I am often asked why I have such a fascination with mechanical watches and it is a difficult question to answer. It’s not like I am adversed to modern technology, as you well know, but there is something about a high quality watch that captures me on so many levels.
To answer the question of why watches are fascinating to me requires looking at all aspects of watch ownership and the multitude of reasons that attract such an object above all others to many men. Not being sexist, but it is a fact that when it comes to watch collecting men far outnumber women.
For many men, a watch is the only jewellery they wear. I wear a wedding ring and a watch. The watch is on show all of the time and has to look right. I don’t tend to worry about clothes, brands and men products to keep me looking younger, but a watch feels like it has to suit me if that makes sense. When you only wear one item that can say something about you, it has to be the right item. Clothes can project all kinds of negative connotations; hipster, trying to look younger than you are, pretending to be athletic, wearing the wrong sizes etc etc. There are so many pitfalls when choosing what to wear and the sad fact is that it seems that the negative aspect of closing clothes is easier to hit than wearing them in such a way that others are impressed. With a watch, unless you wear something ridiculous, you are on safe ground and can express your personality in the subtlest of ways with ease.
2/ This is me
Related to the jewellery part, a watch is worn by many men to subconsciously project something about themselves to the outside world. It is common for a man, when he finally has the financial means, to buy a Rolex or an Omega simply because it represents to him that he has been successful in a material sense. For some, not all, there is also the desire to show others that they have been successful and an expensive watch is still an obvious way to do so.
And then there are the collectors who wear a watch purely for themselves. They may buy a Longines, an IWC, a Zenith or any one of a number of other high-end brands purely because they like the company behind the product and the way the watch is designed. They wear it because they enjoy the watch, but I suspect that there is a tiny part of every collector that considers what others will think when they see it on their wrist. Watches are an object that people look at when worn by others and there will always remain a highly focussed sense of how it looks to others when choosing what to put on your wrist.
3/ What it is
Again for collectors, what the watch actually is matters a lot. The higher you go, the more the finish matters and the history of the brand or particular watch names comes into play. However, nothing matters as much as what is going on inside the case and for this reason mechanical watches still remain supreme at the very high end and for many collectors. There are many collectable quartz watches, but the reality is that for many of us a watch that is not automatic or even better, hand wound, is somehow a lesser being.
When you can wear a small device on your wrist that requires no computer chips, no battery and which contains parts that will travel the equivalent of the circumference of the globe in a year, that is indeed a special thing. Over 200 parts in a tiny space that work independently is just so clever and the amount of refinement that has been added by the best watch brands is extraordinary.
For the majority, a watch is just something to tell the time and the smart watch does much more, and is thus potentially more interesting to them. This is why the current period is similar to the ‘quartz crisis’ of a few decades ago. For some of us though, the humble watch and all of the history that travels along with it will remain forever fascinating and something to treasure even if it becomes a niche object in the years to come.