Watch Snob Gives Advice to a Man of the Cloth
Watch Snob on Watches for a Humble Man, a Vain Man and a Stubborn Man
A Faithful Reader
I write with two questions: one rather technical and another seeking your guidance. I leave it to you as to which to answer, or perhaps you could address both separately, as two separate questions. I would be most grateful for the latter, but wouldn’t presume to direct your attention.
As to the technical question: what is the purpose of “elongated” date windows? (That is, the sort of date window that features an enlarged, curved aperture on the dial, so as to display multiple numerals of the date disk.) I have attempted to fathom the function of such a display but cannot invent a compelling explanation. Perhaps the design intends to demonstrate mechanism of the date display itself: the dates are displayed sequentially on a rotating disk, rather than by other means? I ask because this aspect of watch design which offers neither utility nor aesthetic value, to my eye. It just looks busy, can be easily misread, and lends no additional information. Thus I infer that it is maintained as a vestigial remainder, hearkening to earlier horological display. Could you shed some light on the history and function of the extended date aperture?
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As to the question of guidance: I write in a somewhat different position than most of your readers, I imagine. I serve in ministry. My entire life revolves around serving God in a small, urban parish and our wider community. The community is underserved and economically challenged: proudly frugal and working class and yet humble in other regards. I love and respect my people, and they, me. Additionally, in keeping with my understanding of my faith and vocation, I live a life of simplicity and frugality, if not poverty. All of these factors combine to form an interesting tension with my late-budding love of watches.
For some time, I have been satisfied to appreciate the beauty of horological design from afar, in reading your column and other sources. The occasional pass by jeweler display windows has sufficed as well. But I find myself, inevitably, wishing to have a truly significant piece of my own: a special watch to mark a special occasion. I yearn for an object of horological excellence at which to gaze during the day, to provide a bit of joy, comfort, and appreciation of a milestone. Beauty and technological marvels are God’s gifts as well, and duly revered. The church’s long history as “keeper of time” for the community looms large in my heart and memory as well: from early monastic horaria to village church clock towers, the tradition cannot be forgotten.
To be clear, my passion is aroused by the beauty of design, the “heartbeat” of the mechanism, the surmounting of engineering challenges, and the preservation of craft, preferably handcraft. For example, were money truly no object and humanity’s material needs were met, I can think of no watch that would thrill me more than the new GF Hand Made 1, presuming it looks and feels half as stunning in person as in pictures. Obviously such a watch, or any hand-made watch, will never be available to me, not only due to financial limitations, but also due to the propriety required of my vocation.
So, my request, a tall order: would you be so kind as to recommend a horologically interesting watch that embodies not quite “stealth wealth,” but that, for lack of a better term, looks “plain?”
In other words, I need a watch that won’t “signal” anything. I need something that won’t cause my parishioners to raise eyebrows (“Look at Father’s fancy new watch …”), or draw questions from my colleagues (“Looks like someone is putting on airs and forgetting humility …”), but that nevertheless embodies horological excellence and a certain beauty in design. I seek the reverse of the “status purchase.”
If I may be so bold as to dictate criteria: No recognizable “mainstream” brands (for America); no overtly lustrous precious metals or gems; no luxurious “elegance;” no elaborate complications (I imagine large pushers on a chronograph might raise some eyebrows, for instance); not overly delicate, since I would like to wear it daily, and it needs to handle a splash or occasional bump (ministry can be quite hands-on and unpredictable at times). Yet, it needs to fit into formal settings, as well: worship services, board meetings, lecture halls, etc. I also appreciate a bit of “sturdiness” in designs as well: true over-engineering, etc. I am a bigger man and can wear a larger watch, but I have no strong feelings about size.
Due to my frugal life, a lack of substantial recreation expenses, and the great blessings of provided housing, healthcare, and pension, I could potentially save up to $10K-$12K over time, for a truly exceptional piece. It would be “the” watch. It does not need to be new, I would rather save money by buying used. I would rather spend less, but I acknowledge the realities of the current market. However, if there are any “hidden gems” that are not as popular and are priced more reasonably, I would gladly consider them. Again, brand significance is not a priority. History, beauty, horological significance, solidity, and reliability are. For reference, my current watches are a JDM G-Shock GW 5000, a Seiko Prospex quartz chronograph, a dressier-looking Seiko 5, and a Sinn 556I.
