Watch Passion Smackdown! Enthusiast Collectors Meet Journalists
As our regular readers know by now, my role here at Quill & Pad is to share my perspectives as an enthusiast collector, someone who both loves watches and has the good fortune to own some of his favorites.
But is that perspective different from, or even superior to, the ones that non-collector bloggers and professional watch journalists bring to bear?
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a lively exchange with a number of friends on just that topic, and as it became very interesting, I’ve decided to share an abridged version of it with you.
Participants in our virtual panel discussion included:
HT: Kevin “Hororgasm” Tan, Independent forum co-moderator and Southeast Asia community manager at PuristsPro, noted collector, and patron of independent watchmaking
BP: Boris Pjanic, blogger at watchesandart.com
AL: Andrew Luff, Hublot forum moderator at PuristsPro and noted collector, known for his selection of unique pieces featuring orange-colored highlights
EH: Edwin Heusinkveld, A. Lange und Söhne forum co-moderator at TimeZone.com and collector specialized in A. Lange & Söhne watches
JF: Jack Forster, editor-in-chief, Revolution USA
SW: Suzanne Wong, editor-in-chief, Revolution Asia
JM: Joshua Munchow, Resident “Nerdwriter,” Quill & Pad
IS: Ian Skellern, co-founder, Quill & Pad; watch industry digital marketing professional; journalist, photographer, blogger
And, of course, yours truly, GG
GG: Hey, watch pals, I suspect that it has long been that there is a community of watch enthusiasts and collectors that transcends any single forum, site, or publication, but I’ve only recently had the privilege of experiencing it as a bit of an insider and I’m finding it a blast. Instead of worrying about which forum, publication, or profession, it’s all about the people, the dialogue, the makers, the photos, and of course the watches. Great fun!
PB: Great point, Gary! It’s wonderful to know true watch lovers who span the globe – all bonded by this wonderful common denominator that is watches.
HT: Truth is we all enjoy horology and the path to collection. Whether forum-based, blog-based or social media-based. I am more concerned with us being collectors first and foremost. And as a group, I humbly opine we must bring our collective views to bear on brands and independents, on the need to create value for us to continue pursuing this hobby.
I hate to sound like St. John the Baptist, but if we could all collectively harp on this and bring about some rationalization and effect, I think we will have accomplished something substantial in our horological lives.
AL: Horo, I agree with you: there are bigger issues than just writing/reading about new releases and how wonderful watch brands are. With collectors, the love for watches and sharing is what brings us together and makes us a stronger voice on the important issues you raise.
The problem is with most friends now being somehow connected with the industry, it is difficult to hear objective opinions. When did you last read an honest review on a watch that everyone agrees is a dog or the service given by watch brands?
BP: Andrew, that is unfortunately a good point. Most forums or blogs are not really independent anymore; they must make money and get paid by the brands. In forums everything gets censored that is not matching their idea of what they like to read. Although my blog is independent and I do not get paid by any brand, I am still cautious. I am also a collector and I really deeply love watches.
EH: Not all forums are created equal, Boris! But in general, I agree with you: it is easy for forums and blogs to lose objectivity.
AL: Independence is a difficult thing, Boris. If brands are paying for flights, hotels, giving gifts, banners, discounts, advertising, etc., it is difficult to be objective, as most brands will only give these things for long if you continue to write good things. Most blogs and forums would like to think they are independent and exercise freedom of speech, but it is just a dream for most.
JF: Complete independence and objectivity is really impossible and I’m not sure in its pure form if it’s even desirable. What I want from a watch writer or, really, any consumer journalist is depth of knowledge and a real editorial perspective – the expression of their passion for their subject, not an expression of objectivity. It’s a different animal from straight news reporting and the value proposition for the reader is different.
I do think the watch industry is becoming more acclimated to honest criticism, but it’s a slow process. I think those of us who write about watches for a living do also have an obligation to be careful to not impose our own tastes too much on our readers.
BP: Jack, an interesting point about personal preference in watch taste and insisting on your own taste in writing. That is obviously not a good way to write. The watch industry does seem to face some changes at the moment, however, and that is something no one really is writing about. Not sure why?
GG: My beef is with so-called “watch journalists,” who six months ago were writing about food or fashion, don’t buy watches, don’t love watchmaking, but do want to go heli-skiing in Verbier and then remind us about how “journalistic” they are.
JF: Hmm. So buying is equal to appreciation and knowledge?
