A while ago, I had a brief, torrid, and frankly ridiculous love affair with watches.
I would read forums (yes, there are watch forums) and watch blogs. I made lists of watches I wanted to buy. I even launched my own watch brand, Eureka Watch Company, and started manufacturing and selling my own design of one-handed watches.
Recently, when seeing pictures of the Swatch collaborations with Omega and Blancpain, I considered reviewing my position. Maybe it’d be nice to have something pretty on my wrist.
But I’ve grown out of that phase. I’ve learned how unsatisfying it is to own a watch. Watches are dumb. I don’t know why people have them. But this is why I did, and how I grew the f&#$ out of it.
How Obsessions Begin
Like most obsessive hobbies, my pursuit of watches started with seeing a random item somewhere (in this case on Kickstarter), then reading about them to try and read through the marketing babble. Then reading some more. Then reading forums, reviews, subreddits, and anything by anyone else who had an opinion on watches.
At some indescribable point, the switch flipped. I had to have a watch.
But which watch? What would be the ideal watch? Which watch would say everything I wanted a watch to say: that I’m smart, have taste, am tough, and have a good eye for value?
After much reading, I realised I needed a watch with the following specific attributes: a Swiss or Seiko automatic movement, SLC coating, Bauhaus or minimalist design, a transparent back and/or a tourbillon, a sapphire crystal glass, a Nickel-Chromium casing, high quality lume, and a Chronometrometer if I could swing it.
If you’re wondering what those things are… well, you don’t need to know. They’re just examples of the random words learn when you dive into any obsession. (Also, I made some of them up.)
Of course, it’s impossible to find one watch that satisfies all needs. Which means I’d need several. I’d have my stylish one, but I couldn’t wear that to the gym. I’d have my utility watch, but I’d only wear that on hikes. And then I’d have my beater, the one I’d use to actually tell the time.
This realisation was the beginning of the end.
That Incredible Feeling (of Boredom)
After many months of research, thinking about it, price comparing, and looking on eBay and used watch forums, I made my first purchases. I thought myself so clever for getting an obscure Vostok (Восток) Russian diver’s watch, an Orient dive watch (the more niche alternative to Seiko), and a Swatch System51 Automatic, my everyday “beater”.
Here’s a photo of my collection that I proudly took in the beginning. (If only I had invested in cameras as I had invested in watches!)
Watches are nice to imagine, to think about, and to look at. But I’ll never forget the feeling I had of finally putting on my wrist a watch I had lusted after for a while. It was indescribably underwhelming.
I thought of taking a photo of my new watch on my wrist. That watch was so cool! But alas, wrists are not the best product display showcases… It’s like taking a photo of a diamond amid a mass of pubic hairs.Not that my Persian wrist’s hair was the problem.
Other people’s wrist shots on pasty white hairless wrists looked like shiny bling adorning a slice of baloney. Unfortunately, “What are you wearing today” (“WRUW”) threads are lousy with beautiful photos on ugly wrists.
As per my original requirement, all of the watches I bought had automatic movements. This means that I either had to wind them or wear them to keep them “charged”. They’d run out of charge every 1-2 days, otherwise, after which I’d have to re-set the time.
Which brings me to the ultimate realisation. What do watches do? They tell the time. Except you have to keep winding them or wearing them, or they go flat, requiring you to re-set them.
Some people with multiple watches would buy automatic watch winders. These are display cases (for multiple watches, usually) that have gyroscopic pivots to move your watch around, keeping it wound.
Even if you keep them wound, you have to keep adjusting your watches. Even high-end watches costing tens of thousands of dollars are only accurate to around 5-10 seconds a day — which means a minute a week, roughly, or maybe 5 minutes in a month. It starts to add up.
So, because I couldn’t fully trust my watch, every now and then I’d second-guess the time, and refer to a more authoritative source anyway, like a laptop or phone. Begging the question: Why did I have a watch?
What are Watches For?
Which brings me to the point of watches. What are they for, if high-end ones don’t keep good time?
For most “watch enthusiasts”, they’re clearly about something else. There are FAR better ways of telling time — e.g. phones and computers, or specific high-end devices designed for trekking or diving. Aside from being 100% accurate, those all integrate into things that we need to keep time for, like software and other digital tools.
Aside from timekeeping, there are a few reasons people may like watches.
Firstly, watches are interesting. In a digital world, it’s fascinating to see something so absurdly complicated as a mechanical movement move hands around a dial. It’s a technology that people keep around for it’s aesthetic interest, despite the fact that there are technically superior options, just like steam engines or crossbows.
The concept of the automatic charging mechanism (a pendulum that moves around, winding the movement) is even more magical. I still think it’s cool.
But I don’t need to wear a watch, or even own one, to enjoy the idea of the intricacy of a watch movement. After all, it’s not like I built the thing, or even can work on it, like I can on a motorcycle or radio controlled aircraft, other mechanical wonders. If I opened a watch movement up, I guarantee it’d never work again. So — why own one at all? Just to say that I have mastered this technological marvel with my wallet? I don’t get it.
Secondly, watches are very pretty. Even moderately priced ones can be very well built and gleam with quality. I’m no product photographer, but I still managed to take some nice photos of the watches I made, and they only cost $99.
