Superhero Cape (Updated)

So this morning a friend sends me a link to a New York Times article headlined “It’s a ‘Superhero Cape’ for the Wrist.” The lede: “What’s the difference between a watch nerd and a watch snob? Suzanne Wong, an editor, and Lydia Winters, a gaming executive, discuss.”

I’m not a subscriber, so that’s all I can read: the rest is paywalled. Which is why I won’t link to it here. First World frustration, to me, is clicking on a link to something I really want to read only to find I can’t unless I pay up, the equivalent of an urgent visit to a restroom with coin-operated toilet stalls. As a matter of blogging policy, I refuse to inflict that experience on my readers … either one of you.

My current collection of mechanical wristwatches

My father gave me my first wristwatch. We were stationed in Germany and I was 10 or 11. It was a Junghans with hour marks on the dial but no numbers … I was so proud Dad thought I was big enough not to need numbers, which is probably why I remember the watch so well. And wish I still had it!

I’ve been wearing watches ever since. When I joined the Air Force they issued me a pilot’s watch, and for the first time I had more than one to choose from. By the time I retired it was three. Then four. At some point the watches in the dresser drawer became a collection.

I know enough about the watch enthusiast & collector community to guess what the paywalled New York Times article is about. Or not even guess, it’s right there in the lede: “What’s the difference between a watch nerd and a watch snob?”

I call myself an enthusiast. The more I learn about the watches I own and aspire to own, the nerdier I get about it, if by nerd we mean someone who likes to blog about his hobby. Who, every morning, thinks about which watch in his collection he’ll wear that day, then lovingly cleans, winds, and sets it. Who takes wrist selfies to share on Instagram and Facebook. Who has a drawer full of leather straps and metal bracelets to mix and match with the watches. Who keeps said watches in a glass-topped display box. Which he’s already outgrown.

Okay, that pretty solidly puts me in the nerd category. My name is Paul and I’m a watch nerd.

Still, there are nerds way nerdier than me. Who know exactly which model Rolex Sean Connery wore in the first four Bond movies (a Submariner) and have one of their own. Like that. I’m nowhere near that level. I hope.

When I realized I had a collection and not just a bunch of watches, I joined several watch enthusiast groups on Facebook and Reddit. Groups for Timex, Seiko, and Orient lovers; antique and vintage watch collectors; serious hobbyists who modify and customize watches. I quickly discovered certain groups were infested with flippers looking to make a buck, others (r/rolex cough cough) with the worst snobs imaginable. I’ve since cut back: no flippers or snobs for me. I still follow the affordable watch and Seiko/Orient groups and a couple of watch modding forums. A friend modified one of my Seikos for me and now I can say I have a unique piece; we’re discussing building another one from spare and replacement parts, one that’ll be totally my own. Nerdy, huh?

Pretty sure no one could call me a watch snob, though. I have never taken a wrist selfie with an exotic car’s steering wheel in the background, so there. The jewels of my collection are the mechanical watches, all automatics (the kind that stay wound with the motion of the wearer’s wrist). Those are the ones in the photo up above. If I have a superhero cape watch, it’s the Breitling Donna bought me on our 25th anniversary, a middle-range Swiss automatic. The other watches in the photo? Four Seikos and an Orient, only one of which cost more than two hundred bucks, and that one not by much. I also have a few quartz watches, which I love and wear often, but it’s the automatics that have cachet (a milder form of snob appeal), so those are the ones I mostly photograph and post.

Thanks for indulging me. I know I’ve become a bit obsessed with watches, and I appreciate your patience!

Update (6/18/23) A friend with a subscription copied the NYT article to share with me. Here are a few highlights:

  • “A watch nerd uses his or her knowledge to include people and a watch snob uses his or her knowledge to exclude people.”
  • Snobs erect barriers to discourage outsiders from joining the watch community: “You’re only a collector if you collect rare/expensive watches.”
  • The watch community includes a growing number of women: “You don’t need a certain anatomy to wear a men’s watch. It’s not a tampon.”
  • Some manufacturers are responsive to buyers and actually encourage them to propose and vote on new designs (one of my Seikos is a limited edition that resulted from just such a vote).
  • There are trade shows! I’m going to have to start paying attention!
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