GG: No, but that’s part of the crux of the “enthusiast collector” topic for me. I do believe that having to decide whether to plunk one’s own funds down on a piece gives a different, and very real, perspective on value that is different from, “I really like it and if I had the money…”
I am not suggesting that people whose primary role in the horo-ecosystem is reportage are any more or less authentic than those who primarily collect and perhaps occasionally write!
JF: The entire practice of art criticism is based on something other than the ability to acquire, of course. In fact, the most interesting criticism I’ve ever been exposed to is not based on the concept of ownership. You could just as easily argue that having the means to buy, and having a dog in the game in terms of cost and investment value, is at least as distorting as any of the other perquisites you instance.
GG: Fair enough! Really, Jack, I think we actually agree on the point that money does not make the insightful fellow – honest. My only point is that from time to time, exactly the biases that an enthusiast collector builds up by having dogs in the game can make for interesting perspectives, as long as they are coupled with a modicum of subject matter knowledge and a healthy dose of passion.
SW: First of all, thank you, Gary, for articulating what I’m sure many of us often feel – happy and validated to be part of a community that doesn’t care about artificial boundaries and labels. The good thing about disagreements and differences in opinions, no matter how hotly presented, is that they all come from the same place: a place of passion and deep emotional and mental investment. Perhaps that’s the kind of investment that we’re really discussing here, rather than the financial sort – although clearly in very many cases they’re not mutually exclusive.
I have to say that objectivity is not something I desperately reach for in my writing, because it would be ludicrous for me to pretend that I don’t appreciate some watches more than I do others. My role as a journalist is to help readers in forming their opinion, something that they can only do by trying various legitimate opinions on for size.
Obviously I can, and do, appreciate and write about watches that are not to my personal taste, and plenty of times this has been influenced by the commercial needs of my work. But I don’t think that this constitutes intellectual dishonesty or “selling out.” I think it represents professional discipline.
I suggest we all continue this discussion the next time we’re in the same room with a crate of good wine.
GG: Great thoughts, and great idea, Suzanne – I will very happily lock myself into a room with this bunch anytime to continue our dialogue!
JF: Gary, you know in all fairness, you do have a point; ownership and actively collecting does involve a kind of engagement and decision-making process that offers a perspective you don’t get from being, so to speak, a museum-goer. And God knows there is flaccid, sloppy coverage of watches just as there is for anything else.
HT: Jack, we all know there is no black or white. So what defines a “connoisseur” and gives him [or her! –ed] the legitimacy to cast an opinion? I agree with you that ownership adds a certain perspective on the watch, but I disagree with your weighting of the usefulness. I think owning a piece, putting money where one’s mouth is, goes beyond mere short-term access or handling a watch during a photo shoot. It demonstrates a certain conviction.
JM: I find that passion IS the true prerequisite for a more informed opinion, but at the end of the day it can only be opinions. So I say: who cares, we’ll never agree, and let’s just look at some cool watches, talk about other things we enjoy, and be as nerdy as we can. After all, it’s now socially acceptable to be nerdy about a subject, no matter what the subject. And for that I am very happy; the rest is just icing on the cake.
IS: Okay, I’ll add my own two centimes to the discussion as one who is at various, and often simultaneous, times a watch print journalist, a blogger, a collector, an aficionado, a marketing consultant to, and a marketing writer for, brands.
I agree with Jack that pure objectivity when writing about watches doesn’t and cannot exist. We all – journalists, collectors, and interested parties alike – simply offer opinions based on what we know, what we personally like, what we feel and if we got out of bed in a good mood. And readers either like/respect our opinions and/or the way they are expressed, or they don’t.
Watch journalists and bloggers generally get paid little, but are treated like royalty by brands with luxury trips and hotels with great food and wine. And having done a few of these junkets myself (see Polo: The Sport Of Kings, And Thanks To Richard Mille, Yours Truly) I can say the pandering doesn’t usually make up for the long hours involved and any journalist or blogger writing cloyingly on a regular basis would quickly lose their reputation and audience.
One of the hardest articles I ever wrote was many years ago: I was told I could write whatever I wanted, and that stumped me. When I mentioned this to a friend he said, “Why don’t you just write about why you like watches?” My first line became: “What do I like about watches? Nothing.” Then I basically went on to explain that it wasn’t so much the watches but the people and stories behind them. And I’m happy to say that many of those people are participating in this discussion and I feel honored to be part of this little community. Thank you.
GG: And, my thanks to all of the friends who participated in this discussion, whether you made it into the final edit or not!