As we ring in the new year, I thought it appropriate to offer my thoughts about 2017, as well as attempt to keep abreast with the industry and reflect on the significance of the watch and its part in our lives.
The past year saw some highlights in the auctioning of watches, which predicate my overall sentiments. The first incident was with the Rolex Bao Dai, a very rare and complex model with known provenance which, selling for 5 million USD, earned itself the highest price paid for a wristwatch at auction. Not a few months later that record was shattered with the sale of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona, bringing in over 17 million USD. These two pieces, albeit iconic, re-established much more than just the possibility for such investments or record-setting pieces of horology. They affirm to me that the legacy a timepiece holds is intrinsically important. Whether famous or not, the watch itself has an endearing quality that has, does, and should continue to be deserving of heirloom status.
I am constantly asked if a humble 100 year old, 15 jewel Waltham or Elgin pocket watch is worth the charge of an overhaul. My response is generally something akin to, “is it worth it to you?” Responses vary, but facts often inform the final decision. These extremely well-made pieces of American and Swiss watch manufacturing are built to be serviced - they are designed to be disassembled and reassembled many times. Well maintained, they will last for generations. Having serviced watches that are easily 3-4+ generations old (1700’s – 1800’s), I can attest to the abilities and craftsmanship these early horologists put into their timepieces. Because of that same care, they are functional heirlooms that ideally should be used and serviced to extend their longevity as a family piece.
There’s another question that I am asked frequently: Are watches on their way out? I say no. The cell phone (which some call the modern-day pocket watch) may have made an impact on the number of watches worn on the wrist, but I can attest to the lingering popularity of the wrist watch. The mechanical watch survived the quartz watch crisis of the 1970’s, and has rebounded healthily. Admittedly, trends, as they always have been, are a rotating door. Ladies watches that were popular in the 1940’s-1960’s are not in favor today - their diminutive size is not in fashion, even aside from the fact that they are terribly difficult to read! On the opposite end of the spectrum, modern men’s watches have grown to seemingly gargantuan sizes. Most Swiss or American brands would never have considered making watches of such great size even 40 years ago, and the shift away from that standard is evident in new watches that come from contemporary manufacturers. Even further back, in the early 1900’s there was a strong trend for gentleman’s watches to be thinner and smaller in diameter, which brought size 12 dress watches to be favored in the vest pockets of many gentlemen in the 1920’s. But by the 1930’s, men’s watches started to move from the pocket to the wrist.
As the old adage says, what goes around comes around. It is not uncommon for a female customer to bring in a gents watch of the 1960’s or later – their father’s or grandfather’s timepiece that they are now wearing. But given all this, I cannot imagine a complete lack of attachment for an object as important as a wrist or pocket watch, be it a family heirloom or a personal accessory. We’re all guided by time and its passage. Seeing the passage of time by means of hands is far gentler and more significant to one’s place in the world than the changing of digits, perhaps especially when those hands have marked time for others before us and may even continue to do so after us.
So happy 2018 to all of my customers near and far, and may your timepiece, be it a family treasure or a new treasure in the making, remind you of not only the years passed, but also of those yet to come… and may all the years to come fare - and be kept - well.