A Minor Obsession
Coming from someone who, in his college days, wore only multiple issues of one daily uniform, the obsession I now have with watches is surprising. At least to me.
Starting innocently enough, as they must say in the addiction biz, my first watch of consequence was a chronograph; (01) a grown-up automatic affair branded Tourneau but actually a Bertolucci, followed by an equally innocent ‘dress’ watch from Tiffany (02). They marked occasions (my marriage, my own business) as well, or better, than they marked time.
I dabbled a bit in Mondaine Swiss railway watches (06) and Retro (03) watches back in the 80’s. They seemed both historical and modern and fit the work everyone was doing (which was living in the past in one way or another). On the way to my 1991 ‘interview’ at Pentagram in London I bought the first truly asymmetric watch I had ever seen; a bit like a pebble on acid (04), and wore it thinking ‘this will seal the deal’. As laughable as that object and its purported power now seem, it became my habit to mark occasions with watches rather than Champagne, with wrist-mounted mnemonics rather than a lost night on the town.
That idea coalesced as two phenomena arose: Swatch, (or 'Watch as Fashion') and the 'Clever Watches'.
Swatch (07-11), a true gateway drug, gave the wearer permission (or perhaps the imperative) to buy in quantity. One can never be enough. Collect them all. Hurry, they are limited editions. And look how cheap!
Clever Watches: in the cleverness department no one surpassed M&Company (05) with set of branded deadpan watch designs that in 1984 redefined smart and are still sold.
Like the necktie competitions of the 90’s, ‘watch as fashion accessory’ highlights the few choices most men have in their business costumes. For those of us who had given up neckwear the choices dwindled even further: socks (Paul Smith being the enabler there), glasses (which can rapidly decline into Elton John territory) and, of course, the timepiece.
My preoccupation became more serious, and much more expensive, when my favorite clients bestowed on me my first truly pricey design object: an Ikepod (12) designed by Marc Newson. Not only did that raise the cost of entry several thousand dollars, but it’s Flavor Flav size became the new standard. The more you wear big watches, the more you feel like Pee Wee Herman with a normal sized one strapped on. I follo
wed with a massive Panerai (13) and years later a truly enormous Bell & Ross (15) but still manage to enjoy the simple quartz decorative affair (14).
The ‘roundy’ period gave way to a ‘squarey’ fascination (16-19) and slowly morphed into a frosted (20-23) thing. The roundy thing came back, sometimes with an asymmetric twist (24) or a Piet Hein-like ‘super ellipse’ compromise (26) by Piero Lissoni. Classics like the (26) Jacob Jensen (the ‘other Jensen’), and oddballs like a Japanese puzzle watch (27) kept me bouncing back and forth between classic and unwearable.
Digital has made a comeback with the Suunto (28) and the recently revived Ventura (29, 16) and a much earlier Nike designed at Pentagram (35). But, the newer Pentagram standard is one of the Max Bill watches designed in 1962 (31-33) and always in fashion, if potentially a bit Pee Wee in size. Larger and with a respectable graphic design pedigree (Max Huber) is the Achille Castiglione Record watch (30). The field is rounded out with the quirky time/temperature watch (34), which always seems to indicate a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius. Finally, no watch collection would be complete without a Swiss Army watch (36), this one by the then-battling cousin of Victorinox, and bought, ironically, in Switzerland.
Age may have increased the occasions I have wanted to celebrate, or maybe my standards have simply evaporated, but I now have 50 or so of these devices to choose among each morning. They seem to get jealous if you ignore them too long, so I do try to distribute the love relatively evenly.
Kind of an ‘equal time' provision.