Ariel Adams: When people ask me for advice about buying their first watch, while I am flattered, I feel torn in how to respond most of the time. I feel like I am telling people who to date or even marry. My inclination is to tell people to buy what they like for their first watch, but more importantly, to buy something unique and interesting as their first timepiece. People should stay away from popular, conservative models that are on many people’s wrists and don’t communicate too much about the individual wearer. Especially with someone’s first “nice watch,” they should opt for a timepiece that really says something about who they are. A watch they can look back on in the future and recall something about themselves – who they were, what they liked, and perhaps how far they’ve come.
David Bredan: Popular and bland, conservative and ubiquitous – these are not necessarily synonymous. Watches that are on many people’s wrists are probably there for a very good reason: many of those tried and proven watches feature key design elements and timeless values. This may render them “conservative” options, but getting one of these watches may just as well mean that you understand the importance of these essentials and want to enjoy them in an unadulterated, no-compromise experience.
Getting something successful and reflecting on who you were are not mutually exclusive, either. Just because one buys a piece that is more popular than others, that doesn’t prevent one from looking back in the future to recall who they were and what they liked. A conservative choice is not inherently a lazy or uninspired one, rather it is sometimes the result of a thoughtful and educated decision instead.
In fact, getting something relatively conservative might get you something that you will be proud to own and wear far into the future. A cliché, but it is true that people change – and as time goes by, you can always get watches that will match your momentary tastes. A “first nice watch,” however, is something you will most likely not ever sell, so it should not be a fad or a specimen of a passing trend that you enjoyed at that moment. Your first nice watch should be something that you can proudly and comfortably wear 1-5-20-50 years later on; and because conservative options are generally more timeless and less likely to fade, they hence are much more likely to last you that long, too.
Ariel: Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that conservative watch choices aren’t good choices, but rather that they might make poor “first” choices. On the one hand, I agree with what you pointed out about how conservative design decisions can often make for better long-term wear and will be the types of watches you will want to continue to wear in the future. At least, you have a better chance of wearing conservative watch options down the road because, by definition, they adapt better to different fashion styles as well as the age of the wearer. However… I think it takes most people a long time to truly appreciate why some conservative watches are truly timeless and which are simply plain and boring. The difference between timeless and boring is rather subjective, and I think you’ll agree that many watches ride a thin line between the two.
On that note, I would suggest that only through time and sophistication can any watch lover truly decide for themselves what – in their eyes – is timeless and what is boring. The risk is buying a boring watch that you’ll never want to wear in the future versus one that you’ll look forward to wearing in the future. Unless a novice watch lover wants to wait years before buying their first nice timepiece, then I suggest allowing their tastes and watch education to mature before investing in more conservative options. More immediately, I think a greater number of people will find satisfaction from more interesting and artistic choices that help remind them why they got excited about nice watches in the first place, as well as being a very overt statement on their own tastes.
David: Sure, but this brings us to the question of whether we are looking at a first watch or a first nice watch? I feel safe in saying that the absolute majority of people will have owned a number of watches before they get their true first “nice watch” – the one that really counts. However, this then implies the necessary time and sophistication that you mention – and I totally agree with you on that one must have a fair bit of experience to feel confident about their tastes and preferences before making the purchase. So ideally, these elements are all present at the time of pulling the trigger on their first nice timepiece.
Hence, chances are that most people have already owned a few watches that they picked up for whatever reason on whatever occasion – watches that they liked at the moment and could afford relatively easily. The first one that truly counts, though, is the one they pick after dedicating a lot of thought and energy to the selection process; and consequently, they will likely be able to dodge boring options. This is not to say that I disagree or that we shouldn’t warn them… in fact, we should! Everyone, if you can, for your own sake, do stay away from boring watches!
But again, if you dedicate so much thought and effort to picking your first nice watch, then you may want to find something that you can imagine yourself wearing several years or decades down the road – and, even better, on a wide range of occasions. “Interesting” watches tend to, first, not age well, and second, not work terribly well in a wide range of situations. Surely, there is a lot to keep in mind, but a top priority consideration, I argue, should be this: your first nice watch has to be a keeper, and a keeper you probably want to be able to fully and proudly enjoy for the rest of your life. And for that to happen, you may want to go with something more conservative, something that can pull that off. Once this is done, start getting more interesting pieces, ones that you enjoy wearing but may not want to hold onto for so long.
Ariel: Allow me to offer some personal examples and anecdotes about my own life to stress the point of how important it is to find a watch that personally appeals to the wearer but that is also lasting. When I first started getting to nice watches I was attracted by certain variations on Bauhaus design. I’ll be the first to say that the majority of “Bauhaus” watches out there serve as an equivalent to Xanax for me. The Bauhaus design concept is overdone and full of absolute drudgery – but there are some absolute gems as well. It was these exceptions to the boring Bauhaus rule that excited me. I liked a lot of German watches or those designed by industrial designers. Pieces from companies such as Xemex (no relation to Xanax, ironically enough) and Temption really held my attention because they were fully functional tool watches, but ones with character. Back then, I would have never been able to put my finger on why I liked those watches, but in hindsight, that is what appealed to me about them.
Even today, watches like that are decidedly niche, and I don’t wear them that often – but when I do, I am reminded about myself and my own personal journey as a watch lover. I relish the fact that I don’t see watches like that often, and if my first timepiece were something more conservative, I would hate to see those same watches on other people’s wrist. Perhaps it is a very subjective sentiment, but I like to feel that I share a unique bond with certain avant-garde watches that other watch lovers don’t understand. People can sit around a table and talk about the design merits of many Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Omega watches all day long. This is one reason that watch appreciation is a wonderful communal activity.
With that said, I think that watch collecting should begin on an extremely personal level and people should start with watches that speak to their own unique tastes. Never rush into buying anything, and certainly take your time to find the best watch that you have enduring feelings about. No one should buy a watch they have a “fling” with. With that said, I continue to advocate against buying too conservative watches at first, because doing so can cause a watch lover to avoid their own subjective tastes when it comes to watch-buying decisions.
At the end of the day, it is your eyes that must be satisfied, and if you listen to your instincts well enough, you can find a first nice watch that is less ordinary and speaks more specifically to who you are as a watch and design lover. Choose correctly, and that watch will continue to serve as a reminder years down the road.