Inside man: Why would you wear your watch dial down? Inside man: Why would you wear your watch dial down?

Inside man: Why would you wear your watch dial down?

Luke Benedictus

As an ex-pat who’s lived in Australia for the past 20 years, watching British politics unfold of late has been like watching one of your ex-girlfriends self-harm. Things have rapidly got even more disastrous under the new Prime Minister Liz Truss – barely a month into the role, one newspaper is already describing her as the “queen of the clusterf*ck“.

One particularly ruinous episode last week felt like something out of The Thick Of It. Kwasi Kwarteng, the British chancellor, had already given journalists a preview of his speech for the Conservative Party conference in which he was due to double down on plans to cut the tax rate for Britain’s rich – a move that had gone down with predictable outrage in a nation facing a cost-of-living crisis. Spooked by this dubious policy, the pound had plummeted to a record low. But the sneak peek at Kwarteng’s speech showed the government was committed to the strategy. “We must stay the course,” the chancellor insisted. “I am confident our plan is the right one.”

watch dial down

Until 12 hours later that is, when the government made a dramatic U-turn and ditched the tax cut plans.  That afternoon, a visibly uncomfortable Kwarteng took to the stage at the conference in Birmingham to bluster through his hastily rewritten speech.  This was a hard watch – an exercise in public humiliation. But for watch nerds something else was notable. Kwarteng sweated his way through this deeply unedifying spectacle wearing his timepiece – a Vincero dress watch – face down, so the dial was on the inside of his wrist.

watch dial down

Traditionally, the reasons that men chose to wear their watches dial down often stemmed from the fact that they were involved in some form of rugged, macho pursuit.  People in the military and special forces, for example, regularly wear their watches dial down for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you’re holding a rifle it’s easier to see the time that way. Secondly, if your watch dial is facing inwards then it’s less likely to glint and reflect the light, a move that could potentially give your position away to the enemy.

watch dial down

Many others who work with manual tools – carpenters, builders, mechanics and alike – can also prefer to wear their watch turned in as a precautionary measure.   The dial is more protected in this position and less likely to get clanged or broken during the course of your daily work. Of course, if you’re a desk jockey who spends most of the day tapping away on a laptop, the opposite is true.  Your watch is more likely to get scraped upside down.

Kwarteng’s day-job is more along these white-collar lines. But it’s likely he wore his watch like this during the speech for a very specific reason. If you’re standing before an audience on a podium, you can check the time on an inwardly facing watch far more discretely. And that would have been acutely relevant for Kwarteng here. Having to publicly eat his words while displaying the government’s political illiteracy must have been an excruciating ordeal. Every second he remained onstage would’ve seen more of his credibility disappear. Understandably therefore, Kwarteng would’ve been desperate to scarper offstage as quickly as possible. So he would’ve been anxiously tracking the time with sneaky glances at his wrist.

In this context, wearing a watch this way only added to the prevailing sense of craven duplicity. So as well as helping to tank the British economy, Kwarteng has also managed to undermine what was, up until now, the noble associations of the dial-down watch.  Although right now, let’s face it, he’s got a lot more to worry about than that.