A Basic Watch Counterpoint: Why I Like My Watches a Little Extra

One of my earliest memories of the internet from my adolescence was stumbling across Greil Marcus’s review of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, copy and pasted (or maybe transcribed word for word) onto some Geocities website collecting all kinds of documentation on my favorite songwriter, and absolutely breaking all kinds of copyright laws. Marcus famously began his review of Dylan’s much maligned album of covers, odds and ends, and live recordings with a question: What is this shit? In 1970, Dylan was batting 1000, and the arrival of this strange album, released to fulfill contractual obligations to Columbia Records after a string of masterpieces, was truly confounding. I’m sure I hadn’t heard the album in full when I first read Marcus’s extremely mixed review on a dial-up internet connection, but I was fascinated that this record existed on the margins, and that a renowned critic had such a complex reaction to it. 

Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait (1970)

I actually think about that review a lot, and I’m sure a line can be drawn from my first encounter with it, and eventually coming to do…whatever it is that I do now. I express opinions, primarily on the internet, about watches. I’ve always loved to read criticism, especially thoughtful and pointed criticism about things that might be misunderstood, or even not very well liked. And I think that informs my taste in watches, or at least how I approach them, and think about the space they take up in my life and collection. When Blake wrote about his appreciation for the “Basic” watch a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about how it is that I’ve arrived at what might be the opposite end of the spectrum. In watches, as in music, film, and probably a host of other things, I tend to search out and celebrate the strange. I started to think about what the opposite of a basic watch might be. Naturally, it has to be the extra watch. And what could be more extra than taking a contrarian point of view just for the hell of it? Exactly. So, here we are.  


It’s not that I don’t think a watch that you could describe as Basic (not basic as in simple, but basic as in Friends marathons, mirror selfies, and scented candles) can’t be great. The Rolex Submariner is a capital “G” great watch. But to continue down the path of Dylanology, it’s Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks. It’s a classic, universally beloved, and gets better every year. It’s also, if you’re a Dylan superfan, kind of a snooze to interrogate after a while. How many listicles can we really endure where Blonde on Blonde is named one of the great achievements of 1960s rock music? The lyrics to “Visions of Johanna” are inscrutable and mysterious for your first decade as a Dylan fan, but eventually you just kind of understand what he means when he sings about the ghosts of electricity howling in the bones of her face. We get it, it’s good! At some point, if you’re going to continue to appreciate it at all, you’ve got to move on, and experience the far flung corners of the discography. These days I’m just as likely to throw on Street Legal, where Dylan does his best Neil Diamond impression (don’t hate, it’s incredible), as I am any of his early classics. More precisely, as an enormous fan, that’s the album I want to talk about and read about with other fans. By the same token, I’d much rather scroll through Instagram and see a King Midas, or something rare and gem set, than yet another Sub or Daytona. 

In my own collecting, there have been plenty of examples over the years of watches that are the opposite of Basic. I didn’t set out to own a bunch of watches that are “Extra” or over the top, but the same tendencies that made me curious about the outer reaches of Dylan’s catalog led me to watches like the Zenith Port Royal that I wrote about recently, and my E872 Memovox, a rare, funky, and sporty version of a watch that most associate with a more sober and conservative aesthetic. When I own a G-Shock, they are typically in bright colors that you can see from across the room, like red or yellow. And I’ve chosen watches for myself with skeletonized dials and case coatings that make them less than practical, and frequently so undesirable to the masses that I inevitably become the world’s least successful watch dealer when it comes time to move them on the secondary market, only to buy something even more questionable down the line. 

JLC Memovox, reference E872

Again, it’s not that I’m against safer and more popular watches. I’ve owned a bunch of watches that are the enthusiast equivalent of a pumpkin spice latte. But for me, the really rewarding part of watch collecting is learning about the breadth of design, technology, and the fascinating histories that lace their way through our hobby. A collection full of watches that are safe, that are consensus picks for the best ever, seems to miss the point of being involved in watches at the hobbyist level. If you really love this stuff, shouldn’t the goal be to challenge yourself, learn as much as you can, and be ready to change your mind? 

I have to admit here that my take on all of this is shaped by the fact that I’m lucky enough to work in the watch industry, and exposed to more watches than the average collector has the chance to see. It’s really not possible to put myself into civilian mode when it comes to watches, so I won’t try, except to say that I’m clearly about as far removed from the hypothetical dude looking for one nice watch to wear forever as one can possibly be. If that guy asks me for advice on what watch to buy, he should absolutely seek a second opinion, because my own acquired and highly specific taste might not sit right with someone who is literally looking for that “beach to boardroom” watch. That’s not how I think about this stuff. These days the primary question I’m asking myself about a watch is more along the lines of “Is this interesting?” than “Is this practical?” Practicality is important, for sure, but boring is a deal breaker. Exciting, even if the watch isn’t “good” by any normal standard, is what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

The Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein Le Régulateur II. Definitely extra.

Something else that I think about quite a bit is what Blake speaks to in his piece about watches that were once insider secrets becoming mainstream, and then the object of scorn by, I guess, people like me, who are simply bored of the endless conversation around the same six watches, ad nauseam, forever. “What you used to be free to enjoy for your own reasons,” he wrote, “now seems to require an explanation lest your credentials as a watch enthusiast be called into question.” This, I think, is absolutely correct, for better or worse (probably worse). But I don’t think it has much to do with any particular watch becoming more popular within our little enclosed space – it’s more about the mainstreaming of watches as a whole. Jack Forster over at Hodinkee frequently talks about how in his early days in the hobby, the watch magazines were located on the newsstand right next to those that covered doll collecting and model railroading. In that environment, where everyone’s an outsider, “basic” as a concept doesn’t really exist. On the whole, I think it’s a big net positive that watch collecting is now closer to car enthusiasm than the far more niche hobbies it was lumped in with more than a decade ago.  

The Linde Werdelin Spidolite II. Anything but basic.

What my taste for extra watches might come down to though is actually something very simple that’s at the core of collecting itself: it’s fun to be different. Maybe placing such a high value on owning and wearing watches that most people don’t own or want to wear is shallow, or more about my own personality than the watches themselves, but I think it’s a natural part of collecting. Besides, it’s not about one-upping another collector or owning something rare and unusual simply for the sake of it being rare and unusual. It’s more about threading the needle and finding watches you really love that resonate with you in ways they don’t, or can’t, with others. That, to me, is the collecting sweet spot, and what extra watches are all about. Ask me to explain why I have an eBay search saved for a 90s Bulgari Diagono and you’ll begin to understand.

The recently reviewed Minase Divido Urushi

In the many years since I first encountered that Self Portrait review, I’ve listened to the album in full many times, and read a whole lot more criticism of it. Interestingly, it’s no longer considered the black sheep of Dylan’s early output. There’s been a recent critical reappraisal of his 70s work, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s held in higher esteem now than it was when Greil Marcus dismissed large chunks of it out of hand. And that’s the other important point to remember about extra watches: this is all cyclical. Just like Blake pointed out a few weeks ago, the basic watches he came to love early on in his watch enthusiasm were really just watches when he first came to them, and the discourse around them is what changed. So it goes with the strange stuff as well – you never know when something might suddenly come into favor, or when your own taste might shift. All the more reason to continue searching for cool stuff along the edges of the watch world. 

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.