Editor’s note: For a tiny bit of context … NOT ON MY WATCH is about the things we don’t like on a watch. It’s pretty self-explanatory as a column, but the reason we’re indulging our gripes on Time+Tide is that this is a safe place to do so. In the wider world, explaining that asymmetrical sub-dials, or bund straps cause you great distress can sometimes come off as trivial or trite. Of all the issues in the world to complain about, you’re choosing cabochon crowns? Especially during a pandemic! But not here. We understand. And, regardless of what else is happening in the world, Nick will still loathe date windows on dress watches. So, over to you Nick…
Mechanical watches today are largely pointless. Anyone who tells you different simply isn’t telling the whole Babe Ruth. We no longer need them for telling the time, thanks to the omnipresent digital displays of our smartphones and laptops. We hardly use our chronograph functions or that second time zone (let’s face it: most of us only leave the country once or twice a year, at most). Yet once we accept this reality that our watches are of limited functional use, we begin to scratch the surface of why we’re so attracted to them in the first place.
A friend summed it up fairly well to me once, with a line that rings as corny as it does profound: “You don’t wear a watch to tell the time, you wear a watch to tell someone who you are.” This strikes closer to the crux of the motivation behind watch collecting. Your watch is an extension of your own personality, and an aesthetic and intellectual signpost on your wrist. You might be more design-orientated or tech-minded or even lust after some bling as an extension of your high-fashion, low-rent lifestyle. But no matter your horological focus, a watch is a (circa) 40mm circular mirror on your wrist that cannot help but reflect something about your tastes and preferences.
Why then would you want to wear a dress watch with a date window? Date windows ruin any hope for a balanced and symmetrical dial, causing the watch to have a visual limp, as though in need of a walking cane. Even positioned at 6 o’clock, a date window will disrupt the cleanliness of a dial, weighing it down like an ankle-attached parole bracelet and forcing you to wonder what this watch had done to deserve this. Unlike the purpose-built utilitarianism found in tool watches, dress watches are form over function, proportion over practicality, and first and foremost strive for aesthetic perfection. Such goals are unreachable in the presence of a dial aperture.
Changing tack for a moment, there’s a thought experiment you should try called the Eternal Return (thanks Nietzsche). In this experiment you imagine that the universe in all its different possible combinations is recurring infinitely into the past, and will continue to recur for eternity. When you imagine that you have lived your current life an infinite number of times into the past, and will re-live it in an endless succession of Groundhog Days, the task is to then ask yourself, “Is this a life I would be happy to do that in?” This thought experiment adds gravitas to your every decision. Would you be happy to work the same job, watch the same reality TV? Collect the same watches? Surely not if your dress watches had date windows.
When compiling your hypothetical “forever” watch collection, design should stay at the forefront of your consideration. Even in today’s landscape of the most desirable watches in the world, such as the Patek Philippe ref. 1518, the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain, or the Swatch Skinera, the balance, symmetry and proportions of each watch are so perfect as to be self-evident. No matter your dress watch budget, the importance of proportions should remain similarly critical. If the Eternal Return teaches us anything, it is that you’d better make good decisions in your watch collecting, just in case you live with them forever (literally).
An excellent example of a beautifully balanced dress watch is the new IWC Portugieser Automatic 40. No date, a large small seconds sub-dial and ample negative space on the dial. It could easily serve as a yardstick for a well-proportioned piece of watchmaking design that will age well.
In half a century from now, the Portugieser Automatic 40 will still stand up as a well-proportioned piece of watchmaking design. It’s a reminder that classic design will continue to resonate to infinity and beyond. And when something is timeless by its very definition, you don’t need the date.