Watch Obsession, Part 2: Get Onto My Wrist
Yes, I worked a reference to a 1681 poem by Andrew Marvell into my title. So you can bet this post is going to get full-on aspirational before you can whisper, reverently, “Rolex.”
So let’s dial it back a few notches and talk about the first watch I can remember wanting. And I mean wanting, with all the fervent, consumer anticipation a 9- or 10-year-old can muster.
It was something akin to the Ertl “wrist racers” that leapt off the arms of my schoolmates in the 1980s (and usually straight into a teacher’s confiscated junk drawer). But it wasn’t an official, licensed, wind-up racer in the mold of Knight Rider or the Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee. It was a generic, white, pull-back racer without a plastic cover over its top and that actually displayed the time in digital digits on the car’s windshield.
It’s likely I got this from a book club offer or Weekly Reader giveaway. It may have been a Cub Scouts popcorn prize. I cannot find any evidence this watch ever existed.
But for me, at 10, it seemed the coolest watch in the world. Functional. Speedy. Mine. I remember going on vacation shortly after getting it and staring at it in the dark as it ticked away the hours through Ohio and Virginia and onward to North Carolina.
I also have no idea what happened to it. But the watch itself is less important than the emotional connection I felt, even then, to an object, an accessory that certainly isn’t as important as the clothes or shoes or glasses we wear, but somehow more uniquely us.
We choose a watch that is pleasing to look at, that is well-made, that fulfills a function — telling the time — or several: timing a dive, measuring halves in soccer matches, illustrating moon phases, reminding you of the day of the week and date. Watches marry elements of design and engineering and reliably hug your wrist. They are sensible, they are romantic, they require maintenance and care to last. They can be passed along to a loved one in the next generation, or several generations later. A perpetual piece of you.
So, yeah, though there’s a substantial leap from appreciating a pull-back toy car watch or a wrist Transformer (I had one of those, too) to, say, an Omega Speedmaster or Breitling Superocean, the underlying impulse seems familiar to me: gazing into the face of a cherished, reliable object on the other side of the day.
Playing the Name Game: Watch Models on My List
In my first post charting this recent (renewed) obsession, I shared a lot of the sources I turned to when learning about watches and formulating the list of certain watch types I wanted to explore and, eventually, acquire.
In short order, I’ve accumulated a watch box with about 7 of the 12 slots filled. Mainly by scouting out models with a bit of brand cache, reliable workings and styles I figured would keep me engaged for years to come.
Many of them were well under $200. Two were a smidge over $500. But though price is eventually the hurdle you’ve got to weigh as an obstacle or gateway to ownership, aesthetics, functionality and brand esteem are the underpinnings of a well-defined “want” list.
And we’ve all got to face the fact that, unless you’ve got a few amply-digited Swiss bank accounts to spare, you’re never going to check off every item on that list.
So, I play a sort of game to nurture my love for finding out about brands and watches, and assembling a lineup of time pieces I’d love to fit into my watch box and onto my wrist — if there were world enough, (and money enough), and time.
If I’ve read about a cool brand or model, I end up searching for it on Amazon, or Jomashop, or the brand’s own site, and scout out other styles and models that fit the gaps in my collection or just speak to me. The list reflects a process of winnowing out brands whose style cues don’t hit my personal sweet spot (Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Panerei), or price range puts them beyond the range of even aspirational (A Lange & Soehne), views tested and affirmed by my voracious diving into watch forums and blogs. (Interestingly, Quora suggested a post by user Lee Majors that aligns pretty well with my own opinions at present.)
Here’s the latest rundown, in order of most attainable (least expensive) to those watches hovering like gossamer clouds on the rosy horizon — pretty to look at, to imagine owning, but likely just that much out of reach.
Which doesn’t hurt my admiration much. The clouds are pretty enough to appreciate, I guess. They make me appreciate the beauty here on the ground all the more.
Skagen Signatur Maroon Leather Strap Watch
Skagen is a brand that gets knocked around by certain customers who’ve had bad experiences with crystals popping off or bands wearing out. Or, who (rightly) sometimes get confused by the brand’s Danish heritage and design inspiration, but current alignment as a U.S. brand owned by Fossil. But you’ve sometimes got to weigh the timeframe of the comments (if they’re several years old, has the brand improved production or customer service in the years since) and the overall satisfaction with the brand and specific models against any bad-apple reviews. In my first watches post, I shared my nod to the Melbye titanium and steel mesh model, and I’ve had no issues with it in the months I’ve owned it. Another model that caught my eye early on was this Signatur on a maroon leather strap. Like the Melbye, the watch’s profile is slim at 7 mm and dressy, and I dig the layout of a big minute hand with subdials for am/pm hours and running seconds. It retails for around $145 usually, but the Skagen homesite marked it down to $102 a few weeks back (and I bit).
