What is the big deal about wristwatches? Everyone has a smartphone, so we certainly don’t need a watch to tell time.
Granted, it could be construed as a man’s only jewelry, say, outside of a wedding ring. But there has to be more.
Maybe it’s a financial investment? But in truth, most purchases are a rather bad investment. It’s buy high, sell low vs. the recommended buy low, sell high.
Hatt Hranek, in the preface to his book “A man and his watch” relates a personal story.
“I have my father’s watch. It’s a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust, stainless steel with a black dial. I remember the day my father came home with it on his wrist. He was so proud, and I was so happy for him, because I knew the watch was more then just a new timepiece; that Rolex marked his first successful year in business for himself.
When I was a kid, my father was always pointing out to me well-designed and well-crafted things: cars, motorcycles, architecture, and, of course, watches. When he died suddenly–I was only eighteen–I was given his watch. Or maybe I just took it.
All I knew was that I needed to have that watch. I needed him with me–and that watch kept me connected to him. It still does ever time I wear it…”
John Criscitiello writes in the same book.
“I see this interesting Breitling Chronomat from the late thirties or early forties…So I negotiate a little bit and purchase the watch.
I’m walking away for the guy’s counter with every intention of reselling the watch when he says, “Hey, by the way, do you want to hear the story that comes with that watch?” I pause for a moment, turn around, walk back, and say, “Okay, what’s the story?”
He proceeds to tell me he had bought out all the repair watches from a jewerly store in Georgia, or maybe Alabama, one of these two. And this watch is the oldest repair in the shop – it was left in June 1941 by a GI who never came back for it. I started getting goose bumps, and when I left, I thought, “I can’t sell something like this. I’m a caretaker.” It was close to twenty years ago that I bought this watch, and it’s still in my possession. I’ll never sell it.”
Are these stories unique?
As to their details – yes. But, as far as their character, they are quite similar.
So, what are the commonalities? If you consider all the mechanical genius that goes into making a watch, it’s mind-blowing. This little engine, powered by a small spring and calibrated for accuracy, to keep time, within a few seconds a day. How did men do that?
Then there’s the historical aspect. Granted clocks have been around for some time. The first mechanical clock was made in 723 A.D. by monk and mathematician I-Hsing. It was an astronomical clock and he called it the “Water Driven Spherical Birds-Eye-View Map of The Heavens”. But that hardly was portable.
So, the first wristwatch was made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by the Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868, according to Guinness World Records.
But, that was somewhat of a chick thing. Men didn’t wear wristwatches. Certainly not.
The first examples of a workable men’s wristwatch were supplied to the German Imperial Navy by the Swiss manufacturer Girard-Perregaux in 1880. A naval officer had modified his standard pocket watch to fit on a strap on his wrist, simplifying its operation while simultaneously freeing up both hands. But, it wasn’t until World War I that men really adopted wristwatches. They became a trusted tool during the heat of battle, as more and more tactics became timed.
So now we have this portable, mechanical wonder, with a history that includes world conflicts and is available to virtually everyone because of a myriad of price points and is both accurate and accommodates as a jewelry accessory.
On top of that, we may have a historical significance that is uniquely personal to each person who owns that watch. A gift from a loved one, an inheritance from a dearly departed one, or an acquisition with a deeply personal story.
What do we make of all this?
Most men have passions and interests the keep them focused. Some pursue a number of passions. Few passions, however, combine the combination of attributes portrayed above. Mechanical treasures with both historical significance as well as personal memories that can only be associated with the lowly wristwatch.
Yes, it’s more than jewelry, it’s more than an investment, often, it’s a mechanical treasure to which we become caretakers.
Most marketing slogans are somewhat cheesy. Patek Philippe’s slogan is “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
Corney? Maybe. But more often than not, true. It doesn’t need to be a Patek. But, that’s the story of many whose passion is collecting wristwatches.