Words and time, pens and watches — to me they have the same attraction. I wonder if you readers feel the same?
Just as a pen captures and makes real otherwise ephemeral thoughts and ideas, watches pin down the imprecision of time.
They’re acts of craftsmanship, engineering and heritage, and a visible expression of personal taste and style.
They’re (if you pardon the pun) timeless — they won’t age or become obsolete; you can fantasize about handing them down to your children in your will. Or, viewed another way, they’re both already outcasts, relics of another age: for who needs a pen or a wristwatch in the age of the smartphone?
I don’t see it that way. To me I would feel naked stepping out of the house without a watch on my wrist and a pen in my pocket. For both are fundamentally functional items: who doesn’t need to know the time or write a note?
As you may have spotted (!) my pen collection is already… highly evolved.
But my watch collection was rather more neglected. In the past year, as budget has allowed, I’ve built up a small selection of timepieces that serve different purposes and scratch different aesthetic itches, as well as trimming down the collection by throwing out old beaters, homages and naff fashion watches.
Here’s a quick tour of the “capsule wardrobe” I have left, if you’d like to join me.
Casio G-Shock GST-W310D-1AER
I owned a G-Shock G-700D-1AV from the early 2000s. I used to drop it on the floor from head height as a party trick. It never once failed me, and I never thought for a second that it would. Of course, eventually its latest battery died and I figured it was time not just to stick a new battery in, but to send it to Casio for a refurbishment. As I half expected, my ancient model was long discontinued and I was offered a discount on a new model.
This new reference feels like a huge step up in quality. The bracelet is bomb-proof, the metal feels solid, not hollow. In an industrial way, it’s extremely handsome, making virtues of its deficiencies: the depth of the dial is actually shown off with deep angled indices, for example. And the functionality is amazing: it’s solar powered, radio controlled, effectively maintenance free. Even more than my previous G-Shock, I can forget about this Casio and rely on it where I wouldn’t dare take another watch. I’d call it my beater, but that would be doing this marvel of engineering a disservice.
If it was a pen? Maybe a Kaweco Al Sport.
For a long time, the SKX was the only watch I wore regularly. Any watch geek needs no introduction to the SKX: it’s an all-time classic and incredible value for money. Sure, the 7s26 movement is unexceptional, but you get a comfortable 4pm screwdown crown, day-date window, plenty of lume on the pips and the huge sword hands, a clearly legible dial, and 200m dive-rated waterproofing.
Despite looking at it thousands of times, I still think this is a great-looking watch, and I’ve worn it on the stock rubber, leather straps, lots of different Natos, and for the longest time, a shark-mesh bracelet. I wore it with everything, from a suit to a t-shirt.
I recently treated it to a spruce-up service at Seiko UK in Maidenhead (which cost almost as much as the watch), as well as a couple of new bezel inserts and a super engineer bracelet with solid end-links, which looks and feels fabulous (and again this cost almost as much as the watch). You may have spotted that I have a sentimental attachment to this timepiece, and it’s still the watch I pick when heading for a night out, taking my daughter swimming, and many other activities.
If it was a pen? Maybe a Lamy 2000.
Omega Speedmaster Professional 3188.8.131.52.01.005
The Speedmaster (the original hesalite version, of course) was my first “proper” watch, the first watch I spent a ludicrous amount of money on. Here it’s worth making a comparison to pens. Watches are much, much more expensive than pens. A Pelikan M1000 or Montblanc 149 or Visconti Homo Sapiens will put you in flagship territory: the most expensive pen by a manufacturer that isn’t a limited edition. You’ll spend around 500 quid. The Omega Speedmaster here is barely midrange for Omega, and Omega is a lot cheaper than Rolex, Patek, AP, Cartier, JLC and dozens of other Swiss manufactures. And yet it’s six times the price of a Montblanc 149. Put another way: spend 500 quid on a top-end pen and most people will think you’re crazy; try to spend the same amount on a Swiss automatic watch and you’ll be laughed out of the dealers.
