I’m Not a Watch Guy, I Swear!

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Despite owning more watches than Spencer, I still don’t think I’m a real watch guy. Enjoy this essay and podcast, which revolves around me trying to reconcile these thoughts!

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Enjoy a great, slightly long episode of the Podcast, where we invite our good pal Aldous back on to talk about watches. He’s probably our closest friend with a plethora of knowledge and taste, which made for a great conversation about why Spencer and I are perhaps more into watches than we’d like to admit.

We also did a discussion about watches on our Twitch Stream, which you can watch below on youtube!

Introduction

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Most of this blog is about me trying my best not to be too much of a menswear meme. I don’t smoke cigars. I prefer boba to alcohol (but I’ll gladly drink a fruity cocktail or cider). I don’t eat much fancy food. And I’m not a big watch guy, as I’ve repeatedly told people when the conversation comes up.

I don’t think I’ve made this a secret at all, as I’ve routinely said it to the few guys who DM me about it, but there’s a reason why I’ve never written about it on the blog. The fact is that watches were never really a thing for me and I never had one growing up. I vaguely remember my dad and grandfather having watches, but at a certain point, they just took them off and never put them back on.

If I needed to check the time, I’d rather just use my cellphone, and as a borderline Gen Z, you just know that I’m always on my phone. Why not just use your cell if you really wanted to know what time it is?

I’m not even sure what’s happening here.
Not bad, but it looks way too busy.

Personally, I never found a timepiece integral to any look, vintage or contemporary. Sure, classic designs are cool, but a trouser silhouette or the shape of a lapel were more conducive to an aesthetic. I’d rather spend money on a good suit instead of a small piece of metal that no one would really see. Even in the realm of accessorizing, they paled in comparison to wearing a hat or rings, which have a bolder presence and subvert or play into an outfit’s vibes. At the time, I didn’t think that could apply to time pieces.

I was probably poisoned by all the oft-repeated mantras and philosophies of watch collectors. Rolexes, Omegas, and Lange & Sohne watches were all that I saw from other menswear enthusiasts, all touting elegant designs and leathers. They were undoubtable beautiful, but it felt like an Aston Martin- something cool and expensive that I don’t really need.

My feelings were soured every time I saw these guys repeating that every gentleman needed a fine watch, and more often than not, they were always the expensive ones, straddling the line between a practical piece that tells time and a status symbol. The latter is especially true among non-menswear guys, as it is pretty clear that expensive watches (with or without taste) are bought my rich guys to signify where they are in life. It definitely goes against my approach to menswear, as I certainly don’t aspire to have the lifestyle that is “expected” of guys in tailoring. Tailoring for me isn’t about looking affluent (or even mature) but about pointing to specific aesthetics I enjoy.

Overall, seeing the large amounts of watch fetishization was a complete turnoff to me. It never felt accessible in the slightest, even if a lot of my style inspirations and friends were into watches. I understand the cool designs and exquisite craftsmanship, but it just didn’t strike a chord I could relate to. Even if I agreed that a cream face Datejust is nice, I felt like I was probably just repeating what I had heard my other friends say; it wasn’t personal to me yet. In addition, I never felt like my bare wrists detracted from an outfit nor would a minimal Nomos add to my take on ivy.

I just needed to see a watch that would actually excite me the way that tailoring did. To be quite honest, I was doubtful, especially when you’ve watched videos of Mark Cho talking about watches.

I’m not sure I like any of these.

Slowly Getting Into It

I’m not sure what changed my philosophy on watches, though I doubt you could even call it a real change. Perhaps it was the fact that I started to slow down my purchases on clothing and shoes, which then freed up some extra cash to try other things. Or maybe it was the fact that Spencer always wore an old field watch, one that he neglected to fix for years simply because he liked the idea on adding in a wrist accessory (he would later add bangles, a la Brycelands). He would always be very open about his very silly reason for wearing a watch, especially since like me, Spencer is constantly on his phone.

I’m pretty sure that one great influence was Michael Hill. As most of you know, Michael Hill is a collector of vintage swatches. It’s quite apparent when you look at his pictures where you can see the faint glint of a plastic watch stick out from under a corduroy suit. The irreverence of pairing a novelty item with classic clothing was something I could definitely get behind, since it was a step further form simply wearing a diver (a “casual” watch in terms of formality) with tailoring. It was simply much more fun!

