on the joys of an inexpensive watch

An empty wrist is a waste of time.

Of all the articles of style a man may employ, I can’t think of one which better ultimately embodies a man’s character, his aspirations, his whole darn Weltanschauung than his watch. The case can be made for shoes, but shoes are  foundational thing – when you walk into the room, people check out your shoes and they make judgements based on that – shoes are for others to project their values on, watches are for you to project your values outward.

It might be said that while all men need to aspire to something and most men aspire to many things, that unique and occasionally outre’ group of people who aspire to watches aspire so at a level of commitment far higher than those who love shoes possibly could. I mean, how many people live their lives saving, taking out second mortgages or blowing an inheritance to pay 15 – 50K on a pair of shoes?

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I can understand and respect why people do this. It is essential for men to aspire, we naturally gravitate towards affiliation with symbols and cliques and we are driven by status and regimentation within statuses.  All men aspire in different vision, but to equal degrees. To me, a man who does not aspire is somehow broken.

99.99% of Rolexes are owned by people who only know Rolex as a status symbol, as an aspirational target (and have little understanding of why it is one of the finest made watches in the world)  99.5% of people who don’t own Rolexes couldn’t identify one and therefore have no idea that the (very generously estimated) 0.01% own the Rolex they so covet. That’s a convoluted irony – which is the best kind of irony.

But, while I sympathise and even endorse aspiration (and that’s a much wider topic and I am halfway over my word limit already, so later…) and as much as I love watches, I love them peculiarly.  The focus of my aspiration are German watches (a Sinn 104 or a Stowa Antea Klassik KS). These are not showy watches, they are not status defining or even especially expensive – but they are beautifully designed pieces that eschew ostentation for cleanliness and reflect the calm balance of German design I am so fond of and reflect my on inherent conservatism and belief that you don’t flash what you work for.

But, much as I would like to talk about der deutschen Armbanduhren (and much as I will), I’m here this day to talk about the joy of the other end of the scale. The kind of watches which, for the cost of a middling Daytona (an ugly watch with no date complication), you could buy about 160.

When you first discover watches, there’s so much to learn and take in – manual v automatic v quartz, chronographs and tachymeters, how a bezel and a screw down crown work, digital or analogue – and what the price point you can afford for the watch you want is. That’s where inexpensive watches come in. They let you taste all the fruit so you can refine what you want into the next level of your collection. For example, from owning an Orient I know that Hamilton is the next best step up for me on the ladder. I know I will never need another sports watch other than my Seiko SKX007. I know not all “fashion watches” are bad and don’t need to ape the mob on internet style forums.

One of the day’s most pleasant choices is which watch goes with the outfit – considering the form and the face/band match and the function according to the day.  Does it have to match cufflinks? It’s one more piece of the little puzzle and a very different one from, say, which pocket square or socks. To me, it requires a much more intimate knowledge of your outfit, it involves a greater commitment to mood, subtle impression or even the notion that even though you laboured over the choice, you just threw the watch on as you walked out the door.

There are so many inexpensive watches and so much opportunity to get the full experience of watch owing and watch styling – petite dress watches, watches that look like a ham sandwich on your wrist, Field/Pilot and diver watches (and knowing the difference), NATO Straps, leather straps, rubber straps, square watches, homage watches the whole weird, unique and at time unhinged world of Invictas (a consuming fetish in itself), Bauhaus on the cheap (Bauhaus is not minimalist, by the way). It’s a world to immerse in at very little risk and a great deal of reward. And it’s a gateway drug – if one has the means and the motivation, there’s a galaxy of choice out there and perhaps those choices will lead you to a $25,000 grail watch that only you know you have. Maybe it will lead to a life hunched over a recording of the 2014 7- 1 World Cup Semi final win, eating Sauerbraten and Rouladen gazing at the three magic words at 6 o’clock on your caseful of increasingly obscure German watches or it may end in a hard wearing Seiko 5 that lasts you 20 years and makes you misty-eyed when it is time to finally replace it.  Whatever the path, there is no denying the joys of an inexpensive watch.

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