The Case For Wrist Watches

Editor’s Note: Dean Ricciardi is a friend first, a volunteer on the site, and as it turns out a serious watch enthusiast who can write. The first in a series. The cover shot is Michael Nardi’s Cartier Tank Must Large Solarbeat.

I received my first watch when I was starting first grade. It had a white face with numerals in a silver-tone case, which was set into a brown plastic saddle; the strap was nylon grosgrain, black with white and yellow stripes. I have no idea where it came from, no recollection who got it for me. But as a six-year-old I thought it was neat.

By the time I was in junior high, digital watches were becoming popular, and were even sort of trendy. LED displays didn’t interest me much, but when the LCD versions arrived a couple of years later, I had to get one. It still had a round case like an analog watch, but instead of a dial with hands it had just a plain black face with a window where the numerals displayed. (The digital phase didn’t last long for me.)

Toward the end of college, I entered a period where most of my clothes were black or gray. I saw a watch somewhere that had a black dial and an all-over matte black finish on the case and bracelet, and bought it. The finish started to come off after a few months of wear (which I hadn’t anticipated, but should have foreseen), revealing an unattractive base-metal surface underneath. Soon after I replaced it with a Swatch, then a relatively new thing; it was black with a white dial and bold black numerals at all the hour positions, and I wore it daily for years.

I relate these scenes from my life not so much to illustrate my style choices (I consider myself semi-Ivy, but that’s a discussion for another time) as to establish my deep, lifelong interest in watches, which I hope will lend some credibility to my position.

Some people are fortunate enough to inherit a watch from a family member; others take it upon themselves to mark a significant occasion in their lives with a watch purchase. I have a good friend who bought an Omega Constellation with money he received when he graduated from college.

I too received money for graduation, but it didn’t occur to me at the time to do something like that; my awareness wasn’t high enough and my taste wasn’t very well developed yet, plus I was more concerned about getting a mattress and box spring and a bookcase, among the other things I needed for living on my own for the first time.

But in 2024, many wonder why anyone bothers to wear a watch—and it’s a fair question, given that virtually everyone carries a smartphone that keeps precisely accurate time, or they wear a smartwatch to track health and fitness data that also keeps precisely accurate time.

And even if you do wear a traditional wristwatch, why would you choose one with a mechanical movement over quartz, something you can find readily for maybe $100, certainly under $200? And why would those who prefer mechanical watches spend potentially thousands of dollars on such a thing (or many such things)? And isn’t one watch enough?

I’m not a snob about this; there’s nothing wrong with a quartz watch, and I own and wear several. But I also own many mechanical watches—a few manually wound, but most of the automatic-winding variety. I have indeed spent many thousands of dollars on these items, but I do have an arbitrary limit on how much I will spend on a single watch, and the high-end brands are of no interest to me anyway. (I should make clear that I work full-time and am child-free by choice, so I have more disposable income than many people.)

In an earlier era, a person might feel not fully dressed if they left their house without a watch, in the same way that Ivy forebears wouldn’t have left the house without a sack suit and a repp tie. Gen Z might think we’re hopeless relics of the past, but I’m old enough to not care what anyone thinks of what I choose to wear, whether it’s my shoes, my clothes, or my accessories.

Choosing to wear a watch is a throwback move, to be sure. I’d argue that it goes along with being the sort of person who chooses to wear sportcoats, OCBDs, and penny loafers to work (if you even have to go to an office anymore) when coworkers are wearing athleisure or hoodies.

But it’s also an aesthetic choice. I’ve always been interested in design, and something about the disparate elements of a watch—case shape, dial color and markings, hands—combining into the finished item activates something very specific in my brain.

All watches are functional, but some of them make me feel like I’m wearing a tiny work of art. I love lifting my wrist and looking at whatever watch I’ve chosen to wear on a given day, on a level completely distinct from wanting to know what time it is. Sometimes I catch myself just staring at a watch’s second hand as it moves around the dial.

The choices we make in dress and style are highly subjective, but I submit that wearing a watch is Ivy. Which watch? That’s just as subjective if not more so, but in my next installment I’ll humbly suggest some specific styles that work well as everyday watches.

Dean Ricciardi

3 Comments on "The Case For Wrist Watches"

  1. My dad passed in 2020 and he left me his gold datejust. I wear it every day just like he did.

  2. Michael Powell | March 5, 2024 at 4:55 pm |

    My watch resume:
    1964 – a series of basic Timex watches.
    1977 – Pulsar P4 (the first digital watch). I’ve still got it.
    !983 – G-Shock DW-5000. I still wear one to bed every night.
    2016 – Gen 2 Seiko Sumo on a Strapcode Endmill bracelet (my first
    “serious” watch).
    Today – a collection of Japanese divers and 2 pilot watches.
    Watches on bracelets for suits, blazers, or sport coats.
    Watches on NATO straps for day to day wear.

  3. Robert Mack | March 11, 2024 at 10:43 am |

    My watch resume:
    Gold Longines Cosmo , circa 1956, a wedding gift
    from my mother to my father.
    Seiko chronograph, circa 1972, grade school graduation gift.
    Rolex Submariner, purchases for myself in 1985,
    now worth almost 10x what I paid for it.
    A couple of Luminox Navy Seal color marks.

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