Your Taste is Not Your Taste: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Horological Development

I never understood what John Mayer meant when he said that he regretted buying his first ten or twelve watches. The first time I saw his episode of Talking Watches, I began to really, thoroughly think about my own collecting, admittedly mostly homages or surrogates at that point, and I couldn’t think of a single piece I’d sell. I had my dive watch, my pilot watch, some dress watches, a few quartz pieces, even a GMT. All the boxes, I thought, had been sufficiently ticked. And that was the problem.

There’s this impossible to avoid trend in entering the watch community in the Age of the Influencers, one in which the phrase “you’re not a true collector unless…” is commonplace. The idea of certain pieces being not just important, but absolutely essential to being able to actually consider yourself an enthusiast is everywhere, from YouTube to Instagram, and on a good day, you might just make it out alive. 

The first watch that became one of those pieces to me was the Seiko SKX. It’s an absolute tank of a dive watch, a tool among tools, and important in a great number of ways. It was a watch everyone owned, and I to this day feel a tiny bit of shame for still having never owned one. 

“No collection is complete without an SKX,” a disingenuous British YouTuber once said. 

I finally have a better understanding of that sentiment, but I don’t think he, or any of the others with a similar message, actually mean it that way. I think they’re being very literal, in a way that is both toxic to the healthy, natural growth of a newbie’s taste in watches, and also wholly essential. John Mayer, it turns out, was right – you’re supposed to fuck up buying your first chunk of pieces.

My first was an Invicta Pro Diver, one of the Submariner homages (though I didn’t know that at the time). It was my first automatic watch, and I owe it everything. I never would have even bothered to YouTube search for automatic watches if not for that watch, and to come from a point where $80 seemed like a lot to spend on a watch, to now not being remotely fazed by $8000+ and beyond…it’s definitely progress. That watch was my SKX, and it’s still in my collection to this day. 

But from there, the floodgates opened, and I spent night after night watching every video I could get my hands on, learning everything I could about brands I couldn’t even pronounce then. It was the fastest spreading infection I’d ever witnessed, and before long, I was writing about these crazy little machines we strap to our wrists. And then I was getting paid for it. But something was still wrong. 

At the point that my passion became my profession, I’d collected mostly based off the advice of other individuals I’d come to respect, but whom had no clue I even existed (at least, not then). At the same time, though, I was using the brands they’d suggested to buy homages, or even just plain surrogates for the pieces I wanted but couldn’t afford, pieces I’d seen on Talking Watches or on the former WatchUWant channel. John Mayer’s IWC Big Pilot inspired my own Air Blue Charlie Automatic (which, for the record, is a lot of watch for $300). Hunter Thompson’s Rolex Coke GMT had inspired my purchasing a Steinhart homage. Seeing Archie’s Man on the FUCKING MOOOOOON gave me the buzz to find my Citizen Avion Chronograph. 

Even if not every piece was a visual homage, to me, they were all spiritual ones. And that was essentially how my collecting went for a few years. And then I met Gary.

Gary Shteyngart’s episode of Talking Watches is probably my favorite, not because of the intense conversation, or because of the horological deep cuts, but because this was a guy who’d been collecting just about as long as I had, despite being so much older. And I remember the intense war flashbacks I got when he described, in detail, the same existential stress of thinking your watch was broken because you don’t know what an automatic is that I felt when I first got my Invicta. 

In Gary, I’d found the first collector who I’d ever heard speak with any sense of authority whose philosophy made sense to me and felt like, even if I didn’t know it then, that it was actually my own. I looked down at the Hamilton Khaki Field 38mm in white on my wrist as I watched him describe his adoration of the Junghans Max Bill, and I finally got it. 

In this hobby, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you what the fuck to like. A lot of people are going to make suggestions, or provide pro tips on the best watches to buy for beginners. And y’know what? They’re all full of shit. Because the only watches that are right for you are the ones that you see and get a bit warm and fuzzy over. I absolutely hate the Rolex Submariner for me, but I respect the crap out of it as a timepiece and piece of horological history. Same with the Patek Calatrava. I want the weird, the off-beat and off-kilter, the Bauhaus and Zaratsu, the enamel and fumé dials. But I am not you.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? You’re going to have, or maybe already have had, a lot of people that think they know what’s best for your collection. And they don’t. But you’re going to have to think they do for a little while before you have that answer yourself. And while it is definitely a part of the journey, it’s only the beginning. Keep it weird, keep it wild, and keep it classy, watchfam. 

John Mayer - New York Times
The Seiko SKX, Regarded as a "Staple Piece" by many watch enthusiasts.
Logans Citizen Timepiece
Hamilton Khaki Field 38