An ode to man's love of watches

They're small, sometimes hidden and often simple. Yet they can cost the earth. So why do we love them so much?

December 8, 2016

Considering the long span of human history, timepieces made to be worn on the wrist are a relatively new addition to the average man’s outfit.

They’ve only been around for about a hundred years, and they’ve only been really accessible to the masses for the latter half of that time. Recently, with the global boom in digital gadgets, everyone expected the wristwatch to become extinct, but still – men wear watches – and they love them.

I’ve been interested in watches since I was a youngster, and I still own the first watch I bought. I will be the first to admit that it’s not about being practical. A watch is certainly not a necessity these days, and I didn’t buy the watch just to tell time. There’s much more to it, and so I would like to share my take on why watches are so well-loved, even today. 

The ‘inner man’

Men have far fewer fashion options than women. A man might own a fine suit, a selection of ties or cufflinks, but when it comes to personal expression of his tastes and preferences, the wristwatch is the go-to accessory. 

As far as a symbol of style, a watch is more discreet than a sports car and much easier to manage than a yacht and can say a lot more about your character. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive watch either – it’s the quality that counts, along with the story that the watch tells.

Personalities differ too. It might be a question of styling and refinement, or it might well be all about passion and adventure, whether it’s a Cartier, TAG Heuer or an Omega. One man will choose a Pilot watch from IWC, complete with 24 time zones – the watch tells me that here is a man on the move – a jet-setter with experience and mystery surrounding him. Another man will prefer a Panerai from 1950, showing nothing but the time, but with a sense of history and intrigue, and a rugged edge. Each one tells a different tale, and reveals a little something about the man who is wearing it. 

Craftsmanship and technology

You don’t need to be a watchmaker or an engineer to appreciate something that is well made. And let’s face it; the movement of a watch is fascinating. Anyone who examines the mesmerising dance of a fine Swiss watch can sense the painstaking efforts it took to design and build something so intricate and beautiful at the same time.

We can’t help it. As men, we’re drawn to this kind of thing like a moth to a flame. While we try to puzzle out how it all works together, we can’t help but feel a little proud to be wearing something so exquisite. There is something reassuring about the steady, dependable ticking and the circling of the hands around the dial. It makes us feel as if human ingenuity can overcome any challenge, given enough time.

Watchmakers know all about this fascination we have. They go out of their way to make watches as complicated as possible. You can find watches that measure speed, temperature, help you navigate, tell you when the sun will rise and set, and much more besides. Sometimes, however, it’s the pure simplicity that sells the watch. 

The right investment

The first watch I ever bought is worth quite a bit more today than the day I bought it. In fact, the person I bought it from only sold it to me with the proviso that he gets first option should I ever want to sell it, although I don’t think that will be anytime soon.

Watch auctions are booming, following on the general trend of new watch sales. One-of-a-kind specimens have been sold for astronomical figures. A Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication was sold a decade ago by Sotheby's for a record $11.5m, and then broke the record again in 2014 at a new record $24 million. Even relatively ordinary watches fetch handsome sums when it can be proved they belonged to a celebrity or famous explorer. 

Of course not every watch is a good investment, and some are far too sentimental to ever put up for sale. Nevertheless, you can’t go wrong with a fine vintage timepiece in good condition.

As an heirloom

The very idea that the watch on your wrist will last for more than one lifetime is another reason why men buy watches. In an age when your phone is out of date in a year or two, it gives a sense of comfort to invest in something that is built to last.

Leaving a timepiece as an heirloom was quite popular in the past. A father would proudly present his son with his grandfather’s pocket watch, sealed in a box, and tell of all the adventures they had been through together. It’s nice to think that the watch you’ve worn for years will outlast you, and be of use to the future generation. 

The emotional bond

My own watch collection has grown over the years, and there are some that I wear more often than the others, but honestly, I can’t say which is my favourite model. Each one has a place and a time. It’s as if each one expresses a different facet of something in me, and I love them for different reasons. I expect that it’s the same with every man that owns a cherished watch.

They’re complicated, they’re sophisticated, they are things of beauty and they are here to stay. Watches have a special place in human history, particularly for men. Of course, there are many women who love watches too – some of them even prefer wearing men’s watches – the appeal is universal. As far as I’m concerned, long may it continue.