Nixon Sentry Chronograph Matte Black Surplus
Nixon is a U.S. brand well-known among skateboarders and snowboarders and extreme sports enthusiasts. But that doesn’t mean us dad-types can’t get into their aesthetic, which features a great blend of materials and colors, and solid workmanship, usually for just a few hundred bucks. I dig the military vibe of this chrono on black stainless steel with a 42 mm green face and gold seconds and chronograph hands. For your budget, you’re getting an eye-catching watch, albeit with a Japanese quartz movement and mineral crystal dial, but nothing wrong with that at this price range. The matte black surplus sold out on the Nixon site in the weeks I bookmarked it, but never fear, Nixon, like comparable brands at this enthusiast level, offers many variations — 13 listed on its site for the chrono, and a couple dozen for the non-chrono. I’m getting partial to the gunmetal and spruce chrono and the palm green and brass non-chrono, lately. And, contrary to their extreme sports’ rep, my wife claims they remind her of her dad’s 1980s everyday work watches. I could go for that. These babies are usually marked down 40-50% on gray market sites like Amazon, Jomashop and Watches.com. I found the green-face matte black surplus still available here.
Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X. Green Camo Paracord
I’ve always admired Victorinox Swiss Army as a quality, durable product. So I really got into researching various watches they made as a nice, weekend beater or even daily wearer. I particularly liked their officers’ watches with small seconds, like this black leather and black dial model, but opted for other brands to fill that niche in my collection. Instead, I’ve got my eye set on this model from their practically-indestructible I.N.O.X. line. Having been subjected to 130 extreme endurance tests, the watch is likely to outlive you. It’s got a 43 mm dial on a high-grade surgical stainless steel case, and comes tricked out with an extra rubber band and compass-oriented bumper that fits over the case. The standard paracord band can actually be unraveled to use in a variety of survival situations, though I’m sure it can remain intact and get you through the most harrowing of days at the office. Retailing at $575, this is another style with dozens of color variations, which come in and out of availability on the gray market, at various discounts. When I get tired of my Timex beater or custom diver, this could be a compelling alternative, though as I’ve shifted my attention to automatic watches, I’ve back-burnered it. Interestingly, Victorinox is now unveiling an automatic version. Someday….
Tissot Heritage Visodate Automatic
As you get into the range of $400 to $1,000 watches, you’re mostly looking at automatic models that draw from a similar stock of workhorse movements. They’re great entry-level watches made by reputable brands. And I trained my eyes on possibly acquiring my first watch with the coveted “Swiss Made” indication on the dial. Apparently, I’m not alone, since it was the third-most-popular watch sold by Jomashop last year. What I like about the Tissot Visodate is its clean, vintage-inspired lines. Nothing fancy here, just a reliable, dressy watch with a day-date complication and an ETA 2836-2 engine with 25 jewels and 38-hour power reserve, beating at an ubiquitous (but desired) 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz, about 8 times a second). The watch retails for $650, but it’s often discounted to $400 on Jomashop, which I wouldn’t be too nervous about ordering from at this price and given the easy access to jewelers who can repair this near-universal movement.
Hamilton Jazzmaster Regulator Automatic
With an ETA 2825-2 movement very similar to the Tissot, I’d pick this Hamilton every time for its aesthetics. Otherwise, with a 42 mm white face on a brown leather brand, it’s very similar. What stands out to me is the asymmetrical dial with roman numeral hours, understated Arabic minute markers and small seconds. The silver and gold on the dial really pops, and I love the smaller, inner dial background that looks like folded, fan-style paper and adds depth to the whole piece. Hamilton is a brand with U.S. roots that now manufacturers its collection in Switzerland. It’s a bit more expensive, at just under $1,300 suggested retail, but can often be found for around $900 on the gray market.
Citizen Promaster Navihawk GPS
Veering off in a different direction from dressy, brown-leater-banded watches with vintage-style dials, I had my eye on the busy, complicated faces of Citizen watches from the moment my Fitbit ran out of juice in China. Traveling frequently for work, I think I’d get some practical use out of the world-time ring and dual-time dial, as well as its ability for synchronized, automatic time adjustment in 27 cities. Speaking of running out of juice, this one never should, as it’s powered by light with CItizen’s Eco-Drive technology. Although the dial and bezels are hectic, they’re fun to me, like carrying a computer on your wrist — though, mainly, an analog one compared to all the comprehensive (boring) data we wear with smartwatches. And the steel bracelet packs enough style to be versatile as a weekend or work watch. This one’s listed at $1,395 but currently sits on my Amazon wish list at $691. A lot of features for that price.
