The last thing I expected when A Man & His Watch arrived was that this book would inspire my life-partner’s a-ha moment and convert her into a watch-head. This is a woman who had never owned a watch, banished the one I had given her to the back of a drawer, and who managed, at best, to feign enthusiasm for my watch obsession. We knew we were playing stereotypical gender roles vis-a-vis watches; we’d even laugh about it as she’d unwittingly glaze over during one of my horological monologues—such as the one I launched into after a couple cocktails last Friday night. I start yakking about my new 1960s Breil Chronograph “Blue Panda,” and, right on cue, she’s glazing over. But I was on a roll, so I open A Man & His Watch and turn to Steve McQueen’s Monaco to show my increasingly uninterested better-half how similar the colorway is to the Blue Panda. That’s when everything changed.She was utterly transfixed by McQueen’s Monaco. “Look at that square shape, and these colors. This is incredible.” She gawks at it, reads the description, then gawks some more. McQueen’s watch is arguably horology’s most celebrated icon of masculine bravado, and—gender roles be damned—this woman was positively tripping out on it. She begins browsing, turns to analog/shift CEO Geoffrey Hess’s chocolate-dialed Rolex Sub and gasps, “Oh my God, look at that color.” I explain that it’s patina, and her voice grows hushed, “Wow, just amazing.” She pages onward, then stops hard at a rectangular Patek Philippe Ref. 2503 and reads the description on the opposite page. She looks up at me, eyes pre-tears (the same look she might get upon seeing, say, an animal in need) and asks, “Did you know this was Andy Warhol’s watch?” She points at the lugs. “Look at these. They’re like little squirts of gold. I want a watch like that.”
An instant patina junkie, she swiftly commandeered my faded 1950s Chronographe Suisse bi-compax, which has not left her wrist since. Meanwhile, I’m completely flummoxed to find that our Friday night had just turned into a full-fledged watch geek-out. Yesterday, unprompted, she tells me about her morning winding ritual, then I get a text that her colleague had on a Cartier Tank. This was an unfathomable transformation.
As an already baptized watch-head, I didn’t realize just how much of a revelation A Man & His Watch could be until I saw it through my partner’s uninitiated eyes. I’ve only started to decode this miracle-worker of a book, but my initial impression is that Matt Hranek has concocted a potent elixir with minimal ingredients: an intimate portrait of a man’s most beloved watch on one page, and a heartfelt testimony from its owner on the opposing page. Simple, elegant, deeply compelling.
Author Matthew Hranek joined us on The Worn & Wound Podcast. For that episode, click here.
First of all, the photographs by Stephen Lewis pull you into the watches as if a hypnotist were dangling them in front of your face—any closer and you’d be distracted by minutiae; any further and you’d lose interest. There are no zoomed-in crops, no wrist-shots, no contextual images; just iconic watches floating in black space with a bit of strap or bracelet showing. If you’re only going to have one kind of photo of these iconic watches, then this is the right photo at exactly the right dimensions. The book is tall (7”W x 11”H), making the pages very watch-friendly; at arm’s length the images are downright mesmerizing.
Further, the uniformity of the photographic style reinforces the common threads that run through the stories these men tell of their watches. From world-famous folks like chef Eric Ripert, fashion tycoon Ralph Lauren, and racing legend Mario Andretti to watch experts like Paul Boutros and Eric Ku, each man echoes the notion that emotional connection and personal significance are worth far more than rare metal and grand complication. This idea is best exemplified by author Hranek’s own adorable Sears Winnie The Pooh watch that his grandmother gave him when he was just a kindergartner. To see that Pooh watch in the exact same way that we see, for example, the Omega that JFK wore during his inauguration, deepens the message that, on this book’s terms, all of these watches (including two G-Shocks and two Timex Indiglos) are equals. In this way, A Man & His Watch is delightfully bereft of the pretension that can sometimes creep into luxury-oriented publications.
Perhaps the most compelling storyteller here is patina itself. Like patchy forensic evidence, patina kickstarts our imaginations and revs up speculation about a watch’s history, where it’s been, and what it’s experienced. The ding in the bezel of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual might have been from a wayward ice-pick as he successfully summited Mount Everest in 1953, or maybe he just banged it on a car door like the rest of us. It hardly matters, because that is Sir Edmund Hillary’s ding, a ding worth wondering about.
The butterscotch hues of the lume on astronaut Wally Schirra’s Speedmaster—purportedly the first watch in space—tells a story of molecular degradation, some of which took place in a space capsule in orbit, some in the vaults of Omega’s archives, both controlled atmospheres that helped create a color and pattern unlike any other. Even Autodromo founder Bradley Price’s Monoposto—a watch roughly just five years old—shows grit in the grooved bezel and a hint of wear on the lugs. You realize that, yeah, Bradley actually wears this watch (and one can’t help but imagine this specific watch will one day be quite valuable because of it). Patina, indeed, speaks.
A Man & His Watch gets closer to conquering the ineffability of horological fascination than any other publication I know of. Whatever it is about watches that tugs at our hearts and sends us into blissful bouts of wonder, it typically eludes those of us who attempt to express it. But Hranek’s book takes a straight path to the heart of the matter by simply letting these men tell us about their emotional relationships with their most beloved watches. After you’ve read a couple dozen of these personal narratives and ogled those hypnotic photos, the broader story of how captivating watches can be emerges. It’s as if this book opens a portal into that special horological dimension we watch-heads love to hang out in, and apparently even a hitherto blasé tolerator of watches can just waltz on through and get hooked. This is no small accomplishment.
A Man & His Watch is a lot of book for $35.00. The outer box is custom die-cut, embossed, and features foil printing. Slip the book out of that box, and you’ll feel that the its cover is also embossed, lending three-dimensionality to the smallest details of Paul Newman’s Daytona (not the one that sold, but its replacement that his daughter wears). Pages are thick and glossy, typesetting tasteful and highly readable, and the variety of contributors make for a charming read.
Had it not happened twice, I’d probably not say this, but if you’re trying to get someone into watches, consider putting A Man & His Watch in their hands and see what happens. Just last night my partner and I had our dear friend over for dinner, a man with impeccable taste, but next to zero interest in watches. We put the book in front of him, and voila, he’s freaking out over artist Eng Tay’s heavily oxidized Panerai 3646. Our guest was suddenly full of questions, and even ends up photographing some of my watches under candlelight at the dinner table. Another wonderful evening at home elevated to a full-on watch geek-out by A Man & His Watch. If that’s all this miracle-worker does, I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth. Bravo, Mr. Hranek. A Man & His Watch
A Man & His Watch is currently sold out, but a second printing is on its ways.
Photography by Allen Farmelo