Wrist Check! Nobody Notices Your Watch

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Wrist check - Rolex crown

Twice in the past two months, I spotted a Rolex. While this may be a common occurrence for some, I know exactly one person who owns a Rolex. Truth be told, like SUV’s, all Rolex look the same to me. For a recognizable status brand – one with an association with ostentation and strivers – Rolex watches barely stand out in the wild. Yeah, I said it. Wrist check reality check! . . .

Glengarry Glenn Ross Baldwin Rolex

Admittedly neither Rolex wearer was the stereotypical flashy douchebag that some expect given Rolex’s reputation (e.g., Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross). In the first case, I spotted the fluted bezel and cyclops magnifier from across the room (but still needed up-close verification). In the second, I caught a glimpse of crown logo on a bracelet clasp – an unintentional wrist check.

Wrist check fluted bezel on Rolex

A “normal” person wouldn’t have spotted either. Yes, watch nerds are abnormal as far as attention to watches goes. Even if a normal person had noticed, chances are they would have had a negative, resentful reaction – and underrated the Rolex’s cost by several magnitudes (if they bothered to think about it).

When it comes to performing a wrist check, there are two main issues at play .

Wrist check in a Rolex mirror

First, people are primarily concerned with themselves. They don’t pay as much attention to you – or your watch – as you may think.

Self-conscious teens and pre-teens tend to figure this out sooner or later. Get a pimple or a clothing stain and OMG! Social death! An embarrassment leading to pariah status. In reality, nobody notices. It turns out we are only the center of our own world with a smaller role in the lives of others.

Vkiss_2 and Rolex

Next, people don’t recognize things that aren’t directly related to their particular interests. The classic example: a woman with the new or shorter hairstyle. She thinks all eyes are on her do, expecting a big reaction. Failing that, she’ll eventually ask if we notice anything different.

For most of us who read this blog, the honest answer is no. Had she worn a new watch, we’d wrist check and recognize it instantly. Other women may notice her hair, because they care about that. People notice what interests them, and most people are not very interested in watches – save gold diggers, watch nerds and people in the watch industry.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

A long, long time ago, a younger, pre-TTAW Oscar Klosoff and his aforementioned friend were puffing in a cigar store lounge with a few strangers. A middle-aged male patron left. My friend noted that the man had an OMEGA on his wrist.

He declared it a Speedmaster – the watch that both my friend and his father owned. I had to take his word on all this. I’d noticed that the man was wearing Gucci horsebit loafers. Needless to say, there was no crossover in what we considered recognizable or remarkable. I was blind to the watch, and he had no interest in socio-economic signals of Italian footwear.

 Grand Seiko quartz anniversary

It should come as no surprise that people are into different things. There are audiophiles, gourmands and people obsessed with collecting sneakers. I am none of those. I’m totally ignorant of the aficionados’ high status items, their grail brands and models. They wouldn’t register at all; might be mistaken for an inferior good. Is there any reason to think others won’t do the same for a Zenith (didn’t they make TV’s?) or Grand Seiko?

Some old edition of Dress for Success stated that the (ahem) entertainment staff at (ahem) gentlemen’s clubs would visit the better menswear stores to study the season’s expensive neckties for the purpose of identifying wealthier clientele. Yes, this is all terribly dated, but it hints at the other reason a person might notice your watch, like that street thug who might have eyes on it. You might not want all the attention these uncontrolled wrist checks garner.

Again, the majority of the populace are oblivious to the difference between the “meaning” of a Rolex Daytona and a Timex Easy Reader. A handful will get the signal, even if it’s not intended for them. But the target audience is those who do, who are few and far between.

That’s why birds of a horological feather flock together: to see and be seen wearing a particular watch, or show off other pieces from their collection. To be recognized. Not just for what they’re wearing, but what their watch says about their taste, dedication, knowledge and status – to people who give a damn.

Mr. Jones Last Laugh Tattoo sugar skull watch

You could say watch spotting – both in the wild and amongst fellow collectors – is self-indulgent narcissism. Or you could say it’s just plain fun. Either way, it’s a revealing habit, for the watcher and the watchee. Ultimately, it’s an instinctive, animal response to the fact that we’re pack animals constantly striving to maintain or gain status. Pack rats? That too.

However you characterize your horological habit, we’re here to celebrate it, not bury it. At the end of the day, our time on earth is limited. How we spend it is more important than how we measure it. Admittedly, sometimes not by much. Wrist check! What are you wearing right now?

28 COMMENTS

    • I’ve been eyeing these for a while now, since the Two Broke Watch Snobs started talking about them a few months ago on their podcast. How do you like it?

      • I love it. It’s actually my third Time Arrow Co watch. I purchased two of their quartz homages, a Mil Sub and an Explorer, a month before I got the automatic Mil Sub as a Christmas gift.

    • Presumably that would be the same strap as on the SKX011J1 TTAW has reviewed?

