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! . . .
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?