs swears by his, and wears it in a leather holder on his belt. A lot of bikers do that as well. But the gold case is a bit too fancy for a working watch.

  14. EH

    I have occasionally looked at watches and thought of getting one, and frankly I’ve never even heard of these brands. All of the watch places sell the same stuff, whether Seiko or Baume & Mercier. It’s not as if one will just “bump into” a Glycine watch, it seems. How did you come to know about them at all?

    1. SHG Post author

      No, one will not just “bump into” many good things life has to offer. It takes effort to distinguish oneself from the banal. Most good things in life require effort.

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