Watches and What Else: the Intersection of Pens and Horology with Brett Braley-Palko

Editor’s Note: Watches and What Else is a continuing series where we look at some of the other things our watch collecting community is interested in. We’ve always found watch collectors to be a curious, well rounded bunch, and in this series we’re going to explore a variety of the watch adjacent (and sometimes, not so adjacent) interests of collectors of all stripes. From illustration to aviation, video games and comics to heavy metal and craft cocktails, there’s a lot to explore, and we think you’ll enjoy diving into the pursuits that your fellow watch enthusiasts are passionate about. 

This week, Chris Antzoulis talks to novelist, pen industry veteran, and Worn & Wound contributor Brett Braley-Palko about the unexpected connections between mechanical watches and fine writing instruments. 

If you stay current with what’s up in the watch space by consuming your daily fill of articles here at Worn & Wound, then you will recognize the name of my subject this month. Brett Braley-Palko is also a fellow W&W contributor, a watch enthusiast, and an all-around guru on style. However, this is a writer who takes his scribbling seriously. He has quite the collection of pens and is more than happy to share this love with the rest of us. 


Brett fell into the world of watches within the last year and says “the threshold into getting into any industry with a big cult following is to recognize your level of expertise and being humble with it […] When I first started writing for Worn & Wound, I was learning. There’s something here that connected with the writing I was already doing about fountain pens, so I was more curious. That curiosity led me to research more. I want to learn as the reader will learn. A lot of my writing early on in watches came from that perspective.” In fact, it was here that he told me he had been looking for a watch with a Pepsi bezel and noted an interaction he and I had leading up to our interview. He had messaged me about a vintage Seiko he purchased on eBay and wanted to know if he had found something good. I was able to recognize the watch as being pre-SKX and reached out to my RedBar group for someone more knowledgeable with Seiko models for a reference: it was a Seiko Scuba 7002-700a.


Although he sees himself as “a student,” he has become a collector whose interest in watches was sparked via a connection to an interest in style. “As a menswear writer I’m into style and substance. And some things that nicely marry those concepts of style and substance are items like watches and pens […] I would say at the top level I’m interested in branding and heritage. Second to that I’m into the style of the watch. And tertiary to that is what I will personally gain from it.” He further explained his final point by saying “everyday my usual watch is a $20 Casio. I’m more than happy to wear one every single day. The reason being is that I like having something on my wrist and understand the value of a good watch. And while I’m happy wearing my Casio everyday, I also have something like a Cartier Tank because I’m able to plug into the branding.” 

Each watch that Brett chooses as part of his collection feeds on different aspects of his own personal style. Brett has three dogs, three cats, and lives on a five-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania with his husband. “My everyday wear is very utilitarian. I wear jeans and a T-shirt, sneakers, and a ball cap 90% of the time. That’s where a Casio is great for me because I’m never going to cry if my watch breaks while I’m fixing something in the barn. But then there’s that 10% of me that does go out. That does go to New York or Europe for work — that works in a luxury industry and writes about luxury products daily. So that’s the 10% of me that I put ‘out there’ and has become part of my personality” and that’s where the Cartier Tank Francaise would come in. 

A final point about watches, and as it pertains to the Tank, Brett tries to keep his eyes open for timeless style.  While it’s always fun to explore the new trends in watches, and there are those new brands making style statements mixed with incredible build, like Farer (the example we discussed as we’re both fans), there is a reason why certain companies and models of watches have stood the test of time – they never go out of style. A few days after I interviewed Brett, he texted me to let me know that he had just ordered a Rolex Oyster Date 6694. I congratulated him and made the mental note that this fits into Brett’s philosophy. 

What Else?

DISCLAIMER: Watch enthusiasts who aren’t yet into pens beware — you’re going to want to buy a ton of pens after this.

At his core Brett is a writer (you can pre-order a signed copy of his upcoming novel HERE). “Obviously I write professionally, but I’m also into writing in general — handwritten notes, stationary, and any kind of writing utensil. Back to school shopping is my favorite time of year. So, I’ve always been interested in most aspects of writing.” He stopped to calm his dog down, who was getting a bit playful, before following-up in stating that his “entree” into writing professionally was to start his own food blog, before writing for housewares like West Elm, and finally moved toward lifestyle writing while he found British Literature. “Eventually I began thinking from a perspective of how I can write about my home, and how I can be more intentional in my writing. I had just gotten married and was thinking about settling. […] at that stage I started reaching out to brands that reflected my life. And one of those brands was Esterbrook (a pen company).” 

