One of my favourite quasi-apocryphal watch tales goes like this: There’s a guy who, for lack of anything better or more pressing to do with his life, decides to yacht-hop his way from home to Australia. Somewhere along the way, his watch (a Rolex, natch) is lost at sea.
Upon mooring his boat, said sailor runs a comb through his sun-bleached locks, dons his finest T-shirt, shorts and shoes (perhaps Crocs, though hopefully not), and makes his way to the nearest Rolex boutique. Said boutique, in the manner of snooty, apocryphal boutiques everywhere, treats the intrepid traveller with disdain. The traveller, with the means and freedom to sail his yacht around the globe without a care in the world, navigates his way to another retailer and, in true Pretty Woman style, plonks down cash for a solid gold Yacht-Master (natch).
I’m sure you’ve heard this story, or a local variant of it, before. It’s a good one. And even if the tale didn’t really happen, there’s a kernel of truth in there. Don’t judge people on their appearances. Not only is it bad sales in an age where streetwear reigns supreme, it’s also generally a not nice thing to do. A little while ago, Cam wrote a light-hearted little tale about his obsessive wrist checking, and how he makes some snap judgements about the wearer based on whether the watch is a Daniel of the Wellington or Roth variety.
On the one hand, I completely get this, and make similar evaluations myself, especially with watches. Depending on the watch, it can be a convenient marker of like-mindedness, an indication of a shared interest in this weird, anachronistic world. More often, though, watches are used to signal status. But that’s where, for me, this whole ‘judging people on what they wear’ thing gets complicated. First of all, it’s important to remember that superficial indicators of wealth and status are, by definition, wrist deep. On the one hand, bajillionaires don’t really have anything to prove, so wearing a quadruple tourbillon crafted from the whiskers of dreams and unicorn tusk are of limited appeal. Don’t believe me, here’s a list of people with deep pockets who don’t feel the need to flash their cash in that way. It also cuts the other way, too. If you need to puff yourself up, a big, solid gold watch is a great way to do it — in some cases, the watch might not even be real! But before you get too comfortable thinking that all the real players wear Casio and the posers are dropping big figures on wrist candy, there’s another level to consider – maybe the person wearing the watch cares not one whit what other people think about their watch, and what it says about their place in the world. Maybe they’re wearing that Apple Watch because they care about tracking their steps, or a diamond-studded Hublot because it was a gift from their loved one. The next day that same person could be wearing a Daniel Wellington because they like how it looks. You just don’t know. Which is precisely my point.
The possibly-real snooty sales guy from the apocryphal story above made a judgement. A judgement that they would have made hundreds or thousands of times before. I’m sure a lot of the time that judgement was valid, but in this case it was off the mark. And, aside from generally being a not nice thing to do, this decision had an impact — sailing chap probably felt a bit crappy, and sales guy lost a sale.
Watches can be great conversation starters, and people often have cool stories behind what they wear on their wrist. For me, that’s one of the best things about them (that and the fact they usually tell the time). The thing is, though, a great watch is no reliable indicator of a great story, and vice versa, and once you start thinking like that it’s a short trip to snob town. And nobody wants that.