What attracted me to the Speedie was the space heritage. I am a bit of a space geek (I just got the Lego Saturn V for Christmas) and the romance of the Apollo mission and (in my childhood memories) the shuttle is incredibly alluring. I also love how the Speedie looks. I’m not normally a chrono guy, but the Speedie is so legible, and it’s a visual chameleon: put it on a brown strap, a grey Nato, or the stock bracelet, and it looks completely different to on this black silicone strap.
I enjoy wearing the Speedie — I still get that thrill looking down at the dial — but a few things have stopped it from feeling like part of me. First, it has no date. I’m really used to having that feature, and it bothers me in the same way as a fountain pen with no ink window. Second, it’s hand-winding only, and the power reserve is limited. I sometimes forget to wind it; I’m used to an automatic. Third is the dubious waterproofing. While the debate rages about whether it’s safe to swim or shower with the Speedie, for me the price, lack of screw-down crown, chrono pushers and 50m rating mean I’m very careful around water. Fourth, the hesalite crystal. I love the way it looks and the historical authenticity, but it scratches if you wear a slightly rough jumper. Hell, it scratches if you look at it a bit too hard.
All these reasons conspire to stop me strapping on the Speedie and forgetting about it, as I would with an auto diver.
If it was a pen? A Vacumatic or a Sheaffer PFM: historic, a marvel of engineering, but with idiosyncrasies.
Tudor Black Bay GMT M79830RB-0001
The Tudor GMT is both a head and a heart purchase for me. As the chorus of journalists reported after Baselworld this year, it’s a marvel of engineering: an in-house movement with a true GMT complication, silicone spring, 70-hour power reserve, COSC certification and 200m water resist with sapphire crystal. It’s the definition of a go-anywhere watch, and gives me all the quality of a Rolex for a third of the price. It corrects all the deficiencies that plague the Speedmaster for me, too.
But the heart side of the purchase is the more powerful here. When I was growing up, my dad’s watch (his only watch) was a well-used 16710 Rolex GMT Master, with Pepsi bezel. He was an engineer, who worked with his hands, and his wrists were huge and leathery. I remember the watch sliding around comically on my child-sized wrists, and playing with it sometimes: feeling the weight and solidity in my hands, the musical tac-tac sound of the bracelet links bumping. I always some day wanted to own it, to remember him by. But he pawned it long ago in a period of financial difficulty.
To me that Rolex was both a symbol of success and the object I most strongly associated with my father, who died this year. When I think of him, I think of Old Spice, the smell of swarf in his factory, his old Audis and BMWs, and most of all that Rolex.
I’ll never get that watch back, and I’ll never afford another 16710 — prices have rocketed above 10k, and that’s silly money. But the Tudor GMT is, in my view, the closest spiritual successor. Unlike modern Rolexes with their garish ceramics, it has a dull aluminium bezel insert and looks beautifully retro.
So essentially, when I wear this watch, I remember my father, and it reminds me to avoid repeating his mistakes. I want to hand this watch down to my children, and be there to watch them grow into successful people in their own right.
Seiko Presage Fuyugeshiki SRPC97J1
And last, the Presage. This is a bit of an experiment for me. I owned various dressier, three-handed watches, but it feels a bit stupid to leave a Tudor and an Omega in your watch box and strap a 50-quid cheapie on your wrist when you’re going to a special occasion. So I felt the time was right to get a dress watch at least in spitting distance of my fancier tool watches. I looked at Junghans, but they have 3atm water resistance and domed acrylic crystals.
The Seiko Presage cocktail time range has always gnawed at me for their jaw-dropping dials, and very handsome Dauphine hands (as well as date and 5atm WR). The downside is a workmanlike movement and a cheap bracelet with folded end-links. My real desire is a Grand Seiko Snowflake, but at 4k or more, that’s too rich for an experiment right now. The Presage scratches an itch, and the Fuyugeshiki’s textured white dial is like nothing else in my collection.
It should arrive tomorrow.
Watches are central to my identity in the same way as fountain pens. I appreciate the precision engineering, aesthetics, heritage and functionality. They are tools, jewellery, and an expression of my personal taste and status.
They’re also much more expensive than pens, and you can only take one out with you. For those two very different reasons, I doubt I’ll ever have more than half a dozen watches. But, like the few in my capsule collection today, every one will have a story to tell.