Brett started using Esterbrook’s fountain pens and writing articles about them. He found Esterbrook to be of great quality and invested in his first at around $195. “This was a pen that has a community around it, not all that dissimilar from the watch enthusiast community; and I thought, well where do I go from here? I can’t afford a Montblanc, but I also don’t want to go back to a Pilot.” After writing some articles for Esterbrook, they eventually asked Brett to step into a full-time role at the company. 

Brett finds the pen industry and the watch industry to be parallels of one another. “Like watches, I feel pen collectors go through a similar process of graduation. You start with a Casio and work your way up. I started with Pilots, then got an Esterbrook, eventually a Montblanc. And like the watch community, you evolve. You find your style and functionality. Then there’s also brand heritage.” He also observed the growth of the pen industry since COVID began, drawing out yet another parallel as both industries exploded during the same span of time. “I’ve learned so much about the pen community in the last two and half years. I learned how we can be different from our competitors in the fountain pen world. Ironically being a fan and a worker, I’m in love with some of our competitors, but I can’t post about it sometimes.” 

“Just like watches,” Brett told me, “I rotate my pens out every day. When I was finishing my manuscript for my book, I used a Montblanc, because it was an elevated experience; it was a $1000 experience versus a $20 experience,” and a milestone in Brett’s life that called for an indulgence. 

At this point I tempted Brett to sell me on pens by asking about the difference between that experience of a $20 pen as opposed to one at a $1000 price point. “The blanket answer, and of course there are many exceptions to this rule, is the quality craftsmanship. So, at that $1000 mark there are usually more hands involved. Or even at the $200 mark, there are usually people who do quality control. For example, at Montblanc they inspect the nib of every pen for consistent flow.” 


For the other pen noobs out there, the nib is the writing point of a fountain pen, and if properly cleaned and cared for can last forever. Nibs can be made of different materials, like stainless steel or gold, and can have hand finished designs on them. Nibs also determine the “smoothness” with which a pen writes. Many pen collectors enjoy smooth and buttery writing consistency, but Brett prefers “more of a scratchy nib, because it feels like a pencil,” which draws out memories of childhood and school. 

Pens, like watches, offer up this personal connection. “There’s an intentionality to it, the same as for people who have mechanical watches. You have to wake up, set your watch. There’s a moment to breathe, you know? Even if it’s editing or transposing with a pen, there is an element that’s not instantaneous, an element of just breathing.” Brett now directed himself toward me, “we’re both writers sharing similar paths. I often write emails that are absolute shit, but it’s done and off my plate. But if we’re editing, we’re thinking about it…” And as Brett trailed away on the thought, I filled in the blank. That moment to breathe, with a tool we have a bond with, could improve our craft in more ways than I would’ve entertained before this conversation. 

“A watch and a pen are representative of this sort of concept,” Brett told me. “A watch is representative of time, and although it’s moving, we have a moment of control over it. A pen has the same quality. It’s a talisman. A look into our own thoughts, like your poetry and comics, or my novels. And for a moment your thoughts are being channeled through something that turns into writing.”

On that powerful note, the only thing left to know is which pens are the most important to Brett. “Well, I’d say I have somewhere between 35 to 40 pens in my collection. But when it comes to pens that I use daily, it comes down to usage, something I can transport with me, and the desire to dig deeper and explore more of what I like.” And then Brett listed three pens that he uses regularly.

  • Everyday pen – LAMY Safari with a super fine nib
  • For long note-taking – Esterbrook Estie with a medium nib
  • For contracts and book writing/editing – Montblanc 146 with a fine gold nib

I’ve realized the gap between watch and pen enthusiasts is quite narrow, in that we each share an appreciation for the value of connecting emotionally and bonding intentionally with the tools we choose to have in our lives. Sure, time is more accurate on our phones, and writing may be more convenient on a laptop, but in 20 years I won’t have a favorite laptop, I’ll have the newest and the one this article was written on will be long gone. However, I’ll likely have a favorite watch, and because of Brett I bet I’ll have a favorite pen too. 

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Chris Antzoulis is a published poet and comic book writer who over-romanticizes watches. Ever since his mom walked him through a department store at the budding age of six and he spotted that black quartz watch with a hologram of Darth Vader’s face on the crystal, he knew he was lost to the dark side of horology. He is currently eye-balling the next watch contenders now caught in his tractor beam.