One Off the Wrist
Michael Karam confesses his addiction to ‘haute horlogerie’
By Michael Karam
July 6 2023
There was a time when a young man might have been given a decent watch on his 21st birthday. It would have been steel, and Swiss, on a leather strap, and that was basically that. To care too much about it; to have it in gold with a ‘busy’ dial or, Heaven forbid, own more than one, either for different occasions or simply for the hell of it, was seen as a bit ‘Continental’, a bit Mark Thatcher.
Thankfully, Mark’s mum helped move things along, and over the past 40 years, as we have learned to be less uptight, more ‘Continental’ perhaps, we can now bask in the certainty that unless one makes a huge gaff – and there are still a lot of brands to help you do this – owning an expensive watch or three will not necessarily mark you down as a flash git.
But then there are people like me: the obsessives, men whose wives monitor their laptop activity for altogether different reasons. Mine will walk up behind me as I pretend to work and see yet another watch listing on chrono24.com: “Over 600,000 satisfied watch buyers worldwide”.
“I thought you said you were busy this week,” she’ll remark casually. And then a bit later, “Anyway, didn’t you promise you wouldn’t buy any more watches?” And on the final pass, “By the way, you do know, we need to pay for...” But by this time I’m already drifting off into a world of chronometers, chronographs, movements, diameters, lugs, date windows, crown guards, sub dials, metals, moon phases and exhibition case backs. It is a place of online forums populated by sad men in dark rooms.
Like many bad habits, it started at prep school, where a boy called Adrian Saville opened his tuck box and showed me his Seiko Diver with a rotating bezel. One night, I persuaded him to lend it to me so I could stare at the luminous dial under my blankets and pretend I was Jacques Cousteau or James Bond.
That was it. My weedy Timex no longer cut the mustard. I swapped it for a Parker fountain pen and a pack of Italian car Top Trumps, and told my father that I needed a bigger watch. He bought me an Orient Diver. Not quite a Seiko, but it would do. A few years later, with the advent of quartz, I had a brief fling with a multi-function Casio, but in 1985, in an act of generosity that I am still trying to fathom to this day, my then brother-in-law gave me his 1963 Rolex Datejust.
At that moment, as the Americans say, shit suddenly got real and since then, I’ve bought and sold and bought again, never satisfied. There are simply too many beautiful and iconic models out there to own just one.
That doesn’t stop me from lying in bed, or sitting at my desk and asking myself if I had to wear just one watch, what it would be. The two I’m currently fixating on are the Rolex Explorer Ref: 124270, arguably the perfect all rounder and the descendant of a very modest looking watch worn by Edmund Hillary when he conquered Everest, and the Omega Speedmaster Professional, an altogether more butch timepiece that went on multiple trips to the Moon. It is manually wound and has a shatterproof Hesalite, acrylic glass. Both crucial when working in a vacuum at zero gravity and therefore unlikely to let you down in Waitrose.
In a few more years, if I have the money, I might train my crosshairs on a properly grown-up watch like a Patek Philippe Calatrava, Vacheron Constantin Patrimony or anything by A Lange & Söhne or FP Journe.
Like nuclear war, that’s probably never going to happen, but Mrs Karam still lives in fear.
Michael Karam is Boisdale Life’s Managing Editor