Explaining the appeal of watches
Lately, I have been helping a few friends search for their first “good” timepiece. This has prompted me to reflect upon my own passion for watches and what they mean to me. Adam pours his time, energy, sweat and blood into WatchPaper. Why? You may have seen Ashton’s story on restoring a vintage movement, why care about some old watch? Why are YOU spending so many hours reading watch blogs and websites? Why would you spend a tonne of money on something that you wear on your wrist and cannot even answer your emails or tell you who won the game? Obviously, there is something much deeper going on when it comes to watches.
My own passion for watches began with Formula 1 racing, which was my first passion in life. After attending the 1991 Grand Prix du Canada when I was 13, I became obsessed with Formula 1. Ferrari was always my favourite, but I was nuts about the entire F1 scene. The TAG Heuer brand was all over F1 in the 1990’s and, when I realised how expensive they were, a TAG Heuer watch became the first material possession I ever yearned for. I knew nothing at all about watches — I just wanted an expensive watch associated with my beloved sport. It wasn’t until years later that I had a TAG Heuer budget and I gradually became interested in watches and movements. Things grew from there. So, for me, watches were always status symbols. They were luxury items. This was the first thing that got me hooked on watches.
Ironically, it is only in the last couple of years of collecting that I became interested in far less expensive watches. This occurred because, after gaining an appreciation for mechanical movements in general, I learned that you can find worthy movements in economical packages. And what’s wrong with that? What is the joy of a mechanical movement anyway? Let’s explore this question. This, after all, is what you want to explain to all those friends who think you are crazy.
Just as my passion for watches began with Formula 1, I like to relate watches to cars. They both have engines- the “engine” inside a watch is its movement. In the case of a mechanical movement, no electricity or battery is required. Power comes from a spring that gets wound manually or “automatically” if the movement has a self-winding system. If you ignore the need for maintenance, an automatic movement would run forever if you wore it every day. You could be out in the wilderness with no charging stations, and your mechanical watch would keep ticking and telling time. Just as cars have many types of engines for many different price ranges, watchmakers produce different movements with different features. Even a fairly basic movement could have over 100 tiny little parts and this is where a lot of the joy comes from. It’s so cool to wear a tiny little machine on your wrist. As you go through your day, this miniature engine stays strapped to your wrist and does its own thing. It is not connected to the internet or any wifi network, it just keeps ticking at a proper pace.
There is a historical aspect of watches that I enjoy. Today, mechanical watches are expensive luxuries. Decades ago, before computers or quartz watches, people actually depended on mechanical watches to tell time. Think about WWII pilots trying to coordinate a mission. Think about train conductors or engineers. Think about professional sports. Back in the day, you needed a reliable watch to do many important jobs. Wearing a mechanical watch today is like paying tribute to those bygone days. It’s like dressing or doing something vintage. It’s just cool. Nothing compliments a good business suit like a classic mechanical timepiece.
There is also a modern element to watches that interests me. While using traditional mechanical movements, some companies are pushing the boundaries of design and experimenting with new high-tech materials. Once again, we see a connection to cars. Ferrari can take a V12 gas engine and add a hybrid powerplant to boost horsepower. Panerai can take an old-school mechanical movement and add silicon and stuff to it to make it perform better and not require as much maintenance. I bought a Linde Werdelin because it just screams modern design and ergonomics. But I still love my Montblanc for its classic elegance. Old and new. Modern vintage. Cool.
Let’s not forget one of the most important aspects of watches — they LOOK cool. Once again, there is a similarity with cars here. No matter how much you love science and engineering and engines, the first thing that hooks you on a Ferrari or Aston Martin is the STYLE. They look amazing. They look sexy. They look fast and exotic. It’s the same with watches. A PAM00422 has a sensational movement with awesome features, but the reason I lust for one is that it looks superb. I always enjoy pairing the right watch with a business suit because when everything looks perfect, I feel great. And you can stare at your watch during the day. So you want something that looks nice. That’s a big part of the pleasure. Your nice BMW stays in the parking garage while you work in the office, but your watch accompanies you throughout the day. You can look at it whenever you need to check the time or whenever you need to smile.
A watch definitely becomes a companion. I have been wearing a Seiko this week with a day and a date display. As the day and date change, it feels like the watch is going through the week with you. It is accompanying you through time. You get this sense, even more, when you wear a watch to travel. That’s when you bond with a watch the most. You might swim with it, wear it to different events, and rely on it to keep you on schedule (using your phone for the time is no fun!). I have a collection and I like to rotate my watch almost every day except when I travel. For a trip or vacation, I select one watch and I wear it for the whole trip. My Seiko, for example, will be my next travel companion and the day-date will be especially useful.
Wearing a watch can be a form of expression. As we have discussed already, there are many styles of watches with different types of movements. Your choice of a timepiece on a given day expresses your mood and attitude. Collectors often associate with one brand- they choose that brand to represent who they are or who they want to be. Marketing plays a huge role in this as my own Formula 1 experience shows. My favourite brands change and evolve and collecting allows me to continue to express myself as a collector without getting tied down to one watch or brand. You should not underestimate the importance of brand and image when discussing watch obsessions. I think the image factor is one of the more appealing aspects of watches.
After explaining all of this stuff to your friends, they will still think you’re crazy for spending a month’s pay on a watch. But that’s because they see your watch as an obsolete timekeeping device. They’re missing the point. You didn’t buy that watch to keep track of the time. You bought it because you appreciate all of the design and detail that went into it and you love the way it looks on your wrist. You bought it to reward yourself. You view it as art. Would your friends think you were crazy if you had a Picasso on your wall? Would they be as perplexed if you bought a classic Beatles album? You have to view watches in the same category of objects. They serve no practical purpose. They provide joy in the same way that art does. Wearing them provides enjoyment while allowing you to express your tastes, styles and aspirations. I have pals who can’t understand my desire for expensive watches, but they collect guitars and records. Their guitars and records are my watches. These objects are not bought with reason or logic — they are bought for passion and enjoyment.
We keep reading that the watch industry is being slammed by smart technology and online retailers. However, huge companies are still pouring multi-millions of dollars into designing new watches. As well, micro-brands are popping up every day with new watch designs. So what does that tell us? Plenty of savvy investors are betting that guys like me will continue to shop for luxury timepieces. I often think that I should get a commission because I have converted a few people over the years! If you cannot convert your friends, you can at least make peace with your own obsession. And when you feel the need to read what other addicts are thinking, log on to WatchPaper. As always, the fun is in the search…