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.