Book Review – The Watch, Thoroughly Revised

“The Watch” was published in 2007. This is the 2018 “Thoroughly Revised” second edition with Stephen Pulvirent of Hodinkee as co-author.

This edition hews closely to the format laid out in the first edition of a historical overview followed by descriptions of “fifty” brands. For the arithmetically inclined, the first edition actually included 51 brands and the current edition has 53 but who’s counting right?

Baume et MercierChronoswiss
Grubel ForseyCorum
HermesDaniel Roth
Laurent FerrierDubey and Schaldenbrand
MB & FFrank Muller
MontblancGerald Genta
Ochs und JuniorHarry Winston
RessenceMartin Braun

Ten brands were removed and 12 were added. I have listed them above for anyone who is keeping track. The brands include some of purely vintage interest such as Universal Geneve and others recently minted such as Ochs und Junior as well as a good number of major brands like Rolex and Seiko.

Probably the biggest change compared to the original version is that the photography has been significantly upgraded. The higher standard for images is consistent with the co-author’s work at Hodinkee. Most of the photos have been upgraded with improved higher resolution photos. A number of the vintage pieces shown have been replaced with better examples and the modern pieces are shown more advantageously. Watch appreciation is a highly visual undertaking and this edition would merit purchasing purely for the photography.

As in the original version, photos of vintage examples are mixed in with the modern. For example, the Omega starts with two pages of vintage watches, shows a page of modern watches, then two pages of vintage, then a page of eight Speedmasters laid out in a grid pattern with vintage and modern mixed together, then a page with a vintage and a modern Speedmasters. Since a number of brands have currently available vintage inspired models, this mixing of vintage and modern pieces can be disorienting. The lack of a consistent organizational scheme would be especially confusing for a novice collector who might purchase this book for an overview of watch brands.

The text of the new version also stays pretty close to the original version, including the memorable description of the “Court of Watches” where Patek Philippe is King. Some of the same errors that were perhaps more forgivable 11 years ago are repeated. For example, the historical overview describes John Harwood as having designed Rolex’s automatic winding system whereas in reality he designed a bumper rather than a full rotor system. The brand descriptions however are a pretty fair synopsis of each of the brands discussed and are generally succinct.

Overall, this was a welcome and long overdue update. The Watch continues to be a good introductory overview of luxury watch brands. Although the mix of vintage and modern is at times confusing, it does add historical perspective that is reflected in the text. The strong photography allows it to be a fun read for the enthusiast as well as the novice.

Allen’s Thoughts

Because I own and have read The Watch, I thought I’d jump in here and offer my additional thoughts. This book is consistent with a lot of what I call 2nd Generation watch books.

First generation watch books came in the form of either collector catalogs, printed like phone books for those seeking info, or they were watchmaker treatises that were not for the layperson (though some of us suffered through those). These 1st gen books tended to serve collectors of vintage watches, and were direct descendants of books for pocket watch collectors.

Second generation watch books – like The Watch – offer an encyclopedia-style presentation of brands, as James makes clear. It’s a common way to organize a 2nd gen watch book. As such, they tend to reflect the swelling consumerism of new mechanical watches during the 90s and early 2000s. The Watch is a good example of a 2nd gen watch book, though it is not unique. I own a couple that are nearly the same thing.

Third generation watch books reach beyond brands to things like emotion in watch collecting, as exhibited in Matthew Hranek’s A Man & His Watch and Ryan Schmidt’s exceptional layman-friendly treatise on mechanical movements called The Wristwatch Handbook. Third gen watch books don’t focus on brands, per se, nor do they organize themselves according to brands.

Second gen watch books like The Watch are really useful for people looking to learn the basics of the bigger and more generally accepted brands, and they’re useful as references for those of us who need to quickly remember random things, like what Ulysses Nardin is famous for or when the JLC Reverso came out. However, Google is right there, as well.

Like a lot of what Hodinkee does, they’ve acquired a pre-existing property, reenergized it a bit, and then released it from within the Hodinkee ecosystem. This strategy doesn’t always generate the most original stuff. The Watch certainly is a solid 2nd gen watch book, but it’s definitely not a platform for the original thinking and extensive horological expertise of Stephen Pulverant. We patently wait for him to publish his true opus.

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