Oris Aquis Date Diver
This is the final entry before we leap out of the around-$1,000-or-less watches and jump into those close-enough-to-$5,000 (and above)-to-hurt. But I love the value that is packed into the divers from Oris. I’d be perfectly satisfied, for many years, with a Swiss-made, Oris diver with its gorgeously shimmering, 43.5 mm blue dial and applied silver indices on a polished, stainless steel bracelet with brushed inner links over anything Rolex, say, has on offer. The features are there — 300 meters of water resistance (more than a desk diver will ever need, and actually used by weekend divers), SuperLuminova on the indices and bezel, sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, screw-in crown with guards, ceramic bezel, adjustable clasp… what more could you really want? I also appreciate ditching the cyclops for a small date visible at 6 o’clock. Granted, the movement is a Sellita 200-1, essentially the generic version of the same caliber we saw in the Tissot and Hamilton, at least the equivalent and in some circles, considered better. So, it’s not chronometer-certified, or anything. But to me, gorgeous and functional and certainly, with careful maintenance, a pleasure to work and play with for years to come. Oris prides itself on producing attainable time pieces, and though this one is listed at $2,000, you can find it new, in box, with tags, on Amazon and Jomashop for around $1,400. It’s about at the cutoff where I’d consider that, again with a movement that is standard enough you’ve got assurance you can find proper service for it just about anywhere.
Breitling Chronomat Colt Automatic Mariner Blue
Now we come to the point where we make the jump into watches a bit more aspirational. What’s interesting to me is that the bones can end up being very similar to watches a couple thousand dollars less expensive. This first entry, from Breitling, retails for $3,620, yet carries the same (or similar) ETA 2824 caliber as our earlier entries, including the Sellita 200 that clones it, though this watch is chronometer-certified, which carries a certain cachet and tangible, measurable accuracy. I had to check out Breitling for its popularity and for its heritage. I grew used to seeing ads and celebrity endorsements over the last decade, most usually with its decked-out pilots models. So I went more understated with this sturdy-looking, brushed steel case, unnumbered indices, small date and big, 44 mm blue face. Plus, it says COLT on it — a nod to their longstanding partnership with Colt firearms. Still, I’d likely opt for an Oris about 1/3 as expensive.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze
There’s a watch that I pine for. At a price that, as noted earlier, hurts just enough, maybe, to be worth it. Tudor has long been known as the little sister (or brother) of Rolex, whose founder Hans Wilsdorf launched the brand as a more attainable option for customers after the same heritage and quality. I’ve pored over a lot of histories, articles, reviews and forums devoted to both brands over the last several months, and I’ve got to state my admiration and trust for what Tudor is bringing to the market these days. They seem to be going about things the right way, since their reintroduction to the U.S. market at the beginning of this decade. A few years after that re-entry, they launched three cornerstone brands — Pelagos, Black Bay and Ranger. And each exudes reliable quality, features and design options that, I think, present Tudor as the more agile and modern line when compared to big sibling Rolex. A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to visit an authorized dealer near me and hold both a submariner and a Black Bay in my hands and the differences, to me, were negligible. Same gorgeous blend of style and craftsmanship. And with Tudor’s shift toward in-house movements a couple years back, you’re getting a genuine, in-house, Swiss powerhouse for about 1/3 of the cost. Thankfully. And for how much longer? So, my instinct — albeit, after months of reading and researching and the recent hands-on proof — is to jump at a model that speaks to me so strongly. The bronze edition of the Black Bay features a case that is alloyed to patina — develop a strong, even, outer layer of aging that reflects the atmosphere and habits of its wearer, telling its own unique story. I love the aged leather strap it comes with, as well as the Nato fabric straps — which take their inspiration from the parachutes of the French navy Tudor supplied in the 1970s. All the other vintage cues are there — snowflake hands, domed face and crystal, big crown, the flaring lugs — with enough new to make it stand out — the Arabic 3, 6, 9; the shield at 12 and rose on the crown; that in-house movement beating at 28,800 and with 70 hours power reserve. If there was any watch to tempt me to leap over the more affordable, and, what I feel are truly “lesser” pieces I have my eyes on, it would be the Tudor Bronze. As affirmation for my choice, I don’t see too many of these going for any less than its $3,975 list, and some have waited months to get their hands on one. All the better, I guess, since I don’t see this one giving up its spot in the rotation very often if I should be lucky enough to wear it.