Of course, watches that I made paled aesthetically in comparison to some of my goal watches — my “halo” watches, as obsessives call them. (This term is not unique to the hobby of watches.)
Wearing something that looks nice, or using it, is a worthwhile pursuit. I wear nice clothes, I ride nice motorcycles, and I like my daily usage items (like phone and laptop) to feel and look good.
But what troubles me is the claim that “watches are the only form of jewellery that men can wear that is generally accepted.” Watch enthusiasts claim this regularly. It’s a ludicrous proposition. Why would you be worried what others think of what you wear? Are you living in some conservative religious country where you’ll be stoned for not behaving as expected? Why don’t you just do whatever the hell you damn well want — isn’t that what freedom is about?
I know plenty of men who wear jewellery including rings, earrings, necklaces, and other piercings. If any young punk tells them that what they’re doing isn’t generally accepted, they won’t even hear it, because these people are well-endowed with the only appendage that matters: abundant self-confidence. If you don’t have it, I suppose a watch is a good way to not gain any while burning a lot of cash.
The Absurdness of Halo Watches
I don’t know how it snuck into my head that I should have a “goal” watch, one piece that would make me happy forever.
Again, this isn’t unique to watches. People have halo motorcycles, dream houses, and so on. The idea is that they’d sell off everything else if they could have this one item.
But the entire premise is flawed. My happiness isn’t dependant on owning an item. I know this, as I’ve had “dream” things, and soon after acquiring them, I want more. What I learned is that if I’m happy now, I’ll be happy later. So I don’t need a watch. If I’m unhappy now, a watch (or any other item) won’t solve it.
I had a few halo watches. They spanned prices of $1,000 to $5,000. Here they are, for interest’s sake.
Firstly, the Junghan’s Max Bill. This is a relatively affordable watch that nonetheless looks wonderful. It has that “Bauhaus” thing going on, and looks great. Then there’s the step up, anything from Nomos Glashütte. This is a small Swiss watch manufacturer with a bunch of modern designs. I like a lot of them.
But finally, I found my goal watch — the Jumping Second Pilot from Habring2.
This is a very limited run watch made in Switzerland by a company that makes around 50 watches a year by hand. Each one costs around $5,000 (or did when I was looking at them, anyway).
The Jumping Second Pilot is a relatively plain watch to look at, but has a magic trick — its mechanical movement is geared to make a seconds “tick” across the dial, just like a cheap quartz watch. This represents a fairly remarkable amount of engineering, particularly from a small watch brand. I respect that work!
But yes, that’s right, the bragging right of owning and wearing this expensive, exclusive watch, is that you can’t distinguish it from a cheap everyday watch. It’s only people who know who know.
To my addled mind, it would have been cool to own and wear this watch. It’s so elite. It’s so snobby, it’s post-snobby. Imagining owning this watch meant imagining a hypothetical conversation with someone who likes watches, comments on my watch (possibly with thinly-veiled disdain), knows mechanical movements and their value, and then would be shocked and impressed at how cool my watch is.
To date, I don’t think I’ve come across a single person who I might have had that imaginary conversation with. It would have been entirely in my head.
Yes, that’s how I wanted to spend $5,000. All the while, knowing it’s a boring watch to look at, and that I’d have to constantly wear it and adjust it to keep it accurate.
How I Grew Out of Watches
Really, it started with realising how much an exercise of pointless vanity owning the Habring2 Jumping Second Pilot would have been. But it snowballed when I realised how often I was taking my cheap watches off.
I’d take them off to shower (they’re dive watches, but I have to clean under my wrist, right?), to go to the gym, to type on a laptop, or even just to give my wrist a break.
Often, I’d forget to put watches back on. Life would go on.
Sometimes, I’d remember too late to put my watch back on — and then be annoyed I’d have to re-set the time, wind it, or whatever. If the date was off, that’d be another thing to set.
Occasionally, I’d bump my watch against something, and then I’d be worried I’d scratched it or reduced the gleam in some way. I’d remove it and wash it and clean it and inspect it.
Quickly, the pleasure of ownership became a chore.
Finally, I decided the only thing I needed was always-accurate time, a stopwatch for making coffee, and build quality so robust that I could throw it off a building and it’d survive. I got myself a G-Shock (for those interested, a DW-5035 35th Anniversary). It cost more than an Apple watch.
The G-Shock is the last watch I’ll ever need. I can wear it to the gym — even to a boxing class — and it survives with grace. It’s 100% waterproof. The bands are cheap. It has heft to it, and it’s even stylish, in its own, classic way.
I like my G-Shock so much that I’ve decided it’s a metaphor for many things I want. Indestructible. Serves every purpose. Stylish in a classic way. Easy to fix when needed (the bands do break from heavy wear). If I buy other things I like, like motorcycles, flashlights, or pens, they have to be the equivalents of my G-Shock.
And if I ever need a replacement, it’ll be another G-Shock — or something equally tough. Can it tell the time, always accurately, and does it have a stopwatch? Can you throw it off a ten-story building? Does it mind being wet? Would it survive a boxing match? Does it look fine? Then it’ll do.