About a month ago a friend of mine listed a watch for sale in our group chat. It was a watch that many readers will be familiar with – it’s one of those nearly ubiquitous watches in our little corner of the hobby that everyone has seemingly tried at least once in the couple of years it’s been on the market. Everyone, that is, except for me. So I messaged my friend and arranged a time to meet. I checked out the watch, we agreed on a price, and I became the happy owner of a lightly used Seiko SPB143.
So far, I think you’ll agree, this is an extremely ordinary sequence of events. I’d be willing to bet that many readers have gone about their watch buying business in a remarkably similar way. Maybe the transaction was purely electronic and carried out over email and Instagram DMs instead of beers and a plate of appetizers, but the whole “see a watch, send a message, make a purchase” is old hat for many of us. The thing that made this watch purchase a little bit different from other watch buys I’ve made over the past several years is what happened next. Or, more precisely, what didn’t happen next: there was no “New Watch Alert” post on social media, or anywhere else.
The “New Watch Alert,” or NWA, an acronym that carries a very different meaning if you’re a certain age and were raised by MTV when they still played music videos, is de rigueur in our hobby. Buying a watch is often tied into celebrations, so it follows that posting it on social media for the #watchfam to see that first wrist shot and flood your notifications with congratulatory words of encouragement (enablement?) is just part of the experience of watch shopping in 2022. Whenever I see (or make) one of these posts, I always have this thought in the back of my mind: this is not how most people experience a new watch. While watch enthusiasts are certainly growing in number, we can deduce using simple arithmetic that the vast, vast majority of people who purchase a new watch don’t run to Instagram to announce it. I wondered, sometimes aloud, and sometimes to myself, what must that be like?
So I decided that with the SPB143, I wouldn’t post it on Instagram. I wanted to see if the experience of owning it in that first month was any different than with all of the other watches I’ve picked up since discovering this community on social media. Surely, I thought, the endorphin rush of seeing the “likes” come through plays a role in how we experience our watches, and I wanted to see if I could identify what that actually means in real terms, and if owning something quietly made me feel differently about the watch on my wrist.
The first thing I noticed right away was how much posting a watch to Instagram is part of my routine. It’s like brushing my teeth, or falling asleep on the couch watching endless episodes of The Office. This time of year, if the weather is cooperating, I like to spend the first few hours of my day taking a walk around my neighborhood, listening to a podcast, enjoying some solitude before the workday begins and I’m back to interacting with the outside world. I’ll often wind up at my local coffee shop where I’ll sit outside with a coffee or a tea, maybe write a little bit, and post that daily wrist shot, assuming the light is good and I can think of something somewhat clever for the caption. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen these pictures, and I’m guessing the small handful of compositions I might deploy from this vantage point in downtown Concord, NH will be immediately familiar. When I was wearing the SPB143, I had to actively remind myself that I had created this arbitrary rule for myself, and that I wouldn’t be showing this watch today, or any day for at least the next few weeks.
Of course, early on, I wanted to post the watch. Even for a watch that’s frankly fairly common and run of the mill like the SPB143, there’s something undeniably fun about sharing it with the community. And yes, my brain is sufficiently conditioned at this point to enjoy the “likes” to a degree that is probably not healthy. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a more personal pleasure in documenting these daily wrist shots as well. I can look back on them and see the progression of my collection, be reminded of a particular time, and see trends develop in my collecting (and in my bad watch photography) that are actually kind of interesting. I missed that in my first month of owning the SPB143, particularly in those first days. And while it’s certainly an anxiety that is entirely trivial, there’s something a little strange about realizing I’ll never have photo evidence of my first month with this watch to look back on.
But I have to be honest, experiencing the SPB143 as a civilian, as just a normal watch consumer, was refreshing. I found myself spending less time on Instagram in total, and the watch somehow felt more “mine” than I can remember other watches feeling right off the bat. It’s hard to explain, especially for someone like me who tends to not get too attached to physical objects, but I think because I wasn’t sharing this with the world, I felt closer to the SPB143 than a watch that I might immediately post on my way home from the dealer.
I can back this up, at least somewhat, with my experience owning the Grand Seiko SBGW283. Now, I love this watch. We made a whole video about how great the case is, and the dial is a personal favorite color. But I’m still warming up to it. It’s not my go-to on a daily basis, and I don’t find myself wanting to wear it as much right out of the chute. That’s partly because of the weather – it’s hot here right now, and a small dress watch on a leather strap with my casual summer wardrobe isn’t really the look I’m going for. And I also picked up the SPB143 almost immediately after the SBGW283, and I committed to wearing the former for content, which, as they say, is King. So, plenty of mitigating factors exist, to say the least. Still, I have to be honest: there was something refreshing about feeling like this watch was just for me.
I’m not opposed to sharing my stuff, and even parts of my life, with strangers on the internet. But I’m part of that elder-millennial generation that didn’t experience social media until we were college age. It was possible to have secrets and a genuine private life before that, and even well into our earliest experiences with Facebook, MySpace, and all the other social media platforms, many of which are no longer with us. I sometimes feel a deep nostalgia for those times when we didn’t share everything so publicly on the internet, so the ability to privately enjoy the SPB143 was welcome. I was forced to ask myself if I’d enjoy the hobby more if I just stopped posting to Instagram altogether.
I doubt I’ll do anything quite so dramatic. While Instagram is sometimes infuriating, it’s where our hobby lives. If you want to be part of the community, and I do, you kind of have to be there. I really think it’s that simple. But there’s something to be said for keeping certain things for yourself. Sometimes a solitary experience is simply more rewarding – it allows you to reflect on it without all the noise that comes with input from a virtual peanut gallery. This is part of the reason I love going to movies by myself. There’s something less distracting about it, even when you’re just sitting there in the dark, that allows a more intense focus.
I think another reason this particular experience of shutting out my Instagram followers from my new purchase was well suited to the SPB143 was the nature of the watch itself. This is a watch that, as I’ve said, most people are pretty familiar with. Even though I’ve never owned this watch before, it’s one that I’ve encountered often, both in real life and through my Instagram friends. I’ve even reviewed it before, sort of. And of course Zach W. has written extensively about his very similar SPB149, and Blake has covered his SPB213. I don’t really see a need to regurgitate the same measurements and wax poetic about a case and dial that at this point are largely baked into the consciousness of the average watch collector. But suffice it to say, it’s an easy wearing and capable sports watch, and more than suitable for my needs as a summertime beater that allows for easy laundry timing, can be worn worry free to the bar or on a trip, and just kind of exists in my life. My collection, at the moment, is currently heavy on highly specific, immaculately finished watches that aren’t exactly incredibly versatile, so it’s a pleasure to have something so neutral and comparatively burly that I can put on without really thinking about it too much. And I’ve found that if I’m not thinking about it – if it’s just a watch and not a limited edition whatever, or a rare vintage so and so – it doesn’t really demand a public explanation.
Now that my month-long Secret Watch Experiment is over, I’m sure that the SPB143 will find its way to my Instagram feed sooner or later. But I’m not rushing it, or forcing it. In the last few years I’ve taken a “fewer and better” approach to my watch collecting, culling pieces from my collection and only buying watches I can legitimately see owning for the long term. That means, for one thing, there are fewer watches for me to post, but I think it’s worth taking that same approach with social media regardless. There doesn’t actually need to be a daily photo from the coffee shop. It’ll be nice to just enjoy the coffee, and my watch, a little more privately.