5 November 2004

On men and watches

They say you can tell a man by the company he keeps. If, for example, he keeps a company like Microsoft he'’s probably a very wealthy cybergeek, and I'’d be inclined to call him ‘'Sir'’ or ‘'Your Majesty'’ in the hope of handouts.

I'’m sure you can learn a lot about a man from his car as well. More than that, you can tell how he would like to be seen, and perhaps how he sees himself. A red open-topped sports car driven by a short, balding, spread-waisted fugly with a Hawaiian shirt, flaunting a hairy chest, medallion and one arm outside the car makes me think ‘'mid-life crisis'’ with some surety. When I see a Japanese family sedan with spoilers, skirts, bonnet scoop, 35 profile mags and large exhaust, 4 foot driver reclined in seat so as to appear 3 foot, and '‘boof boof’' music blaring from the stereo, I make a mental note to thank God I didn'’t have daughters.

So what of Seiko's and Pulsar'’s latest ads for watches? The Seiko ads suggest things like:

“It’'s not your car. It’'s not your friends. It'’s not your job. It’'s your watch that says most about who you are.”

I think what tells me most about a man is his demeanour, attitude, the way he talks and what he says. That much seems pretty obvious. As result these ads seem to have elicited quite a deal of criticism. But I think you can also tell a fair amount about the inner book from the cover, and I for one do use a man’'s watch as one of the ways of formulating an impression of him at first meeting.

My journey in watches

My father was a Rolex man. A solid, unpretentious, slightly old-fashioned exterior hid a quiet flair and a taste for real quality. He looked after his two Rolexes, lovingly cleaning them, removing scratches and generally making them appear their best. In his final year or so he found wearing a watch started to annoy him, and thought about selling them, but first asked me if I'’d like them, and in particular, if I'’d wear them, After all, why own a classic car if it’'s never driven?

Well, I’'m a Longines man. Progressive, creative, into style though a little unreliable. But my father’'s watches were so much a part of him that I had to have them, and wear them I do when in a Rolex sort of mood. That’'s not often, but they each get to see the world a few times a year.

In my quest to find out what sort of man I was, I tried quite a few watches. An elegant old Swiss Universal was my first ‘'grown-up'’ watch, a hand-me-down from my father. It had a remarkable hand-made mechanism, but I was going through my teen geek years and wanted digital! An ugly but reliable Citizen digital (the first with an alarm) was a good school friend. An elegant Seiko looked the part, but lacked character and never gelled with me in the same way. A multi-function Omega Sensor Quartz was used by astronauts but died in the shallow end of a friend'’s swimming pool and had to be flown back to Switzerland for emergency surgery. Omega, unsurprisingly, discontinued it soon afterwards.

All these watches came to me as '‘surprises'’ from Dad, and I have them all still, hidden in drawers and boxes. I don’'t know where they are exactly, but they’'re somewhere, and I will come across them from time to time, like old photos; chronometers which chronicle my life.

Longine ConquestFrom the first time I set eyes on a 1980s Longines Conquest, the watch apparently inspired by Charles Lindbergh, I realised I could not rest until I owned one, and 10 years ago a two-tone metal-banded model joined clan Conway. I’'d wanted the crystal back, but when I tried one it was just too fat for my delicate wrist, so it’'s the plain-jane model, and it does just fine. Reasonably accurate and elegant to this day (mine is not the VHP model illustrated and doesn’t have romans but is otherwise the same).

Pulsar’s adverts

So Seiko, I'’m a believer in part, and I think your advertising is subtle and effective. It surprises me that some people are so inclined to literalise creative copy just so they can get hot under the collar. But if a watch tells us about the man, what was your subsidiary Pulsar thinking when they came up with these ads?

Pulsar ad 2Rather than letting the watch tell the tale, they’'ve decided to fill in the details for us, perhaps because wearing as Pulsar actually says '“Can'’t afford a Seiko, let alone a Swiss watch”'. The trouble is they tell us too much. I can relate to some of the oddities of these characters, but those to which I can'’t relate distance me from both the character and, ultimately, Pulsar watches.

Take Character 1. First, he’'s impossibly good looking, which would put many men off immediately. But whilst I can relate to his hatred of coriander and love of sandcastles and Dostoevsky, his passion for reality TV and Chihuahuas and his belief in ghosts mark him as shallow and superstitious, and lead me to the conclusion that he just keeps a copy of Crime and Punishment around to impress chicks, not because he can actually read. And I just don’'t like toy dogs.

Pulsar ad 1

As for Character 2, the one with the doped-up expression, I can relate to antique maps, steam typewriters, sci-fi and butterscotch pudding, and tolerate the kilt. But not having a mobile phone paints him as a Luddite, wanting six children suggests he is socially irresponsible and clueless about parenting (I mean, does he look fatherhood material?). And owning 27 pairs of jeans? Well, it’s not like me to be judgmental or anything, but what a loser!

I’'m sure we all fancy ourselves as individuals, so the idea of marketing watches as a means of individual expression is a perfectly good one, and it works for Seiko. But as soon as the individual becomes a weirdo, loony or loner then the advertising is doomed to failure. It’'s a fine line, and although I'’m sure Pulsar has a fine line of watches, they seem to have crossed to the wrong side of the line in marketing.

Women’s watches

You'’ll notice I’'ve focused very much on men and men's watches here. Frankly, like most men, I just can'’t understand women'’s watches. So often they are tiny braceletty things with eccentrically shaped faces and convoluted bands which go equally well with any clothing because they go with absolutely nothing. Oh look, are those hands? I can just make them out with the naked eye—remarkable. But where are the markings?

I’'ve resigned myself to the fact that the women’'s watches I like are never the ones my partner likes. Like women and neckties, it is a brave man who buys a watch for a woman. At the end of the day, if watches can tell you a little about a man, they can also speak volumes about how little men understand women.

Why watches?

So why do some of us have this fascination with watches? Is it because they are a permanent reminder of our link to history and the future, a meeting point between the temporal and the ephemeral? Do we form some subconscious relationship between the human pulse and the ticking of a watch? Is it simply because they'’re the gadget with which we spend the most time?

What do you think? And what sort of watch are you?

Go to eebahgum!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I agree that watches are a big part of a man, I mean you can't carry your car in a pocket to show an attitude, but a watch sitting quietly on your wrist is a quick reminder of who you are. A Rolex shows reliability, but now subdued, a Breitling shows a bold character, a Longines shows sophistication and elegance. Thus, it can't be denied that a watch is a lot more than a piece a equipment that tells time.

I love my Omega "Speedmaster Professional", as it is a chronograph, subdued but reliable and call on to function at any required moment.

My Longines "Conquest" Automatic is an elegant piece for nice evening dinners and attending Opera performances.

and my Rolex " Submariner" is something when I intend to walk in to negotiate with customers, it is a piece that says I am all business.

So, watches are so much more.

Andrew sillett said...

I agree that Longines are elegant... and also, perhaps, unreliable.
My wife always wanted a Longines watch as her dad had one all his life, but hers broke in under a year (winder cap fell off).
I took it back to Selfridges dept store and they said they'd have to send it back to Switzerland and it will take 4-6 weeks for 'diagnostics' to determine whether it will be classified as accidental damage (the guy in the shop said they normally decide this was the case) and will then issue an estimate (I was told it will be expensive - despite being under warranty) and it will then take up to 11 weeks before it is returned from Switzerland.
Seems the brand, whose high price is based on a reputation for reliability, is not what it was as they must have an overwhelming backlog of broken watches to fix. Either way, I am less than overwhelmed!