Love the pop of red. Casual and fun!
I photographed Chase wearing this watch way back during my initial NYC trip.
FE Castleberry also loves a good Swatch.

Seeing such a big figure in menswear go “against the grain” (now wearing a Swatch with a suit is quite popular, thanks to the Drake’s boys) actually brought back a few memories from when I hung out with my friend Jeremiah (who actually was featured on this blog in its early days). He was a very stylish guy who actually made a point to wear novelty watches- he either had a Mickey Mouse watch or a gold Casio. Jeremiah wasn’t into classic menswear per-se, so I didn’t think anything of it, but he always maintained he just liked those watches and wore it whenever he could. Maybe the classic and high-end watch guys had spades of that too, just hidden behind the layers of heritage-ness.

It’s not like I didn’t notice the nuance; I definitely picked up the subtleties of watch choice and how they played with (or subverted) the outfits that men came up with. On most guys I’ve seen, I felt like the watch over powered the outfits, but on guys whose styled I enjoyed (like Mark Cho), watches seemed a bit more natural. I began to understand how certain timepieces, along with their faces, and bracelets would play into different attire, like how a suit watch would be different than a sportcoat watch. It was different than the straight irreverence of a swatch, but I liked it.

Somber watch for a somber, monochromatic look.
Divers and speedmasters are similar to me in that they are either good or too busy.
Tanks look good with everything.
I bet this costs more than my student loans.
A little groovy, but I like that.
A Nato strap on a metal watch is a fun combination.
Sometimes it’s not watch inspo- it’s just a good outfit that happens to have a watch.

Later on, I began to see more vintage, high-end watches pop-up on my feed. As you could expect, I already had a small affinity for vintage watches (especially ones with deco designs), but it was quite different to see 1930’s Rolexes and Omegas with their bubble backs being worn by guys like Arnold Wong and Quintin (of AntiQlockwise).

It was here that I learned that a smaller watch size (36-38mm) was appealing to me; they just looked so much better than the mainstream ones, even when the modern ones aren’t Daniel Wellington or clunky Invictas. Cream or two-tone faces. Sub dials. Cool fonts. Grained leathers (yes, I know you can swap these out).

Overall, timepieces had a fun and rare classic aesthetic that had a different elegance than the more modern watches that menswear folk liked- even when compared to the 60s ones that are usually as vintage as people go. Maybe that’s why guys like the Datejust, since it’s probably the closest to the oldies in terms of size and design.

If this watch style (and size) was standard, maybe I’d buy more watches.
The two-tone looks so good.
Jimmy Stewart’s Tissot from Rear Window.

The fact that I started noticing what I liked and disliked from a watch could count as a development of taste, even if it was slight. Occasionally I would find myself looking at vintage watch ads and think “that’s actually kinda cool”, echoing my approach to acquiring style inspiration. At the end of the day, I could tell that if I wore a watch, I wanted it to reflect my style: quirky irreverence with nods to Golden Era tailoring and hey day ivy style. You can definitely hear more about this taste by listening to the podcast episode.

I had no need for some of the extravagant watches I’d see on Hodinkee (a site I only looked at sparingly, at the behest of some of my most horology-inclined compatriots), though it was clear that some of the designs that I like (even if they aren’t new) seemed to be quite expensive. It will always always seem a bit extra to wear a metal accessory the price of a car on your wrist. That money would be better spent on a bespoke suit, rent, or an actual car. But maybe it wasn’t about what the money would be better spent on- perhaps the watch was the intentional purchase on equal footing as those other things.

This simple Air King with a cream face is nice!
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A few vintage watches for sale at Rowing Blazers.

My Watches and How I Wear Them

That sudden realization showed me that I prized everything else over watches; this thought process is similar to my shoe journey. Unlike my friends (or style inspirations) who directly felt a watch added to their outfits and lifestyle, I needed everything else filled out before I could consider spending anything on a watch. I assume that I was still figuring out my way in menswear and knew that a watch wasn’t as important as the other details. Any small amount of cash could have been a 1930’s tie or a thrifted OCBD or even saved for the eventual Alden (this came later).

I eventually stabilized my menswear buying. I didn’t need to get random sack suits on eBay or spend my time hunting for cheap vintage ties. My closet was already filled with the best pieces I could source- any gaps were now filled with extreme curation or by the use of custom tailoring. At about the middle of 2017, I was pretty much set. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more cohesive with the person you see before you today. That meant a watch could finally make sense to me!

