Alan's Vintage Watches
Why I like wristwatches...
Alanwatch Home Page
I am Alan and I live in Chicago. Until a few years ago, I never really seemed to be too interested in what was on my wrist . I was wearing a Timex Indiglo, which in retrospect was horrible. I saw an ad in the paper for a company in New York called 'Torneau,' advertising vintage watches. Prior to this, I had passed by a neighborhood watchmaker's shop several times, and had been curious about the vintage wrist watch display in the window. So I asked Torneau for their catalog, but all they sent me was a catalog of ugly new Rolex and other new watches. By this time, I was quite interested in buying an older watch, so I consulted the internet. I found many sellers, but didn't really have much knowledge. It was a bit of an information overload but really liked the pictures. I ended up buying two watches, both goldtone rectangular 'gent's type' watches from the '40s. They were very nice, but not really my style, and since then my tastes in watches has changed quite a bit.
My first watch ever was in 1970, a mechanical boy's watch, white dial, greenish hands. I remember it had '7 Jewels' on the dial, because I thought it should have visible, decorative jewels on the dial. I was a kid. 

I bought the infamous Texas Instruments red LED in 1977, for $9.99, or $19.99 while in junior high school. It came in a flimsy carton, much like those they sell light bulbs, or pantyhose in. The ultra-low price of this watch, manufactured by a company previously having nothing to do with watches, caused great worry among major watch companies, both in the U.S. and Europe.
I never really thought I'd want more than one or two nice older mechanical watches. It is hard to be rational, or to 'justify' having more than a few watches, but here are some of  the aspects of watch 'collecting' people seem to find appealing.

1. Watches Work: a mechanical wrist watch is a marvellous thing. Housed in fairly small quarters is the works of the watch, the movement. I won't go into detail about it, but it is a fantastic thing.  Over the years various people have devised, refined, and engineered many diverse watch movements, and managed to put them all together into a fairly tight space, to make something that works. I emphasize the working nature of the watch. It does something. It tells you the time, and more, and this is useful. Therefore it is an Immediately Useful Object, not like a baseball card.
2. Watches can be Things of Beauty.  I don't need to elaborate much on this, a few pictures are below.  Aren't they beautiful? This is just a small example of the diversity and beauty which can be found. Text continues below.
Arguably, the watch below might be struggling for any beauty, but I maintain that it has some degree of beauty about it.
3. (1+2) Wrist watches are working things of beauty. The watch sits on your wrist, looks good, and tells you the time. It is a useful object, which is invested with both external and internal beauty. Watches are not just handsome objects, they perform functions which human beings find valuable, and in some cases necessary, on a routine basis. Not many things we wear can make this dual claim. For example neckties might look nice but they are probably one of the most un-helpful and useless things a man can wear.  Or, good waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry, but when was the last time someone complimented you on how nice your rubber waterproof boots looked? Even purple designer Wellies look ridiculous. Watches (can) combine beauty and function.
4. There is tremendous variety in wrist watches.  Just look at the few pictures above, a very small representation. The wrist watch, in some form or another, has been around for a few centuries, maybe four hundred years or so. But for most of this history, pieces were occasional and anecdotal. Wristwatches have only been making much news for about a hundred years, and really didn't 'take off' until the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, many watches have come and gone. Fortunately, many of them are still around. There are many 'variables' which go into the making of a watch, and the combination of these variables makes for an exceedingly good variety to choose from, should you be insane enough in the membrane to want to 'collect' them.

These variables include:

a. Era / time period

b. Case shape and size (round, rect., square, 'cushion,' tonneau, asymmetric...)

c. Case constituency (brass, gold, silver, steel, titanium, plated, other)

d. Power supply
   - Conventional mechanical / wind up
   - Automatic mechanical (many types within this category)
   - Mechanical balance wheel, electric and electronic
   - Electronic tuning fork
   - Electronic quartz
   - 'Kinetic' quartz or 'autoquartz,' solar, other quartz variations, quartz winder.

e. Special Functions or properties
   - Chrongraphs (sub-variations on number of registers, buttons, etc.)
   - Alarm (older mechanical hammer or modern electronic alarm)
   - Moonphase indication
   - Perpetual timekeeping
   - Repeater function (chimes/sounds at designated intervals)
   - Date indications (date alone most common, day, month; year also.)
   - Dual time zone, dual movements
   - Rotating bezels: world time indication, diver, navigational.
   - Tourbillon
   - True 24 hour movements
   - Power reserve indicator
   - Braille dials
   - 'Mega watch' functions (calculator, pulse, athelete functions, etc.)
   - Satellite time synchronization
   - Television, digital camera, internet, beeper, other forms of communication

f. Time indication mode
   - Analog hands: classic watch dial.
   - Digital (mechanical wheels vs. electronic LED/LCD)
   - (Aural: chime/repeater, spoken voice.)
   - (Tactile: at least one watch had a pin which poked your skin as a silent 'repeater.')

g. Dial features, appearance : Here the variability is very great.
   - Constituency: enameled, laquered, painted, guilloche, paper, glass/skeleton, more
   - Color (monochromatic dial, dual/triple color, complex colors)
   - Hours indication: numbers (Arabic or Roman, rarely both), markers, raised/relief, none.
   - Chapters, rings: 13-24 hr. markings, seconds chapter, telemeter, timing chapters.
   - Seconds hand: subsidiary, central, none.
   - Luminous vs. non-luminous hands, hour indices.
   - Company and advertisement logos (some people collect these with a passion bordering        on a kind of low-level mania)
   - Scales for timing: telemetre, tachymetre, others, slide rule geekwatches.
   - Subsidiary dials: chrograph registers
   - Date features
   - Mystery dial features
   - Much more...

h. 'Occupation / Specialty Watches'
   - Pilot / Astronaut
   - Military - many subdivisions, with their specifically designed watches.
   - Doctor / Nurse / Engineer / Rocket Scientist
   - Divers/SAR rescue, Firefighters, Police
   - Track and Sport
   - Driver / Chauffeur
   - Braille watch
   - Frankenwatch

i. Character Watches: cartoon animals and crazy logos, Richard Nixon, etc.

j. Others variations, I am sure I have left a lot out...

5. 'Watches connect us to our past.' This is where it starts to get a bit hokey.  In the right context, they can give a link to history. Just the fact that this mechanism worked for someone in 1940, and still, 60 years later it is working for you, providing the same function it did back then - just this realization, doesen't this somehow on some level keep a connection, even if only symbolic, with the past? Maybe, maybe not, but that's what some will argue. Maybe it is kind of crazy to think like this after all it is just a watch.

There also are some very important watches, both as indivual pieces, and as models in general. They are known mainly for what they permitted the wearers to achieve, including walking the surface of the Moon, crossing the Atlantic by air, and summiting the tallest peak on Earth.  And for the ordinary frenzied salaryman just trying to get a job, it helps him make the morning train and get to his cubicle on time. Watches are important.

6. If you don't collect watches, you might end up collecting something else, which might be far worse than watches.