Everyone has a different story of how it all started. No matter who it is, all watch lovers started on this delightfully addictive hobby we call horology at some point – young or old, high-end or budget, modern or vintage. For some of us, it started with our dads handing us our first mechanical (or quartz) watches. For others, perhaps a friend introduced it to them and planted the seeds of appreciation. For me, I simply picked it up out of curiosity. Here’s my story on how I started on this journey of horology.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it was that I got curious about watches. It certainly wasn’t when I got my first watches back in primary school, the various digital Casios or even the random, brand-less watch that sold for $10 at night markets. That was in the early 2000s, and cell phones were a luxury for a school-going kid. I actually relied on my watch to tell the time. Ironically, it was later than that, when cell phones were commonplace enough for a watch to lose its basic purpose, its raison d’être. It was in my tweens when I first noticed the ads for Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Phillipe plastered on the front page of newspapers with surprising regularity. Surprising because one had to wonder, what was the purpose of a watch in that day and age? How were they, mechanical or quartz, still relevant in the digital era? And what was it about watches that kept them timeless (pun intended)? At the time, I had no answer to these questions. I didn’t know of anyone who might be knowledgeable on the art of horology either, so these questions stayed unanswered.
Through the next 6 years, those questions stayed out of sight and out of mind as I went through army and university. In my final year of university, I noticed a friend posting about his modified Seiko SKX007 on Instagram. This reignited the questions that had been quietly smoldering in a corner of my mind, and I was determined to find the answers to them this time.
As with any question in the digital era, one has a good chance of finding the answer online. I turned to online blogs looking for beginner guides to watches, but merely found a summary of pointers on indicators of quality across watches at different price points (e.g. Under $1000, $1000-10000, above $10000), but no mention of what gave a watch, any watch for that matter, its appeal. The ever-so-descriptive terms described watches in loving detail, but I could hardly relate to them, having never held a mechanical watch in my hand.
What I did learn from trawling through the blogs, though, were the general categories that watches fell into, such as complicated versus non-complicated watches, divers, chronographs, dress watches etc. I also found myself developing a sense of appreciation for the various aesthetics that make up the watch, like the dial layout, legibility, case and lug design. However, pictures can only do so much, and decided the only way to truly answer my questions was to own a watch and experience it myself. That being said, the world of horology was as yet unknown to me, and I did not want to spend a large amount of money on something I might not enjoy. Foremost in my consideration of a starting watch was therefore value for money.
I set myself a budget of $200, reasoning that I would have spent about that much on a fashion watch anyway. The first question, then, was whether to buy a brand new watch or to look to the second hand market? I quickly ruled out wading the murky waters of used watches, since I had no idea what watches were worth brand new, much less in used or questionable condition.
Next, where should I look to buy my first, new watch? From my research, the only established brand producing watches within my budget was Seiko. I had read so much about Seiko during the short course of my research, all of them positive. My mind was almost made up, but I briefly poked my nose around the Kickstarter sphere anyway hoping to find value propositions at budget, discounted prices. While there were a couple of unique pieces with attractive specifications, they did not fit the budget.
Enter the Seiko 5 SRP601K1
The last decision, then, was to choose the model. Every video I watched and every forum I visited never failed to mention the SKX007 as THE starter watch offering maximum bang for buck. That being said, I wanted to get something that looked really good, but not the same as everybody else. The SKX was simply too…classic, for lack of a better word. Yet another popular consideration was the Seiko Monster, with its radical jagged teeth for hour markers and distinctly shark-like overall appearance. That fit the bill better, and was available in a variety of appealing colourways but somehow the teeth markers didn’t sit well with me. I went back to scouring the Seiko catalog for an affordable starter watch.
And then I found it. A Seiko 5 dive watch, resplendent with a strong steel bezel, angular edges, samurai hands and red highlights around the hour markers. I had found my starter watch: the SRP601K1. To be sure, it might not make any top 10 most popular or value-for-money list, but it spoke to me. You know that feeling. Be it your first watch or even the fiftieth watch, there’s almost a crystal bell that peals inside your head when you fall in love with a watch. That was my moment. When I first beheld the watch, its heft was apparent, and the 44mm case sat ever so snugly on my 7-inch wrist. Its bezel rotated with clean clicks, and its samurai hands offered the time while shining a bright Lumibrite green. I was smitten. Even today, several new watches later, I pick up my first watch ever and still feel the little spark of excitement in my gut as I wind it up and put it on. After all, there’s only ever one first love.
As my friends say: once you go mechanical, you never go back. In the short time immersing myself in the boundless ocean of horology, from the history of watchmaking in general to the specific innovations made by brands past and present, this journey, and the watch-loving community, has proven to be nothing short of wonderful. I now find myself drawn towards the vintage watches. Vintage pieces do tend to be more affordable, but they also represent the leaps and bounds made in watchmaking. In a time where technology was lacking, sheer human ingenuity was the driving force behind the nifty inventions. Old indeed is gold in the watch world, and I have come to immensely enjoy the timeless aesthetic displayed in the older designs as a part of their defiant stand against the inexorable march of time. Perhaps my taste in watches may change in the future, as I grow older and experience more types of watches, but it’ll all be part of an enormously enjoyable and educational journey through time.