On The Face Of It
But a watch’s role as a signifier goes beyond demographic diagnosis and character type. Wristwatches – those celebrated within these pages, at least – denote discernment, passion and knowledge, and encountering a person with equal knowledge of, and passion for, an esoteric subject will always produce volcanic surges of passion: hence, horological geeks are as happy comparing George Daniels’ Co-axial escapement and Abraham Louis-Breguet’s shock-protection for balance pivots as Beatles buffs are discussing the baroque speeded-up piano solo in In My Life.
And, they prompt more than just horological talk: the other clues a watch can offer about a person’s life, background or raison d’être can often spark wider conversation, too. An antique watch, in particular, contains as much rich personal narrative as an 11th-century Occitanian troubadour’s lute, hence its enduring suitability as an heirloom (especially in the event of owners having been, literally, in the wars – as parodied with ribald hilarity in the famous Pulp Fiction scene starring Christopher Walken). The acquaintance-making power a watch can pack is neatly illustrated by an anecdote from Stephen Bayley: “I was having lunch at The Goodwood Revival this year, more-or-less minding my own business and chatting to my wife, when we were gently interrupted by a distinguished old boy in tweeds who said very solemnly: ‘You have very good taste in wristwatches.’
“My new Rolex Explorer II – one which replaced a much-loved older one stolen in Sicily last spring – had caught his eye, just as the designers intended. It turned out he was one of the FIA’s commission on safety standards on motor-racing circuits. Admiring his patinated old Explorer, I asked if he had any other watches. He told me he kept an old Heuer in his travelling bag: ‘Just in case.’ The period use of the name ‘Heuer’, from before the TAG take-over, evoked nicely his antique interest in motorsports timekeeping, which just goes to show how the mere sight of a good watch can stimulate conversation.”