At the Swiss Observatory Trials in 1968, a Grand Seiko ranked higher in accuracy than any other competing Swiss mechanical movement
At the Swiss Observatory Trials in 1968, a Grand Seiko ranked higher in accuracy than any other competing Swiss mechanical movement

Watches: Wearing his heart on his wrist

In times of fitness trackers, what makes millennials romance wristwatches?
Hindustan Times | By Amish Behl
UPDATED ON SEP 06, 2020 07:38 AM IST

One of my personal morning rituals bears a striking similarity to gazing at one’s drawn-open wardrobe, waiting for subconscious calculations to reveal their ultimate dressing decision. Except it’s with a watch box. After a brief internal dialogue, one timepiece is picked out. It is then lovingly wound and the tone for the day is set.

It can be a divers’ watch (capable of navigating 200 metres of oceanic depth) if I need a heady dose of the ready-for-anything spirit, or maybe something low-key, Bauhaus-inspired, should I feel like just being comfortable in my own skin. There’s a story behind each of them – whether a multi-year chase, a special occasion, iconic design, or even complexity of the mechanism (since most of them happen to be mechanical – powered by winding the crown or the watch’s movement on one’s wrist). For me, it’s the stories that bring depth and diversity to these memory-markers.

Reasons of the heart

Despite the diversity, what binds them together is that none of these watches is a seven-figure piece of ostentatious finery. The kind you’d find in glossy magazines. Nor do they have any pretensions of being on a sailboat in the French Riviera. To a large degree, that is tired, outdated imagery that speaks to neither myself nor others like me who have taken to timepieces for reasons of the heart. One of my favourites is actually a vintage Henri Sandoz timepiece from the 1960s. I picked it up a few years ago for a princely 1,500.

Back to the beginning

The earliest wristwatch memory I have is thanks to my grandfather. He had one which was a gift from his son – my uncle – who was celebrating a milestone. Because of this, he wore it with an endearing sense of pride. It also happened to be his ‘nicest’ watch – an elegant, Swiss-made Maurice Lacroix, on a forest green strap – though that never seemed to dissuade him from wearing it on just-a-normal-day. 

I was overwhelmed by the realisation that a material object could be the source of such deeply personal joy. It was small, but full of details; stylish, but eternal, and seemingly transcending its intrinsic value considerably. I had to have one.

My first meaningful watch came shortly after the turn of the century. As much as I wanted a Swatch, my family seemed to have a thing for Japanese engineering and got me a Citizen instead. At that point, I obviously hadn’t a clue what mechanical or automatic watches were. For better or for worse, many of my friends and contemporaries still don’t. Though through conversations with them over the years, I’ve seen many eyes light up on being told where the ‘tick-tock’ comes from. Or, that it was because of soldiers’ needs in World War I that the wristwatch even became a mainstream idea.

Millennials are digital natives. So what do we hold onto then, as a means of individuality?

Permanence in a disposable world

Millennials are “digital natives”. This sounds all space-age-cool and cutting edge, but it means everything around us is just silicon and plastic. Forty-year-old Allwyn refrigerators, and leather briefcases built for a lifetime, have made way for monthly OS updates and fast fashion. So what do we hold onto then, as a means of individuality? Something that isn’t dictated by runways in Milan, reset at the drop of an influencer’s hat.

Watches do that for me. They’re a natural extension and companion in a way that no other ‘thing’ can be. They may be outdated in theory, but remain emotionally-loaded and effectively permanent. It’s not an unreasonable expectation for a well-built timepiece, which is decently cared for, to last a 100 years or more. That’s real solace in a world obsessed with ephemera and the Next Big Thing.

Nomos is part of an elite group of watchmakers that make all mechanical movements in-house  
Nomos is part of an elite group of watchmakers that make all mechanical movements in-house  

That humble Citizen runs flawlessly. It’s eligible to vote now and probably, will outlive me. But over time, more such memorable watches have made their way to the box. Each painstakingly researched and considered. This has taken me from closer-to-home HMTs to bulletproof Seikos and even a young German watchmaker Nomos, among others. I’ve found vintage Swiss gems in the narrow lanes of Nizamuddin, successfully hunted a locally-made watch in Stuttgart’s Stadtmitte and run around Tokyo in search of a storied Grand Seiko timepiece.

Living with the experience

As much as watch brands are guilty of making you believe otherwise, these are the things from which a watch derives its meaning and value; not from the amount you swiped on your credit card. Millennials pay more for experiences rather than things, right? In the case of watches, living with the thing is indeed the experience. A growing tribe of geeky watch enthusiasts, who collect for the sake of romance, will attest to this.

The Nomos watch I bought as a freshly-minted consulting associate was also the watch I wore to my wedding. It even has fine scratches now as reminders of the delightful experiences it is living through. And it’s the watch which often makes that morning ritual so very easy.

Amish Behl, 29, is India’s first Swiss-certified watch expert and founder of Winding Ritual, a digital publication about the world of wristwatches

From HT Brunch, September 6, 2020

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