A Different Type of Collecting
An organizing principle is considered a requirement to distinguish a collection from a mere assortment of objects. This book explores the author’s collection of watches from the French Navy, or Marine Nationale. Many books in this space attempt an introduction with a historical overview of the watches. This book instead describes the author’s collection of French Naval watches in roughly chronological order. Important material about the authentication of the watches and other collector topics are embedded in the description of the watches themselves. In medical education, in addition to textbooks which address topics in a systematic way, a key portion is what is referred to as “case reports.” These are descriptions of interesting or unusual medical cases which illustrate the how of medicine rather than just the facts. I always found case reports to be interesting and educational, and I can say the same of a similar format for this book.
Another notable feature of this book is that it is an introduction to a different type of collecting. In our buyer’s guides here at Beyond the Dial, we put a lot of emphasis on originality, authenticity, and above all, condition. Military watch collecting is a different pursuit in that the main purpose is not the object in itself per se but rather the connection to the military. The story or journey of the watch as a military item takes precedence over other considerations. Military watches also were treated as the ultimate tool where pragmatism and function were key. Therefore, relumed dials, replaced hands, replaced crowns, and mismatched parts while not authentic to the watch, are authentic to the journey of a military watch. It was interesting for me to explore a type of collecting which emphasizes a very different set of considerations than my own.
The book itself is more of a glossy magazine. It is published through a self-publishing website called Blurb.com. I was surprised that it came in this format. I am not sure how much more a hardcover book format would have cost and I would have preferred it for the durability. However, I think the content is important enough to buy this magazine at the price of a book. The illustrations are excellent and the magazine is high quality enough that the reading experience does not suffer.
I was interested to see that the book covered a wide variety of French Naval watches rather than only the Tudor Submariners which have received the lion’s share of attention since the release of the Black Bay 58 Navy Blue. The pieces range from marine chronometers to G-shocks. Tudor, of course, is well-represented. Provenance is the key inclusion criteria for the collection so the diversity represents watches that can be authenticated as genuine onetime French Naval assets.
One of the most interesting sections to me was how provenance is established. There are a variety of methods such as caseback engravings, extracts from the archives, serial number, decommission papers, and service marks. The author also describes the existence of detailed service records for French Naval records maintained by Yves Pastre and how one can write to one of the people who owns a copy and pay a fee to correlate the serial number and service marks with the service record. This seems to be the gold standard for verifying that the watch is a genuine French Navy piece and sometimes provides some other interesting information such as what unit received the watch. The interest in establishing provenance is further underscored by some watches which had questionable links to the French Navy and are described as having “left the collection.”
I was particularly interested to see that the service records sometimes mention that certain parts were changed by Mr. Pastre himself. For example, a part from another brand might be used to maintain the function of the watch rather than using a genuine OEM part. Again, the story of the watch is key rather than the constituent components of the physical object itself.
The book also delves into some related topics such as diving watch patents, posters and advertising, and other French collectibles such as luggage. Mostly, however, the focus remains on the watches. Rather than detract from the watches, the asides to me represent a collector sharing some aspects of his collection which give some framing and context and give the book a conversational feeling.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. The thoughtful presentation of the watches with good discussion and illustrations was refreshing and could only come from the mind of a collector. I appreciated the change from either a superficial glossing over of the watches or an overly didactic approach which are both common in this space. I hope this book inspired more watch collectors to share their collections in a thoughtful, considered way.