The First SinBy Ken Kessler
Having more than once pointed out the irony – or, to be kind, paradox – of owning watches that will never be used for their primary purposes, Editor Holt reminded me that the joke is growing stale. Even self-deprecation about the dilemma is old. Maybe, in this era of hate-filled reactions to the merest slight, when any unfashionable opinion is greeted by the cyber equivalent of a baying horde of villagers with scythes and axes, loosening up a bit about such “stuff” wouldn’t go amiss. In this spirit, it’s time for us – whether warm-hearted enthusiast or terrible snob – to be a tad more egalitarian and generous about matters horological.
I don’t mean that we should suddenly disregard the vast chasm between, say, a Swatch and a Greubel Forsey, and I’m the last person to go along with the bellowing crowds of socialists who want to see the end of the ownership of luxury goods. Worse, I would hate to see the removal from society of goals at any level, of the desire to improve one’s lot, to live in a nicer home, eat better food. A communist I am not.
Rather, I speak of something less earth-shattering, yet relevant to Revolution readers: that which drives us to covet – again, in the context of a luxury watch magazine, not The Guardian – a specific genre of timepiece. I marvel at the torment many of you go through when deciding which watch to buy, then wear, while “normal” people simply purchase what they like, wear them happily for years and only give their watches a second thought when they need a service.
Unless you’re, oh, I dunno, 14 and really do give a toss about what others think, e.g. which trainers you own, most of us ought to be (or ideally are) comfortable in our own skins. By a certain age, you must be able to accept who you are, or you will be forever tortured. Holding up myself to illustrate this point, I knew long before puberty that I would never be a 6ft tall blond surfer-type fending of gorgeous beach babes, never have a hit record, never win a Grand Prix. Instead I found my strengths and focused on other pursuits, among them a passion for watches, and thus cannot complain about my life as I near my dotage.
That said, wishful thinking never left me, while realism always kept me in check, so I knew I would never own, say, a Patek Philippe Ref 1463 chronograph. But that didn’t stop me fantasizing, nor exercising preferences with no bearing on my quotidian requirements. Like everyone alive today, I don’t need a watch, and handily could deal with matters of time merely by checking my mobile phone. Watches, then, became a hobby, personal statement or – more importantly – an embodiment of my own concerns about time and how we should mark its inexorable passing.
Confession, then: for 40 years, I have lived the lie of owning Submariners and other diving watches which are never to feel the spray of the sea. I will never control nor navigate a plane despite ownership of more pilots’ watches than most genuine aviators. I’ve never been in the army, navy nor air force, but own numerous military watches. In weak defence, at least I can say that my assorted GMTs do get to show more than one time zone on a regular basis.
In the celebration of power and sport and other qualities or pursuits which are anathematic to a couch potato such as I, there’s a certain nose-rubbing going on. How dare I lust after a watch which should pre-suppose ownership of the car with which it is linked? It reminded me of a remark from a fellow watch scribe when the Panerai Ferrari watches were launched. Straight-faced, he asked:
“Who is the bigger arsehole? The guy with no Ferrari who wears a Ferrari baseball hat? Or the guy who does own a Ferrari and wears a Ferrari baseball hat?”
There are too many other questions begged among those two, but it certainly doesn’t explain the hugely envied success – yet to be repeated – of the Breitling/Bentley marriage which resulted in a family of watches that sold more to non-Bentley owners than to those with Crewe chariots. To everyone’s surprise, the combination worked so well that it produced a successful, standalone line selling independently of the vehicles.
It just may be an innate hunger all people have for “better things.” We’re in the middle of still-rich period for the watch biz, whatever the doomsayers want to threaten. As Ross Povey points out, bi-metal watches are suddenly topical. As I write, Patek Philippe’s CEO, Thierry Stern, says that demand for Nautiluses and Aquanauts will continue to exceed supply for the long-term. As to why people want diving watches when they don’t dive? Perhaps the most pertinent question is: who cares?