Now like I wrote earlier, I had already started developing a taste in watches. I wasn’t really into field watches or weekenders, similar to how I didn’t get a navy hopsack jacket until much later in my menswear journey; every suggestion felt like I was defaulting. Most of the time this is because watches are too “busy” or too minimal; the ones I did like seemed to be too expensive. I know I was being really picky, but I just needed to find that perfect mix of inspiration and palatable price!

My first watch ended up being a deco style tank Benrus that had a black leather strap. It was around $35 (bought at the Rose Bowl Flea Market), which I actually didn’t mind spending on, especially since they were the perfect proportions for my small wrists. The loved the face design and liked that even had a small seconds timer. It felt elegant and along the lines of the vintage 30s-40s watches I had seen, just without the brand name and price. Unfortunately, it and another vintage watch I bought the following month both broke, and I don’t have pictures of them.

Luckily for horology (as if the hobby was waiting for little ol me), I wasn’t discouraged for long. I’m not going to go into all the details of each individual purchase, but just know that I actually started to enjoy buying watches, even if that elation was never as big enough as purchasing a low vamp Alden or a soft shouldered sportcoat.

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I eventually found a Gruen tank (this time from eBay), that ran a bit slow. I ended up spending over $100 to get it overhauled and fixed, but it became my go-to dress watch, being a delightful piece that played with my 30s-midcentury ivy looks and subverted more casual milsurp/workwear attire. This theme eventually gave way to me purchasing a Timex Marlin (technically it was a Christmas present from my parents) that was my somber dress watch, as it was silver and had a black strap. Finally, to round out my formal watches, I inherited my paternal grandfather’s Omega De Ville, which has gold face and a two toned bracelet.

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Eventually, I knew that I wanted to expand my small collection with something a bit fun, akin to the novel ties or colorful socks I wear. It was almost like a knicknack, something I didn’t mind buying from time-to-time and one that I preferred be vintage and quirky. I was already covered with the standard “dress watches” and needed to stand out.

I didn’t want to go too hard into Swatch territory (I’m not that much of a fanboy), but one of my best worn watches is a 1980s white, clear face Swatch given to me by the stylish Stephon during his random trip to LA a few years ago. Its sturdy and runs on a cheap battery, so it rapidly became my go-to when I was breaking out of wearing my deco watch all the time. I later eBayed a Swatch with a yellow case juxtaposed against a more classic face. It came with a black leather strap (a replacement from the original), so this became a perfect alternative to a formal watch.

There are a few more novelty Swatches that fill up my eBay list, like the elusive space one, but my other fun watches were ones that were quite random and impulsive. I ended up getting a red Snoopy baseball watch after seeing my friend Michael wear his yellow Charlie Brown one . During my Japan trip, my literal last purchase was a plastic Doraemon child’s watch (I have small wrists) found in the Haneda airport. That, and a thrifted Lorus Goofy watch that literally runs backwards, were my main favorites to wear across a variety of outfits. They really are delightfully silly.

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I love the classic numerals on this. Makes it feel “formal” despite it’s plastic goodness.
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This has a rather large case/face size, but I love it because it’s fun.
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I don’t really have much to say about how I wear watches since most of my “thought” goes into crafting the outfit itself. While a watch can subvert or play into certain vibes, I tend to simply pick the watch last. I could be wearing my Ascot Chang suit and on the way out the door, decide between the Marlin or the Doraemon watch. As you can see in the pictures, I tend to err on the side of subversion, wearing my fun watches most often. My most recent “trend” has been to wear that two-toned De Ville- the gaudy 70’s inspiration still perseveres!

It really is an afterthought, but I have noticed that people compliment the watch more than the fit (though to be honest, who is really going to notice my soft shoulders and patch pockets). Obviously, as we came to conclude in the podcast, watches aren’t really chosen on how they are going to be worn with style (as many guys who aren’t into fashion can be huge horologists), but for me, the overall aesthetics and how a watch can juxtapose an outfit definitely plays a part.

There aren’t a lot of photos of me simply because I mainly forget to wear a watch! And when I do, it isn’t even visible in my fit pics!

