A hobbyist caught in a time warp
Our watch-loving writer reveals why he's hooked on collecting old-school mechanical timepieces.
Ever since I was a little boy I've been fond of watches. The idea of carrying the time around with me on my wrist, the physical object itself – it's always appealed to me.
I preferred quartz watches – timepieces with a movement that runs on a battery – that are inexpensive, not technically complicated and made by machine. They are the little cousins to the more "mature" mechanical watches, whose movements rely on centuries-old engineering and are (usually) assembled by hand. They are also more expensive because of the skilled craftsmanship involved in making them (see video below for more on how they function).
So last year, as I hit my 30s, I decided to buy myself a "mature" watch. It was a model from a respected German brand, Sinn, and when it arrived on my doorstep I immediately fell in love.
Of course, not but two months later I found myself in Milan, the home base of Squale, a cult diving watch brand. Inspired, I went online and bought myself a watch of theirs, too.
From Milan I continued on to Tel Aviv, Israel, hoping that the craving would abate. It did not. As I walked down the streets and boulevards of the city, I found that I would reflexively be on the lookout for nothing but watch shops – of which there are many.
As I spent more and more time in Tel Aviv and online looking for another watch to add to my growing collection, I tried to make sense of my illogical desire for timepieces. After all, the average human being today has better access to the time than most countries did no more than a few hundred years ago. There's really no need to wear a watch, let alone a mechanical one, which doesn't actually tell time any better than a quartz watch.
I quieted my impulse toward rational because, as one watch collector told me, "collecting mechanical watches isn't rational." But still, I decided to do a little digging.
The first thing I learned was that I am not an anomaly. Mechanical watches have remained popular since the 1990s when the industry reemerged after years of being gutted by quartz watch manufacturers.
In fact, in recent years a younger generation has embraced mechanical watches, a reaction to the digitized world of timekeeping intrinsic to our smartphone-carrying lives.
Once-defunct companies such as the Italian/Swiss brand Squale, which now focuses on a clientele between the ages of 25-40, have returned to the fold, and popular blogs catering to the millennial crowd such as Hodinkee have popped up to feed the growing interest.
"People like the idea of the history that comes with it, the fact that they can carry the time around with them and that this is a piece of engineering that has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years," Amos Rosner told me. Rosner is owner of Vintage Time, a watch store specializing in vintage mechanical watches in Tel Aviv.
He is a former musician who attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has also loved watches for most of his life. After watch dealing at a flea market in Tel Aviv several years ago, he recently opened up his own shop.
"... There is an element of status, certainly, and also the fact that it's a piece of jewelry that many men feel comfortable with," he said. This is certainly true of the people buying Rolexes or Omegas, older men who can afford to buy watches that can cost as much as a Mercedes.
But I, and many others my age, can relate better to Rosner's first comment. The idea of having an analogue timepiece, one that isn't at the mercy of a satellite or battery, is, well, sort of cool – defiant even. And it offers a certain piece of mind that no matter where in the world one may find themselves, they'll have access to the time right there on their wrist.
Lina Nardi, Squale's CEO, echoed this sentiment when I spoke with her.
"People like the sense of security that an automatic watch provides," she said.
As an example she mentioned that professional divers still use diving watches, despite a reliance first and foremost on computers.
"Divers use them as backups to their dive computers in case the computers run out of power during a dive," she explained.
After speaking with these experts, and looking deeper into the psychology behind buying, wearing and collecting mechanical timepieces, I realized there's nothing irrational about it at all. It makes total sense that in today's world, where upgrades and new innovations seem to be released every day, someone would want to wear a reliable, well-made object that's been in use for centuries and is, as Rosner told me, "a perfected technology."
I think I'll be buying another watch.
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