The art and expression of watches
I am 41 years old and I am going through a mid-life crisis. I have spent the last two decades in the wealth management industry. But I see myself as an artist.
I was writing at a very early age – stories, plays, essays, poems… As a young adult, I was constantly writing – especially comedy and parodies of famous songs. I went into finance to earn a living and because of my aptitudes. But now, I prefer to see myself as an artist.
There is a famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill during WWII. He was supposedly asked to cut funding for the arts to support the war effort and responded, “Then what are we fighting for?“. While there is no real evidence that Churchill ever made this statement, it makes a good point.
I love Canadian Indie music. I love the haunting, spellbinding sound of Land of Talk – especially when they play at a small club here in Montreal. I love classic cinema and I love how these films can be so powerful. I love to read stories and get lost in the meaning and the words. All of these things are art. These are the things that enrich our lives. We share these things with our family and friends and they add to colour to our lives. I guess I am getting jaded as I get older. Or maybe it is the normal process of a mid-life crisis. But art, and its meaning and significance, seem far more interesting and relevant and enduring than quarterly results, spreads, basis points and ratios. Consequently, I find myself identifying with art more and more.
And what does this have to do with watches? I‘m glad you asked…
People label watches as men’s jewelry. That is not quite correct. Other people describe watches as mechanical devices. That is true, but watches (at least, analog watches) serve no practical purpose in today’s world. Electronic devices today are far superior to any wrist watch for proper timekeeping. So then, when your non-WIS friends ask you to explain your excessive spending on “man jewelry,“ how do you reply? I say, respond with:
Watches are mechanical, functional art.
Decades ago, a mechanical watch was a very important tool for measuring and tracking time. While computer technology has rendered watches obsolete, the development of mechanical movements is advancing at an astonishing rate. Many millions of dollars are being poured into the R&D of such movements, and there are entire schools dedicated to various aspects of watchmaking. So how can this be art?
Well, if you create something whose main function is to appeal to the senses rather than serve an actual purpose, is it not art? Yes, it has mechanics and engineering and it runs within certain specs, but it is really a moving piece of art. Deciding to build a mechanical movement instead of a digital app is, in my view, an artistic statement all by itself. The use of science, engineering and design in this way is art.
When my pals don‘t understand the crazy spending on this hobby of ours, I ask them if they understand someone spending $1 million on a Picasso. Of course, they do. Why, I ask them. You could just go to Wal-Mart and buy a $20 print and frame it and hang it in your living room. You could decorate your wall for less than $1 million. But was that the point of the Picasso? To just decorate a wall?
I could buy a smartwatch for a few hundred bucks and get emails and stock quotes on my wrist, but is that the point for me? Any watch I choose for my collection is speaking to me in a much different way.
So, if watches are art, should they be categorized like many other wearable art forms? Like shoes, purses, earrings and cuff links? No, I think the mechanical aspect sets watches apart from other art pieces. Watches are, as I said, mechanical, functional art.
The engineering and design behind watches are very cool. I actually liken it to Formula 1 because it is engineering for engineering’s sake. While a computer device will always outperform a mechanical watch in terms of accuracy, companies still strive to improve their movements, specs and designs. This was always appealing to me – this notion of pushing the envelope for the sake of it. And I think the application of engineering in this way is really an artistic expression.
Wearing a watch, in the first place, is an artistic expression – especially a mechanical watch. I go through all the trouble of winding a watch, setting the time, adjusting the date etc when it would be easier to just look at my phone. But for me, wearing a watch is a nod to the past. It is a statement. It is telling the world that, for me, some things are worth time, effort, hassle and… expense. When I wear a watch, I am telling the world, and myself, that I care about the way I do things. Life is not just about the destination, it is about the journey. A watch says that the actual time of day is less important than HOW I tell time. And this is my artistic expression.
Ultimately, watches appeal to a small segment of the population. And they appeal to people for their own different reasons. I have shared my own view on watches as they relate to me, at this point in my life. You might enjoy your watches in a different way. But I hope that you will appreciate watches for much more than their timekeeping abilities. I hope that you will appreciate the art behind the marvellous device on your wrist…