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My Doraemon watch is usually worn with rugged ivy.
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The Goofy watch has a black band and silver case, so I like using it at my quirky “dress” watch.
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This uses the “dress” Swatch.
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Jason’s Swatch.
Aldous’s Omega.
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Producer Matt’s watch.
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Spencer’s dream watch, found at the RRL on Melrose.
Spencer’s watches. He only has two (as the others you may see in this essay are broken).
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My two tone Omega for a very extra outfit. I don’t give a damn if it’s not appropriate for black tie.
Nguyen’s Marlin.
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Not usually a fan of matching colors, but I did like how my red NATO strap for my Snoopy watch worked with my rugby. It was fun!
Shane’s Seiko.
He also has a Datejust. I do like that cream face!
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The pop of my white Swatch is fun!
Aldous’s watches.
Gotta love a good tank. Perfect for dressy vintage vibes.
A bit busy for me, but very interesting nonetheless.
We discuss how we love this vintage watch aesthetic on the podcast. Aldous certainly has a great collection!
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A Japanese inspired look with a Japanese watch!
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TJ’s Tudor.
LEO’s watch.
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Matt Hranek’s “Pepsi”(?) watch at his event at the Bloke.
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Philip’s Swatch. Love the juxtaposition against the denim western shirt.
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Aram of 2120 shows off his vintage watch.
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Marlin with my brown suit.
Henrik’s Seiko.
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Field watches.
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Axel’s watch.
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Spencer got this from the Vague Watch Company. It’s inspired by the 1930’s Rolex Bubblebacks I posted earlier.
He also found this women’s Seiko diver (ref 2205-0769) at Vintage Productions.
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Goofy watch at Dapper Day!

Conclusion

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All guys who aren’t that into watches, but kinda like them anyway.

Don’t forget to listen to the podcast!

I’m not sure I’ll ever be as much of a watch guy as Mark Cho, Aldous, or any of my countless colleagues and acquaintances in menswear (quick shoutout to Shane). As watch signifies the last thing you put on, perhaps I can’t justify a “proper” watch until my wardrobe stabilizes completely (which is against my entire concept of clothing). Sure, I may collect them and own more than I ever thought I did, but they really just don’t have the same feeling as commissioning a new jacket or finding a vintage OCBD.

It may also be that collecting is a rather serious title, especially in horology circles (I’ve heard countless stories about Blamo discussions on watches) and a serious hobby requires serious investment, like Grand Seikos and Rolexes. This could be traced to my own arrogant view of menswear, where perhaps a guy buying H&M isn’t considered to be at the same level as a sack-jacket wearer; the fact I said that makes me feel quite bad and is probably a good thing that I’m not a true watch guy or at least not a meme of it.

If you’ve listened to the episode of Handcut Radio, you’ll know that there are guys like Justin Hast who dislike the snobbery around watches. And it’s clear from our conversation with Aldous that there are definitely guys who realize its silly to lust after overly expensive watches or that price/heritage doesn’t make a good timepiece; sometimes we just like what we like and as that mantra has guided my menswear journey, it should definitely guide my view on watch collecting.

I’m not saying that I’m into the fashion watches peddled every by Youtubers in every video, but I do think I lack the enthusiasm and commitment that is typical of a real watch collector/enthusiast. For now, I’m certainly fine with my watches, both vintage-deco and novelty, and I rather do like the juxtaposition against my outfits, however slight they may be. I don’t even match the leather to my shoes!

That being said, after talking with Aldous and Spencer through that podcast episode, it is clear that I do have an aesthetic interest in a few watches. I at least know what designs and qualities I like, whether it is a deco design to a small face/case size. I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my collecting, but I can actually feel myself starting to like the datejust or wondering what a decent diver (that fulfills my aesthetic taste) would be like.

It’ll be a weird journey for sure, as I know I don’t want to just default to a nice Seiko or Timex. All I know is that the blog will officially be over when I start posting the “watch + steering wheel” picture. You can feel free to cancel me then.

Maybe as you guys read this, you’ll be inclined to wear fun watches with classic menswear. Or maybe you’ll go the opposite direction and start DM-ing Aldous, staying up late to go through Hodinkee and discussing the dream reference numbers to get when you’ve made it in your career.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

Thanks for listening and reading along! Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.

The Podcast is produced by MJ and Matthew.

Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics):  Seth Peterson, Austin Malott, Eric Hall, Philip Gregard, and Shane Curry.

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