a monthly advice column from STAG
Joe T. writes: I don’t get watches. It seems like a lot of money to pay for outdated technology. Why should I want a watch?
Glenn O’Brien, original Style Guy, and inspiration for this column, once said that the smartphone he carried in his pocket probably kept better time than the watch he wore on his wrist. We’d say that Glenn, was right as always, but that you wouldn’t pass your smartphone down to your son.
You might give your son your old phone, but you certainly wouldn’t expect him to keep it for life.
Glenn also said that a wristwatch is one of two pieces of jewelry that every man can comfortably wear. We’re not all cut out for necklaces and bracelets, but we can all wear a watch and if we’re married, a wedding ring. He was right about this, too.
Now, I don’t know a ton about watches, but not because I don’t like them. I have some kind of low-grade number dyslexia that makes it difficult for me to quickly tell time on a watch. So I asked Cameron Weiss, founder of The Weiss Watch Company, makers of some of the finest mechanical timepieces in the United States. What is it about watches? Why do we want them? And why should we?
Is it the dozens of tiny parts working flawlessly together to perform one seemingly simple, deceptively complicated task?
Is it that, as far as we know, only humans have a temporal sense, and so the devices we create to measure that which only we can perceive is somehow a perfect expression of human ingenuity?
Is it, as science fiction author William Gibson put it, that watches are “pointless yet needful, comforting precisely because they require tending?”
Is it the romantic appeal of an object designed to last a lifetime in an era of disposability and planned obsolescence? A wistful nostalgia for a world that never was, but ought to be?
“Owning a mechanical watch,” says Mr. Weiss, “is about much more than simply telling time … it’s a personal item that carries with it the story of its past, and inspires memories and emotions — just from you knowing it’s there.”
The other night the missus and I were at dinner at Otoko, a tiny jewel box of a Japanese restaurant tucked away in the South Congress Hotel. We were seated next to an elegant gentleman who, unprompted, and having never met my wife, nevertheless wished her a happy birthday.
“If you’re here, it’s because it’s her birthday,” he later confided. He was right! It was! He motioned toward his own date, returning from the restroom. “It’s her birthday, too.” He wore an old black t-shirt, jeans, and a Rolex Datejust in steel and gold. For the same money, he could’ve bought himself a subcompact sedan. But we wouldn't be discussing it here. And it certainly wouldn’t have elevated his otherwise casual outfit, giving him the high note in his high/low aesthetic. It would never be an heirloom. That’s what watches are for.
Bo Fahs is a writer in Austin, Texas
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Illustration by Nick Francis DiFonzo