      I forgot to include the tale of some classmate way back when. He wore some steel diver with a Pepsi-esque bezel. Another student was convinced that this was a Rolex and, you know, who does this guy think he is and all? At some point I finally got close enough and, IIRC, it was a Seiko.

      Anyway, I’m wearing a Timex Weekender this week. Feel free to scoop me on reviewing this model.

      • That’s the one. After enduring it for over a year I’ve finally ordered an oyster bracelet from Uncle Seiko. Maybe one day USPS will finally deliver it.

  1. Great article. So interesting.

    I wonder if this also explains the disproportionately vaunted status of those few icon watches – royal oak, nautilus, and a few others. It’s not that they’re sooo much better looking, or historically interesting, or whatever. They’re just now the most *recognizable* status watches so the “general peacocking value” is priced into their market value.

    • Yes, the conspicuous consumption must be conspicuous, and not all consumption is so. I first learned the name Patek Philippe as a reference in a Tom Wolfe novel in the 80’s, but damned if I could pick one out of a lineup until very recently, and still only the Nautilus and Aquanaut. The variety of high end watches available is dizzying, but the number that stand a chance of being noticed (in the desired way) during a casual encounter are much fewer.

      • Wolfe’s watch references left an impression on me. Discreet, subtle, slim, was something I valued in watches at a time in my life when I couldn’t have told you what the difference between an automatic and a mechanical movement was, let alone the difference between a field watch (what I was wearing at the time) and a diver watch.

  2. “and underrated the Rolex’s cost by several magnitudes”

    Definitely this. “I can’t believe that guy spent $1,000 on a watch.”

    Before I had a Rolex I had an Orient Ray, and one time while wearing it this guy with a Breitling came up to me and told me that he has a Breitling because Rolexes like mine are too obvious a choice.

    SO30B400

    • I’m guilty of it myself. Around 30 years or so ago when I saw a print ad with MSRP for whatever Rolex, it was a tad north of $1K. So a couple years back my friend asks me to guess the cost of whichever of his (GMT?) and I thought I was aiming high with an estimate of $2.5-4K.

      That a Breitling wearer is so misidentifying a watch says even more.

  3. Excellent article. I love it when connoisseurship hits a certain level and a person can appreciate what makes a Rolex great, and wear it, but also understand and loves undiscovered or unappreciated gems, like a Timex Camper. I think that’s some of the appeal of a good microbrand. Dust off a vintage design, stick an off the rack automatic movement in it, and voila, something nice for watch enthusiasts!

      • I don’t know, honestly. I heard that the module is still being used in some current models. That said, I don’t hear much about needing to replace modules. Usually it’s straps and bezels.

        It’s a pretty sweet watch, even though it’s lacking a few features of modern Casios. One cool feature is that it can display three time zones simultaneously.

        • Time zones on a watch is a surprisingly useful feature. I can see why a GMT on a watch would have been a useful complication when it was rolled out.

          I’d love to get a Microma PVD (the watch Harrison Ford wore in Blade Runner) or a vintage Arnie, but I don’t know how easy it would be to obtain the right module if the movement broke.

  4. I wear my grandfather’s 1977 Explorer II which looks essentially new, and not one person has asked me about it. No one has a clue I’m rolling over 20K on my wrist, which makes it even better.

  5. Wearing a Walden Heritage Professional with a black dial. Review to follow. Initial impressions are. . . mixed. But it’s got an American quartz movement! How great is that? $300 and it looks like . . . a dress watch.

    • I’m interested in a Walden. I recently got a Vaer A5; nice case finishing, basic dial with decent lumed numerals, comfortable, and American assembly (with mostly Chinese components).

  6. I am wearing one of my lovely Art Deco watches. Specifically, an ATA (a secondary brand by Georges Decommun – that is, Doxa). It is beautiful, is almost 100 years old, and looks perfectly distinguished.

  7. I’m wearing a Casioak and a Fitbit on the same wrist. I haven’t put on any of my mechanical watches in months. I wind them every so often but that’s it.

    Last time I noticed a watch was a guy in front of me in line at my local butcher’s. He was egg-shaped, wearing sandals, shorts, dirty t-shirt, Sub Hulk.

  8. Calibre 321 speedmaster. Picked it up from Omega boutique Sydney last month. Ordered it in early January 2020. It’s superb. The feeling on TTAW seems to be anti Omega from Rob’s last post and some comments. But haters are gonna hate.

    • At least among the writing staff, I think we’re a pretty diverse lot. I personally own two Omegas, a Seamaster and a Speedmaster, and a 321 will absolutely be my next watch purchase when I am out and about again, and the initial demand has worn off a bit. I’m a big fan.

    • I think I opted not to comment on the Speedmaster article, but I’m utterly ambivalent on them, which is a more charitable stance than I have for most of its competition. Despite knowing Omega owners, my opinion is very detached. They love theirs too, of course.

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