Book Review: ‘The Watch Annual’ 2020, For Watch Lovers By Watch Lovers
The inaugural edition of The Watch Annual came out just before Christmas 2020.
Initiated and brought to fruition by Justin Hast and James Allen, the project had been planned as something else before reaching its final form.
“It’s funny,” Hast emailed me from his home in London when I asked about his inspiration for the project, “we actually had the idea to produce a watch city guide (which we completed), but in mid-February we realized it wasn’t a year for travel! So we had to pivot.”
Hast, who I have known for a few years, is one of those really genuine people in the watch world and has long been a lover of beautiful books. “I was inspired by the books Kristian Haagen has produced with his own photography as well as the great work Only Watch has been doing to raise funds for a worthy cause. We liked the idea of using the year as our framework, but it had to be beautiful, it had to be from the community, and it had to give back in some way.”
Lofty goals, attained. Let’s examine how and why.
The Watch Annual 2020: a community project
Hast and Allen had the idea to reach out to media friends in the industry and gauge the response – meaning they did not want to make the choices of the specific watches chosen, nor did they want to use the (often) lifeless stock photography provided by brands.
“Maybe five out of ten will say yes,” Hast responded to my question about how he chose who to approach. “To my horror, everyone said yes. And before we knew it, we had 30! Plus, I contacted a few collectors and photographers whose work I admired. They were kind enough to take a risk on the project. Without them, there wouldn’t be a book! In the end we settled on men and women from Brazil, Germany, Russia, Poland, the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, and a whole bunch more! I love the fact it’s truly international.”
Preferring to ask opinions and specifics of “the community” worked really well for Hast, whose “greatest fear” is “not living authentically.”
When Hast approached me last year about contributing, I didn’t have a moment of hesitation in deciding to provide him original words and photos about one of the most striking watches I had the pleasure to see in 2020, the De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon.
The 172-page book contains 72 watches from a large variety of price points and categories of timepiece (except perhaps quartz) submitted by 40 contributors from 19 different countries – including multiple entries by Hast himself, who is a highly engaging photographer.
Talking about community, Hast explained to me that he has a special relationship with James Allen, the founder of Birch Creative, a full-service graphic design studio in London predominantly working in luxury and fashion. Allen’s background in print and passion for craft combined with Hast’s hunger to create a product the watch world could call their own was the foundation of The Watch Annual. Allen designed and published the book, while Hast was in charge of the editorial and visual content.
“You know in life when you meet someone, and you instantly hit it off?” Hast rhetorically asked me. “Well, that’s kind of what happened with James and I. It is one of those great human experiences. I met him through a mutual friend a few years ago over a coffee and by the end of the chat we said we had to do something together. It was the perfect fit.”
Many of the 40 watch community members have said on Instagram how pleased they are with the result. “Justin has pulled together this amazing collection of photographs in form of a journal and also thought about returning something to the community,” Hong Kong-based watch enthusiast @patpatchu86 remarked on Instagram.
The Watch Annual 2020: the year as a framework
Bonus content includes five entries by CEOs under the heading “My Year.” The five CEOs include François-Henry Bennahmias (Audemars Piguet), Louis Ferla (Vacheron Constantin), Christoph Grainger-Herr (IWC), Nicholas Bowman-Scargill (Fears), and George Bamford (Bamford Watch Department).
“We wanted a spread [of brands] from big to small, independents, and group owned,” Hast explained. “This is a key part of the book – we want this to be an honest take on the year past from a variety of makers. None paid for this, and they never will. It was simply down to who we wanted in for 2020.”
Because I was the editor of Wristwatch Annual for many years, a title like The Watch Annual signifies something like a year’s market overview to me. Perhaps that’s why I found the title unusual here – the The Watch Annual is not a market overview but rather specific pickings. So I asked Hast for some explanation.
“Both James and I love simplicity,” he answered. “We really wanted a cover and a name that stood out for its simplicity and bold color, just a beautiful paper and font. We wanted some mystery behind the name, but also wanted it to say everything you needed to know without even opening the cover.
“We settled on The Watch Annual as the name, which to us best encapsulated the ‘best of the year in watches.’ We didn’t want ALL the watches of the year, just the standout launches that provided a good view on the themes of the year. But, crucially, we also wanted to celebrate the styles of images and views on the creations from a varied audience. There are so many people out there who take great shots, who have fascinating points of view, and who don’t get the chance to feel their work in front of them on paper.”
The Watch Annual 2020: giving back
This book is about the watch community, a reflection of social media, the watch fam, and, of course, new watch releases. But it’s also about something else: charity, appreciation, and giving back.
“This year we have all been touched in various ways by the pandemic,” Hast and Allen write on their website. Therefore, they opted to help raise funds for the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation by donating ten percent of the book’s profits to this organization whose singular mission is to protect the welfare and wellbeing of NHS workers. Its services cover the physical, mental, and day-to-day needs of all NHS staff, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and porters.
The first edition of the book, which began shipping in December 2020, comprised 1,000 copies, each hand numbered. “A self-funded project with no ad revenue, we needed to be cautious,” said Hast regarding the small edition, which has now gone into a second printing of 1,000 copies.
“That said, neither of us expected the support and speed of sell through. Our shipping was a nightmare: with Brexit and Christmas we struggled. But it was all good learning for 2021!”
So, is the duo planning to make this an annual thing? “Hell yeah!” was the enthusiastic answer. “We want it to be a collector must-have. All are individually hand numbered and our goal is to sell copies of the 2020 edition in 2050!”
For more information, please visit www.thewatchannual.com and/or @thewatchannual.
Quick Facts The Watch Annual 2020
Publisher: Birch Publishing
Pages: 172 pages
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