Bremont Supermarine S501
I love Bremont’s story. Brothers Nick and Giles English honor Britain’s rich watchmaking history at the same time they are making strides to bring fine horology back within its shores. Matching their family love for aviation and automobiles, they produce a lot of cool, vintage-inspired pilot and racing watches. But they’ve been in the diving game since 2009, and I just love the lines and looks of their Supermarine S501. The blend of color on the dial — gold and black and red — paired with the stainless steel body and vintage leather strap tick all the boxes for me, as does the 501 (get it?) meters of water resistance and crown at 2 o’clock. They’ve got the ubiquitous ETA 2836-2 movement inside, albeit gorgeously tricked out by Bremont. If I had an extra $5,000 or so lying around, maybe. (Maybe not.) But Bremont is definitely a brand I’ll be watching.
Nomos AUTOBAHN NEOMATIK 41 DATE SPORTS GRAY
The Glashuette region in Germany is as meticulous — if not more so — than any of the Swiss towns heralded for watchmaking. And my favorite brand is probably Nomos. They’re a departure from the dive or dress aesthetic in most of the other watches I count among my favorites. And their Autobahn Neomatik just gets my blood pumping. This racing watch just looks fast, with its automotive dial, sporty colors and clean lines. The case is slim at 10.5 mm, but the face has depth with its concave small seconds subdial and the indented date complication. Even the woven strap exudes quality as it’s handmade in France exclusively for Nomos. This is a watch that would bowl me over should I ever stumble upon it or have it gifted to me, a tall order, definitely, with its $4,800 price tag. A pretty penny, but my, how pretty.
Omega Seamaster Railmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer
Taking another step up on our climb through aspirational watch favorites we come to the oddly-named Omega Seamaster Railmaster. Although I admire the various dive watches in Omega’s collection, I’ve got other favorites more economically priced and not as crowded with fanboys. So I was drawn to the railroad-themed model here, one which nods to that past tradition but comes loaded to bear with modern features and sturdy design cues. The dial has a cool, brushed black look with the railroad track border and aged-looking triangle indicators, along with Arabic numerals indicating 12, 3, 6 and 9. I love the watch on the nylon strap, with its contrasting pattern. The real power under the hood here is the in-house Omega movement. Here’s how Hodinkee described it:
First off, it both has the co-axial escapement utilizing a free-spring balance wheel and a silicon balance spring and is certified as a Master Chronometer by the Omega-founded Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). This means is can handle up to 15,000 Gauss of magnetism and is regulated to +4 seconds per day (there is no minus tolerance – the watch is essentially +2/-2 for a rate that is two seconds fast).
The 8806 is an automatic movement and it carries a power reserve of 55 hours. The winding mechanism works in both directions and the entire movement runs in 35 jewels. Furthermore, despite being hidden, the movement carries all the usual finishes. This means the deep stripes radiating from the movement’s center point as well as a a rhodium-plated finish and red-filled lettering.
So, a serious tool watch by a serious brand. And at a serious price — $4,900. Which puts it on par with contenders from Rolex and Grand Seiko and IWC. But just catchy and different enough that I’d prefer it.
Rolex Submariner (no-date)
Finally, we come to the granddaddy. The creme de la creme. The measuring stick. Although many brands imitate the look, feel and functionality of the Rolex Submariner, so many fail to do all that Rolex does so superlatively. The conservative design (Hulk dials and blinged-out versions excepted) means you can dream of a Submariner today and probably find it waiting for you — and, presumably, your much fatter wallet — a couple decades from now. It also means it will hold up — whether boating or mowing the lawn or headed to a black-tie dinner, or taking out an enemy spy, ala James Bond. It’s equally comfortable on the so-well-done tapering Oystersteel bracelet as it is on, say, a “Bond” NATO strap. And its durability is on par with anything out there. (I can’t remember what forum I read it on, but I was unfazed by the story of a Dad who used his “old” Submariner as a fetching ring at the pool with his kids. Sounded about right. Though the nonchalance, I guess, is breathtaking.) Many take Rolex for granted, though they’ve done it as well as anybody has and for probably longer. I admire the sheer, unassailable quality here. And love the looks. At $7,500 for the no-date model (without the bubble Cyclops), I don’t see myself adding one to my collection anytime soon, and, by the length and variety of this post, there are likely many other stops I’d make on the road before pulling up stakes for this one. But it’s still: the granddaddy, the creme de la creme, the measuring stick.
And in any journey or collection, the memories you accumulate, the stories they tell, all gain in their estimation, their individual appeal, by comparison. Which is maybe why Rolex takes so many licks, as measuring stick. But probably also a big part of why we appreciate our unique collections as well.