November 20, 2014
When you wear a watch, do you wear it for yourself… Or do you wear it for everyone else? As an avid watch collector with a self-admitted wrist fetish, I am curious to know the varying answers to this question.
Outside of my own watch-buying and watch-wearing behavior, I make this query because my company recently referred one of our customers to do business with a law firm which has represented us for over 20 years. At the initial meeting in the law firm’s office, I couldn’t help but notice the bling’d-out solid gold Rolex our customer (we’ll call him “Alan”) was wearing and had obviously forced over his shirt cuff. You know the one: red, white, and blue stones encrusted all the way around, and particularly popular amongst the baseball players – what with the matching bling’d-out bracelet for the other wrist. I wondered if Alan felt compelled to make sure all the major league players at this law firm noticed the junk on his wrist – and if so, why. What message was he trying to convey? One of the partners even remarked to me after the meeting, “What are we, in Boca Raton?”
During another meeting a couple of weeks later (this time at Alan’s office), I noticed he was wearing something completely different, almost totally hidden underneath his cuff. Seated just to my left, Alan kept looking down at my wrist: “There’s something wrong with your watch,” he said in a hushed tone. “That hand at nine o’clock keeps whipping around… maybe you need a new battery or something?”
“It doesn’t take a battery,” I replied in a similar subdued voice. “Of course it does,” Alan pleaded, “look at the second hand…” I took the watch off, turned it over and handed it to him. Witnessing the mechanics, Alan’s confident smug turned. “Um, who makes this…? “Habring,” I stated, taking the watch back knowing full well Alan had never heard of Habring. “Okay, now that’s a cool piece. What is going on with the hand that’s flying around there?”
Rather than attempting to explain the mechanics of a watch running at 4Hz (or 28,800vph) with a balance wheel oscillating four times per second and the lightning speed of the foudroyante complication showing each and every contact of the pallet fork by displaying in eights of a second, I simply dodged the question and replied… “Yeah it’s cool, but not as cool as that Lange One you’ve got on.”
“You know what this is?!?” Alan asked incredulously, looking at me as if I was some kind of alien. “That’s a great piece. I believe yours is platinum – beautiful.” “You know, nobody ever knows what this is. It was a gift from my wife, and I never really wear it. Matter of fact, I usually wear a Rolex, because the lawyers know what that is…” As soon as I realized I was zoning out on this guy’s drivel, that’s when it hit me: Alan doesn’t wear a watch for himself; he wears a watch for everyone else. He kept talking and it became painfully obvious the only thing Alan knew about watches was how to spend a lot of money on them. He certainly didn’t know and clearly couldn’t care less about the rich history represented by the amazing timepiece on his wrist that day.
To further the point, a couple of weeks ago, my company was exhibiting at a legal industry tradeshow in Las Vegas. During the setup, I spotted Alan making a beeline for us. “Hey Scott, check this out…” With a scoff, he pulls back his cuff to reveal a brand new, totally over-the-top-gaudy Daytona with a leopard skin dial – some folks refer to it as “The Steven Tyler,” the lead singer of famous rock band, Aerosmith.
“This is what the lawyers like to see!” Alan declared with pride. “Why aren’t you wearing that awesome Lange?” I asked, while simultaneously trying not to throw up in my mouth. “Crap, lawyers don’t even know what that is! It’s why I never wear my Pattick either – nobody knows what it is and it’s so friggin’ hard to adjust… It messes up my thumb and I don’t have the ‘adjusters’ anymore.”
For an instant, time seemed to stand still as I was piecing together Alan’s confession. “I think you mean ‘pushers…’ Wait, you have a perpetual calendar from Patek?!? As in Patek Philippe… like a fifty-two-seventy?” I asked. Alan sort of just looked at me sideways and said, “Fifty-two-seventy? Is that what they call it?”
I realized I made the snobbish mistake of referring to one of the world’s most complicated, highly sought-after, iconic timepieces by its actual reference. Silly me. But I must admit that I am sometimes guilty of wearing a watch for everyone else, only not in quite the same way as Alan. There is no doubt I love to collect very nice watches, and whenever I attend a watchfest, I always hope to impress fellow watch collectors by wearing my very best timepiece. Like some people, I bring a couple of others too. I think it is fair to say, being the passionate group we are, it’s not really about the money spent, so much as it is about the wow factor only a living piece of art can bring. I believe most of us couldn’t care less if somebody knew what kind of watch we had on.
I have one friend with a collection that can only be described as completely epic, and no one gets a bigger thrill seeing the joy come across our faces than he does when he brings out something truly, and I mean TRULY spectacular (like a piece made by the master himself, George Daniels). Truth is, most of the time, many of us are wearing a watch made by someone no one has ever heard of. Let’s be honest, even by watch collector’s standards, very few have heard the names Kari Voutilainen, Ludovic Ballouard, and/or Thomas Prescher.
Looking down at the Seiko “Blue Monster” gracing my wrist at this very moment, I am reminded that it is the best damn watch right now. I like it, it’s easy to read, feels good on my wrist, and keeps pretty good time. Best of all, no battery!
A true timepiece is oftentimes a work of art, and at the very least an expression of history. In many cases, a watch has some particularly special meaning to the person wearing it. At the end of the day, what you are wearing on your wrist right now should impress nobody but you. And while we will all know an “Alan” or two in our lifetimes, that doesn’t mean you have to be one.