I was thinking pre-owned Grand Seiko might do the trick. Any particular models you’d recommend, given my criteria? I’ve not seen Lange in the metal, but I find the design and finishing to be remarkable. Many collectors comment on the “substantial feel” of the pieces, which I appreciate as well. I was thinking they might offer a possibility, provided the model could fly under the radar, and I could find a pre-owned piece under my price point. Any other options you might suggest?
Lastly, as you know many more watch aficionados and collectors than I, can you recall anyone in a similar circumstance who handled it well? Any general thoughts on the balance between principled simplicity, frugality, and horological appreciation, especially as prices seem to climb ever higher? It occurs to me that my desire to acquire may be a temptation that needs to be abandoned for the sake of living a moral life, especially in our increasingly materialistic age. But I’m trying to find a middle way of living into my passion for horology and my moral commitments, with integrity.
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Thank you for your time with this particularly challenging query. And, again, thank you for your good work. Blessings to you and yours, and to my fellow readers.
This query, good sir, reminds me of something the late A. J. Liebling once wrote about getting a good gastronomic education. (Liebling, for readers unfamiliar with him, wrote for the “New Yorker” for many years, covering everything from the D-Day landings, to boxing and almost everything imaginable in between, including food). Liebling felt that starting out rich is a big disadvantage for a budding gourmet, as with the ability to have more or less anything you want, comes the danger that you will never challenge your own tastes and so, never actually learn anything.
While I don’t think this is necessarily always true — I know several individuals who were born into affluence, but who nonetheless have wonderfully discriminating taste in food — I think that there is an element of truth to Liebling’s views. A wealthy young person who takes an interest in watches and who can afford to buy, more or less, whatever takes his or her fancy on a regular basis, suffers from not having to consider each decision as carefully as they might, were they on a tighter budget. Again, it is not necessarily the case that this will lead to the accumulation of watches without any sort of learning process, but the odds are stacked more against the rich person than against one who must really think about what they are doing.
Your very considered query is an example of the degree to which not being able to, so to speak, spoil oneself, can be an actual asset, as you have obviously given the matter much thought – indeed I daresay you have given your horological activities considerably more thought than if you were, say, some Silicon Valley nouveau riche collector who has heard that Paul Newman Daytonas are “cool” and sets out to own as many as possible, just because they can.
To answer your second question first, there are several Grand Seiko watches that would fit the bill; my personal choice given what you’ve said about your budget and current watches, would be the hand-wound Grand Seiko SBGW231, which is a beautiful, and beautifully simple, 37mm watch in stainless steel, with baton markers and dauphine hands — well within your stated budget even new, and in every respect exactly what you are looking for in a watch. Lange of course makes wonderful watches, but you are apt to find that even pre-owned the least costly are still rather expensive given your budget, although probably not entirely out of reach with some care.
In reply to your first question, elongated date windows in my experience are to be found mostly if not entirely, on watches which purport to have some connection to aviation; they are meant to ape the appearance of cockpit instrument gauges. As you correctly note, they not only serve no purpose but in fact, decrease legibility and the ease with which the date can be read. I think they are a silly affectation but like most silly affectations in watch design, they are relatively harmless if you like that sort of thing; I don’t.
In closing, let me just note your remark that we live in an increasingly materialistic age — I cannot let this pass without noting that there is hardly an age in human history which has not been marked by as much materialism in every quarter of society, as anyone could afford. Good luck in your ministry.
Is One Ever Enough?
Long time reader, big fan, but I’ll spare you the sycophantic drivel. You do the world a service and I’ll leave it at that.
