It requires bravery aplenty to suggest that watches do not make good gifts, and we are not that bold. There are many centuries of history demonstrating the value of timepieces as gifts. The issue is this: if you key in “watches as gifts,” into your Internet search engine of choice, you will get mealy-mouthed results. It may be that the impersonal world of data science, where user information is compressed and processed into anonymised data tranches is not suited to making gift suggestions. Or perhaps the algorithms do not have the right amount of data to deliver very personal results. We think that being personal is the key, and this section leans heavily into this idea.
While we have dutifully laid out the gifting case over the years, we started to move away from seasonal gift guides a few years ago, leaving that to our annual jewellery issue. There are undoubtedly logical audience-based reasons for this, but it is worth going back to the first principles for everyone who has ever considered or received watches as gifts. Watches are often quite expensive, especially those considered worthy as gifts, so it would not do if the very impulse behind the act is suspect. For example, buying a watch as a gift exclusively via Internet-powered suggestions is weak tea. Being brave enough to embrace your own idiosyncrasies is essential, which we have done on this issue. Let us explain…
You may wonder why a story about celebrating time, welcoming a return to relative normality, and rewarding yourself should have a space reserved for a Rolex. These are amongst the most unobtainable of all big brand wristwatches these days and are reportedly out of reach for collectors without standing. Well, we will justify this shortly but for the moment, simply consider the beauty of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Milgauss with the Z-Blue dial.
To skip ahead a little and avoid unfortunate misunderstandings, the short answer to the above question is that it is actually the watch bought by one of the WOW editors this year. A longer answer follows, but first, we must establish what this story is about.
- READ MORE: Watch Buying Guide: All About Dials
No Gifting Advice Here
This story is not about gift-giving then; instead, it is an extension of something odd that we noticed as the pandemic raged about us. People were buying watches; people are buying watches. It was most certainly not like the past crises where retailers and brands alike whispered of dried-up demand. Oh no, the last couple of years have been anything but. Our peers have suggested that this is how affluent people respond to being forced by circumstance to forgo overseas travel. No doubt that is part of it, but one does not simply wander into collecting watches on a whim, any more than one makes the equivalent decision about art or automobiles.
The pandemic has upended our lives, and we need not look to the media for confirmation. Just try going out for dinner with friends and family. Actually, depending on where you live in the world, just stepping outside your home might be a different experience compared with the Before Times. In such times, people reach for any sort of connection with a gentler past and a brighter future. Often these connections are mythical, in the sense that Roland Barthes meant.
A watch is a mythical object. It certainly has a function and is defined quite simply by this function. This aside, timepieces of all sorts also have values that transcend their chronometric properties. Even a watch with peerless chronometric pedigree, such as a Dufour Simplicity or George Daniel’s singular Space Traveller, are defined by the hands that made them, not the hands that mark them. This takes precedence over their functions, even when the stories about them revolve around their mechanical properties. The motivations and passions of the creators, to say nothing of the actual work they put into making the watches, are what people really want to know about. Great watches are defined by great stories, which is why WOW emerged in the first place.
In studying 20 years of WOW in Singapore, we were drawn to the idea of watches that carried with them their own stories. Not every watch is meaningful in this way, of course, but even the most popular models do build up a legendary narrative. Think of the saga of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II, which multiple editors of this magazine have tracked since the era of the ceramic bezel insert in 2005. Even little functional details such as this mark chapters large and small — consider the difference between a manual Oyster Perpetual Daytona and an automatic one. Opinions will be divided even on that score, but that watch in particular only gained favour in one version, but the resulting tidal wave of demand elevated both.
Consequential watches are exactly what is called for to celebrate the last few years. Choosing a historical piece, or one that is soon to be one such as the Patek Philippe Ref. 5711, is often the best way to go. What is needed is a sure thing, in other words, or at least one that market sentiments will not colour, such as they might be. We have no intention to suggest investment watches, so the only other sure thing is personal selections. This means that some of the watches in this story will be very much of the current flavour, even though we strived to avoid the utter dominance of sports models and watches with bracelets.
To that end, the various editors of WOW have selected two watches each as their key pieces for 2021. These are earnest good faith recommendations, as each editor sees it. The editor of WOW Singapore adds two more pieces in this introduction: the Milgauss, as mentioned earlier. His proper selection of two other pieces is made in his capacity as digital editor as well.
Before we commence properly, we note that these sections were written prior to more (potentially) dire news about Covid-19. Despite that, we decided to hope for the best and make the best of the situation. Perhaps we will have struck a different tone by our Spring issue, when we will know if Watches & Wonders will indeed have a physical show (at press time, it does) where we can celebrate with our peers once again.
Stay tuned to the editors’ picks coming soon.
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