Vintage Watch Snobbery AKA How I Met Your Mother (Reprise)
“That’s a very nice watch you are wearing, young man.”
I lift my eyes from the newspaper I was reading to turn to the voice that obviously wanted my attention. On the terrace of the café in a little village in Provence off the French Riviera – where under a gentle spring sun I was drinking my morning espresso – I saw that it was an elegantly attired gentleman in his sixties hailing me.
He was obviously enthusiastic about the idea of finally meeting another vintage watch fan. We immediately began excitedly chatting about the exquisite “cow horn” lugs that secure the strap to the 1950s Vacheron Constantin Reference 6087 chronograph on my wrist.
“Good morning, Papa,” I heard a few minutes later. I turned to see where this gentle voice originated and found myself thunderstruck! Standing before my eyes was the most perfect of God’s creatures, a wonderful mix of Audrey Hepburn and Penelope Cruz. I think my heart skipped a beat, and I heard the chimes of every single minute repeater Patek Philippe had ever created – all chiming at exactly the same time!
Six months later the gentle creature and I were married.
This extraordinary story reflects the marvelous world of vintage watches: finding the rare bird, linking it to a story, and never letting it go.
Being passionate about mechanical horology in an era where time is available on just about every electronic appliance can seem anachronistic – especially when every Cassandra of the modern world has predicted the death of mechanical horology with the arrival of the Apple Watch. But preferring the subdued and somewhat outmoded charm of wristwatches made at a time when running water was a luxury can be considered by some pure provocation.
I guess one word can sum up the attraction to vintage timekeepers: snobbery!
I’m not talking about the vain, ostentatious type of snobbery that we see far too often, but rather the personal search of an impassioned collector looking for authenticity, confidentiality, and aesthetics.
Let me explain: we live a strange period in time in which the aficionado doesn’t know where to turn his head . . . or wallet. We are assaulted by ads praising the merits of marvelous timepieces made by Swiss virgins under the full moon of the Jura mountains on Christmas Eve by a brand that has been around since the Neolithic period. And of course this craftsmanship, whose process remains akin to that of the used by the brand’s founding fathers, is offered at a price that would make your black diamond, platinum-coated Amex card turn green!
So instead of buying a contemporary watch made “like before,” why shouldn’t our WIS friend turn to a watch of yesteryear handmade in very limited numbers bearing the pleasurable patina of time? Thus, it is also a watch with a story to tell.
Is there anything more exciting than wearing a vintage watch knowing that no one will be wearing the same timepiece as you to the black-tie party you are attending? Isn’t it even more thrilling when with a distant air you explain to the beautiful creature sitting next to you that you’re wearing a Breguet pocket watch made for Queen Marie-Antoinette?
In one sentence you would show your taste for the finer things in life and your position toward conformity. Now, that’s class (“swag” to our younger readers).
Later that evening, while conversing with the same delicious Bo Derek lookalike, you can describe your vintage collection of timepieces, while occasionally dropping in things like having auctioned part of your collection at Christie’s to finance the preservation of a few Venetian palazzos as a patron.
Chances are that the individual she came to the party with wearing that massive watch iced with a few ostentatious jewels will end up going home alone after you’re done explaining what good taste looks like.
Vintage snobbery, as you now might understand, is not only about an attraction for beautiful things in general (and beautiful women in particular). It is also a free thinker’s private and poetic approach to immunity toward marketing discourse and imposed trends. The vintage watch snob is someone who refuses to be part of the system; if Sid Vicious were still among us, he would certainly be a lover of vintage watches.
The vintage aficionado is in a way the ultimate rebel. Just make sure you’re not so rebellious that you don’t take the time to talk to an old man or you may miss out on a delightful creature of a fully different sort.
* This article was first published on May 13, 2015 at Vintage Watch Snobbery Or How I Met Your Mother.