I started paying attention to watches about five years ago, and have since acquired an eclectic little collection. A quite nice Longines Master Collection on leather was my first decent watch. At the time it was expensive to me, and visually distinct. So that I would not feel like I was always wearing my “good watch,” I filled out the collection with some fun, but vapid, baubles – a Casio, a blacked out Citizen, an Apple Watch. I always feel most special wearing my “good watch”, but it’s too visually distinct to wear daily, especially with casual clothes. I’m tired of rotating in my “good watch”.
Hence, my search for “the one watch.” The one I can wear daily and cherish, but that is subtle enough that it doesn’t need to be rotated in. The one I can wear daily and feel great in, the one that fits with jeans and a suit.
I have a budget of $5,000-$8,000. I’m thinking of an Omega Aqua Terra, or Rolex Explorer, or something along those lines. I’ll admit I’m not self-assured enough for a Grand Seiko – I need the validation a broadly recognized brand confers. Judge my vanity or insecurity but there it is. Still, I want something sans bling or needless flash so I can wear it daily.
What say you? What are my best one-watch collection options?
If it’s external validation plus excellent quality you want in a daily-wear wristwatch I daresay you will find it difficult to improve on a Rolex in steel, although the James Bond films since Pierce Brosnan, have done a great deal to make folks almost as aware of Omega as they are of Rolex. I do not suggest that you buy a pre-owned watch under these circumstances as you will almost certainly find, once the first glow has worn off, that there are few if any pre-owned watches that do not show signs of being pre-owned.
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I have found in many cases, especially when one is looking for one high-quality every day timepiece, that it is better to pay a bit extra and buy new (you will not save much buying pre-owned Rolex in any case, not even a 36mm Oyster Perpetual, which I would strongly suggest over a pre-owned 36mm Explorer; the latter has been discontinued for long enough that there is an excellent chance you would need a service, were you to buy one.
Incidentally, may I offer you praise for your honesty in saying that it is in fact important to you that whatever watch you buy offer some measure of social validation. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with saying so outright. One of the ways in which buying a watch can go off the rails is if you buy what you think you should buy, or what others have told you is correct, rather than what you actually want.
Thoroughly Modern Timepiece
I currently possess watches from Grand Seiko (as I value their quality) as well as those from King Seiko (vintage), Citizen, Longines, Orient, Seiko 5, ShInola and Seiko Quartz.
My primary vehicle is a Royal Enfield Bullet 500, in British Racing Green (of course). This vehicle, despite being wonderful in every way, lacks (amongst other useful indicators) any indicator of how much petrol I have left in my tank. In order to do this I must make use or a logarithmic slide rule. This puts me at a dearth of watches which may be useful to me. Despite seeing your continued disdain for Breitling watches, outside of the Citizen Quartz I now carry (which I consider somewhat vulgar), I cannot see any other viable option other than the Navitimer. Not as something so show off at parties, but as a tool which satisfies my required ends. Am I still making a terrible decision here? Or are there other watches with a logarithmic slide rule I should be considering?
I have often wondered whether any practical use at all could be found for a slide-rule bezel in the modern world, absent some very unlikely scenario where you are piloting a small aircraft and all of your instruments fail, but there we are. If you are masochistic enough to use as a daily driver, that particular motorcycle (for readers who are unaware, the Royal Enfield 500 is a single-stroke machine which has not changed in many respects since the first 350cc version was manufactured in 1948, and which famously lacks a fuel gauge) then certainly you are masochistic and stubborn enough to learn to use, and use on a daily basis, a slide-rule bezel.
There are as a matter of fact not very many mechanical with logarithmic slide-rule bezels — in fact other than the Navitimer I can’t think of any other such watch in current production either. I actually think that under Georges Kern the company’s lineup and general presentation has improved noticeably and the Navitimer B01 is as solid a modern chronograph apart from the obvious suspects from Rolex and Omega, as I suppose a fellow could want. It is nice to know someone out there is using the bezel for its intended purpose, and amusing to note that it is only necessitated by your romantic insistence on riding a machine which in many respects is, like the mechanical watch itself, manifestly obsolete (though replete, it should be said, with what for lack of a better word I will call personality). Ride safely good sir, and I hope your helmet is more modern in design than your motorbike!
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