Farewell, Tool Watches

A few months ago, almost on a whim, I put my Tudor Pelagos LHD up for sale. More accurately, I posted a photo of it to my IG stories with a half-hearted “FOR SALE – DM ME” request. This is the bare minimum amount of effort in selling a watch second hand these days. To say I lacked the motivation to take high quality, properly lit photographs and deal with cross posting to Reddit, WatchUSeek, and Rolex Forums (and dealing with the barrage of unwanted trade offers and lowballs that would be sure to follow) would be an understatement. I was feeling particularly ambivalent about this particular watch that day, thought the idea of pocketing its cash value for something else seemed appealing, and cast a relatively small net to my 1,000 or so followers that aren’t bots. 

As it turned out, the algorithm was working for me that day, and I sold the watch with zero friction to a friendly Instagram user who I knew immediately would be far more enthusiastic about the Pelagos than me. It’s a great watch for what it is – I have nothing bad to say about it. But wearing it just wasn’t doing it for me any longer. Maybe whatever doubts I had about the watch that led me to sell my first example came right back. Who knows? Since when does logic and reason play a role in this hobby? 


I don’t get sentimental or emotional about watches. There’s always another one right around the corner after all. And if I really missed the Pelagos, I could always buy another one. I heard Tudor made a bunch of them, although if there were a waitlist, I suppose someone lining up for his third might not be welcome at the front of the line. In any case, in the process of packing it up and sending it to its new home, I realized that for the first time in my watch history as a “collector” and not someone just dabbling and experimenting, I’d be without a real dive watch. This, even a year ago, would have sparked a complete meltdown. How could I not have a dive watch in the collection? 

Let’s take a quick inventory of Zach’s major dive watches, past and, well, just past at this point. In addition to a succession of inexpensive Seiko divers that I almost literally cut my teeth on (Monsters and Samurais, many bought with coupons at Macy’s before I had a grasp of watch culture on the internet), I owned a Seamaster 300 right before Pelagos #1, a watch I credit with teaching me that straight-up vintage inspired designs will never really do it for me. A Rolex Submariner 114060 and Sea-Dweller 16600 also found their way into the collection, though not at the same time, and regrettably before values skyrocketed for both. Oops. Various consolidations, sell-offs, and trades had me experimenting with an IWC Aquatimer and a current generation Seamaster 300M at different points. There was an original Planet Ocean in there somewhere as well. Just a blip, but a memorable (and top-heavy) one. 

The author’s (now long gone) Rolex Sea-Dweller

So, dive watches were kind of my thing. I always made it a point to have at least one higher quality, blue chip, Swiss diver available to me. Why? Again, who knows? It’s what I was into at the time. I used them to time all kinds of things I’d attempt to cook, as well as loads of laundry, and how long it took me to drive to the movie theater. You know, really tactical, important stuff. And, of course, they were ever present fidget spinners. The bottom line was that I liked the idea of a watch that was built tough enough for literally anything short of a nuclear blast, even though I was not likely to ever come close to really putting it through its paces.

With the departure of the Pelagos, my dive watch inventory has been reduced to a shell of its former self. I’m a proud owner of the Zodiac x Worn & Wound Super Sea Wolf, a diver with a 12-hour bezel that is perfectly functional for travel, less so for timing. And I have a humble Seiko 5 Sports watch, which is decidedly not a diver (maybe you heard – it doesn’t have a screw down crown), but plays one on TV in a pinch. 

It’s a little strange not having at least one additional hard core dive watch in the collection at the moment, but rather than a feeling of panic or anxiety about the state of my collection, I feel an almost zen like acceptance that I’ve moved into an entirely new phase of watch interest where tool watches simply don’t have the pull they once did. 

Maybe it’s a function of getting older, or just the natural evolution of one’s taste as you’re exposed to more stuff, but I find myself veering towards watches for which “elegant” is the lead descriptor over “robust.” These types of watches, for me, are a better fit for my lifestyle, which isn’t to say that my day-to-day is filled with affairs that have a specific dress code, but I’m definitely not nearly so hard on my watches that they need to be made in such a way that they look like they belong on a guy about to jump out of a helicopter, or something. My life is more geared towards casual walks in the woods and around town, and not straight up the side of a mountain. A Pelagos is a well made thing, there’s no doubt about it, but I’ve come to a point where the novelty of something being “overbuilt” isn’t in and of itself a draw.

I tend to appreciate watches these days almost purely as aesthetic objects. I want them to look nice, and have a bit of mechanical interest as well. That, of course, is extremely subjective, and there are certainly tool watches out there that I think look great and I’d happily wear in less than tooly situations. But I find myself drawn toward a genre of watch that’s just a lot less casual in how they present themselves. Watches that are made simply to exist, and to last forever, as watches, and not perform a function that’s completely alien to me and the vast majority of people who will own it. 

Viewing watches wholly outside of the “job” they were meant to do is also a sort of liberating experience. The watches I own and am likely to keep long term are a genuine reflection of my interests and, not to sound completely corny, my personality as well. If I love a strange case shape or color combination, I indulge those interests without worrying about what the watch is going to be used for. This cuts both ways, of course. You can love a tool watch for its aesthetic and never even think of diving, climbing, driving, etc. with it. This is just a recognition that my personal taste has veered dramatically from what most would consider a traditional tool watch. 

The watch I wear most often these days, which regular readers are likely already aware of, because I talk about it nonstop, is my Grand Seiko SBGH271. Some enthusiasts (though certainly not me) would argue that this is a tool watch. It has a screw down crown, 100 meters of water resistance, and is made of stainless steel, all of which are fundamental tool watch hallmarks. While my Grand Seiko could certainly survive a dunk in the ocean or a night on a portaledge, it somehow doesn’t seem particularly well suited to those tasks, which begs the question: what is a tool watch, anyway? 

I don’t have the answer to that question. The definitions and categories we insist on putting watches into have become increasingly bizarre and meaningless, as most watches can do most things perfectly adequately, and a real need for genuine tools like a Sea-Dweller are so niche they barely register (we talked about this on episode 189 of the podcast, which we called “Genre Bending Watches”). Think about the Sea-Dweller, for a moment: this is a watch that was designed to be worn by divers living in pressurized habitats for days or weeks at a time. It has a date so the divers have a sense of the passing of time in a world that is perhaps devoid of natural light. It has a helium escape valve so that the watch crystals don’t pop off during decompression. These are useful design features that make it perfect for the small percentage of professional divers who can put it to work through it’s most compelling use case. For me, and for most people, it’s overkill. 

Of course, we like what we like. And I certainly can’t commit to never owning a dive, pilot, or field watch ever again. I’m not saying goodbye to tool watches so much as the idea that a watch must perform in a certain highly specific situation. I think about these things differently than I did only a few years ago, and have little desire to own a watch that’s specifically designed to withstand the pressures of a difficult life that I’ll never actually put it through. Or, for that matter, to fill a slot reserved for tool watches in a watch box with limited real estate. Watches, for me, have become increasingly divorced from the idea of doing any specific task. They’re more about being along for the ride no matter what, observing a series of not very risky tasks for which bead blasted titanium is never going to be needed.

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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.