Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Confessions of a Watch Collector

I have 41 watches I wear regularly. Yes, forty-one. Two wrists--only one of which bears a watch--and forty-one watches.
I spent some time trying to decide the difference between a collector and an addict, and, well... I'm not sure there is one. There isn't a Watches Anonymous, so I suppose that's one difference. I have been asked--somewhere around watch #12 why I collect watches. My answer was, "I can't afford to collect cars."

It all began when I bought my first self-winding watch when I was a kid. I was a Cub Scout and there was a Scout Show. For every 5 tickets I sold, I could win a Scout Buck. I sold a lot of Scout Show tickets. Really a lot. I had a hundred Scout Bucks when the show was done.

I bought a Boy Scout watch. Self-winding, Timex. I thought it was cool. At the age of 10, having a watch at all was pretty cool. Having one that wound itself--in a day when no one had a battery watch--was really cool. I wore that watch from 5th grade through college. The only reason I don't have it anymore is that I noticed the words "water resistant" on it when I was in Florida on spring break and decided that meant I could wear it swimming.

I was right. I could wear it. It was full of water when I got out of the pool, but I had worn it.

I hummed taps when I pitched it. Gave it a Scout salute. I've searched for another one like it, but there aren't many around. As you've probably guessed, Boy Scouts aren't easy on watches.

Then, although I looked for more self-winding watches, I spent the next 20+ years caught in the World of Quartz watches. It's a good world--they're accurate, and inexpensive, available in every price range, and...boring. Yes, I said boring! I don't like that lurching one-second-at-a-time movement of the second hand. I don't like that they're lightweight. I don't like that the battery dies when you least expect it. I don't like that the ones at the drug store counter are just as accurate as any in the world.

I want a machine on my wrist. In 2005, I decided it was time to find another self-winding watch. I had some trouble. No one had called them "self-winding" for a long time. Why would they? Few people needed to wind a watch. Quartz watches don't need to be wound. There's no spring. There's only a battery. Boring!

In 2010, I found an "automatic"--post quartz apocalypse wording for "self-winding" that I liked. It's made by Seiko, and it isn't humongous like some of the watches sold today. I bought it for $65. It was blue.
...and that's when the trouble started. The same watch also came in tan, green, and black. Yes, I bought all of them. Four watches, two wrists, and only one wrist wears a watch.

I could have stopped there. Trouble is, in saving my money to buy those watches, I noticed several others that I liked. I discovered that Russians make watches, mechanical watches. So...soon I had 4 styles of the Vostok Kommanderski. They're Russian handwinders, cheaply made, but modeled on Swiss watches.

I got tired of saving money to buy watches, but I was also getting tired of looking at the watches I had. I started buying different leather straps to put on my watches. The lady at the local jewelry store got tired of me having her put different straps on my watches. I'm not one to push myself on others, so I bought a spring bar tool and learned to change my watch straps by myself. That was an error. Now I have a drawer full of watch straps and I switch them around when I get bored.

Then my wife gave me some money, and I got some money from my Dad for my birthday. By then I had my eye on some Bulova watches that were automatic... Bought one. Bought another. Then I found another on Amazon's warehouse deals...

I discovered that Orient makes Japanese automatic watches. They're very accurate, come in lots of styles, and if you look for great deals, you can find them. They have lots of models in lots of price ranges. I started buying them.

...Then, after being chided by my very understanding wife for keeping my watches in a desk drawer when not on my wrist, I bought a nice box to hold my watches.

That was a problem, too. The watch box holds 20 watches, and I didn't have 20 watches.

Can't have a blank space in a watch box. Unheard of! Nature, they say, hates a void.

So... I set about finding cool watches to fill my watch box.

I should have stopped at 20 watches. That's one very nice box full of nice watches. Did I stop? No. Hell, I bough another box that holds 20 watches...but when I first got it, it had 19 empty spaces.

Less than a year later, I filled that box with 20 watches. Most people wouldn't have filled it, and many would have stopped when they filled it.

I didn't. When I had 22 watches and a box that held 20 watches, I bought another box. Guy logic at its finest.

Insane? Hell...uh...in a word? Duh. Yes! Collections are insane! I'm fine with that, by the way.

In the midst of all of that, when my mother-in-law passed away, I was given some of her father's watches. Only one of them worked--a vintage Glycine Airman, a Swiss watch favored by pilots. It started ticking when I picked it up--after sitting in a basement, untouched, for 20 years. That thing is accurate within 30 seconds a day, even though it was new in 1968.

Swiss! If you've ever wondered why Swiss watches cost so much, it's because they really are that good.

That meant I had not one, but two bugs. I wanted a new Swiss watch. Finally, around Christmas this year, I bought one. It's a beauty. The Hamilton Khaki King. I bought the black one on Amazon for $360. Unfortunately, it also comes in tan... That one cost me $380.


I fell in love with Hamilton watches. The company has American roots--American designs--and is now part of the Swatch Group, and they're Swiss. Swiss AND American!

I had to save up for a couple of months to buy it, but I bought this one...for $700. It will run for the rest of my life...and probably the life of whoever gets it when I go to that watchmaker in the sky.

The only real problem with buying that blue watch is that it's watch #42. I have two boxes that hold 20 watches each, and...I found some more that I like. I'm going to need another watch box soon...and I like the ones that hold 20 watches, so...

One of the nice things about these machines I wear is that they won't die. Unlike quartz watches, the movements inside don't wear out like quartz movements. They can be maintained and repaired as long as parts are available.

Someday, I'll kick the bucket... My watches won't. Attendees at my funeral will be asked to check the bottom of their chair. If there's a sticker, they can choose a watch from my collection. That's my plan.