Exploring why watches offer more than the sum of their parts, and why their importance surpasses their primary function.
My descent (or ascent depending on your perspective) in to becoming a bona-fide watch addict has been gradual. Even now I do not consider myself a Horologist in the true sense of the word, I love watches…I do not necessarily know all there is to know about them or the minutiae of how they work. What I do have, though, is approximately 21 years’ experience of looking at them, buying and selling them, collecting them and wearing them.
This condition has been fuelled more fervently in recent years with broader access to different brands and watchmakers, including a number of very interesting ‘micro-brand’ makers, and then of course there is Instagram – a practically unlimited resource of the world’s most beautiful timepieces photographed impeccably and broadcast right in to the palm of your hand. I do feel I just about fall the right side of having it classified an obsession though, before any of you worry about my welfare.
What I’d like to do with this first piece covering watches is discuss why I like them and why I feel they are ‘important’. I use inverted commas as importance is of course a matter of opinion and context…but still, they ARE important.
First things first, were watches (mechanical watches at least) solely to be judged on the efficiency or accuracy of performing their primary function of time-keeping they would likely already be obsolete. Digital and Quartz powered watches and smartphones are for the most part more accurate. Fortunately the humble wristwatch offers far more than this basic yet crucial function. So what are the reasons I love watches so, and why should you invest in at least one good one?
Jewellery for men that don't do jewellery
Other than perhaps a wedding ring, there are a lot of men that don’t wear any jewellery. A watch can therefore be used as an ‘accessory’, a way for the wearer to express themselves and their own sense of style, or perhaps merely their mood or outlook on any given day or occasion. There are a number of anecdotes or myths about being able to tell a lot about the character or wealth of a man by the watch and shoes he wears. Given there can be many exceptions to such a proposition I believe it’s generally not an assertion you should pay much heed to, however, wearing certain types of timepieces in certain situations can indeed project a particular image or ‘vibe’. One of the joys of this is you can take it as far as you like…or can afford.
Purists would have you wear nothing but a white dialled two hand watch with a Dinner jacket for instance, and would treat the wearing of a dive watch with a suit with an overzealous indignation. So in choosing when to adhere to these protocol and when to ‘break the rules’ can in itself send a message to those interested in receiving it.
Complementing and enhancing the clothes we wear
To a degree connected with the above, a carefully chosen wristwatch has the potential to raise the impact of your chosen outfit. I have found this can essentially be achieved in two main ways:
Most successfully, by complementing and therefore enhancing your chosen style of the day. For instance…formal business suit, tie, black leather shoes would be lifted by a black dial Omega Aqua Terra, or a white dial Nomos Tangente on a black leather strap.
Or…jeans, white tee, cable knit sweater, chukka boots would delight in being paired with a Rolex GMT model, or an Omega Speedmaster.
Alternatively...by breaking the rules of the purist and offering a pleasing contrast between watch and clothing. Now this is much harder to pull off successfully but that shouldn’t stop you trying from time to time.
One often used example of this is wearing a Rolex Submariner with a business suit. My unscientific survey suggests roughly 50% feel it works, and the other half the opposite. Personally I think it looks fine, but a Sub (certainly the modern ones with thick lugs) won’t complement a suit, nor is it contrasting enough (by virtue of its glistening ceramic bezel and glossy dial) to satisfy this criteria.
One of my favourite contrasts would be to wear a pair of blue jeans with a simple t-shirt or polo, and then strap on a 36mm Datejust with polished centre links and fluted white gold bezel – contrasting in terms of style, and yet both classic and timeless in their own way.
Now you may have noticed I have used high profile, expensive brands in my example, but I only do this as the online resources will be broader should you decide to seek more pictorial evidence…but there are an enormous amount of options covering all price ranges, and in fact looking at high value, low cost pieces is something I intend to do within a future post, in addition to a much more in-depth article on watches in a style context.
The joyful alignment of design and engineering
The very best examples of mechanical watches are a feat of both engineering and design…some would say art. The aesthetics of a timepiece can conjure a real sense of elation upon viewing and wearing. Beauty also abounds in precision…the perfectly applied hour markers or the addictive clicking mechanism of a rotational bezel for example…breath-taking craftsmanship, and this is even before we consider what is going on inside the watch.
The meticulousness of the mechanical engineering involved in the making of many mechanical movements (gosh that’s a lot of ‘m’s’!) is quite awe-inspiring. I don’t for a second pretend to understand how it all works, but to see a movement (and particularly complicated ones) in action is highly impressive; again you have the beauty of polished textures alongside brushed metal, sparkling and translucent jewels next to working cogs, and all crafted to minuscule proportions predominantly to mitigate the impact on the case diameter and height.
Heritage and Legacy
Some timepieces are inextricably tied in to the social and cultural history of the planet (and even further afield! – see Omega Speedmaster).
Until recently a Rolex Daytona previously owned and worn by Paul Newman was the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, fetching a staggering $17.7 million. The desirability of the Tag Heuer Monaco benefits from its association with Steve McQueen, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual (and pre-cursor to the Explorer) worn by Sir Edmund Hillary as he scaled Everest, and perhaps most legendary of all – the Omega Speedmaster worn by Buzz Aldrin (Armstrong left his in the lunar module) becoming the very first watch on the moon.
I can’t comment as a woman (not being one), but as a man I feel there is almost a sense of identity broadened, or reflected at least by the watch I wear. Sure I could live without one (shudder) but why would I want to?
I’d like to thank the good people of Michael Jones Jewellers, Northampton for allowing me to photograph some of their watches for the purpose of this piece.