It’s been said that God, or the Devil (your mileage may vary) is in the details, and nowhere is that more true than in the various narrowly focused worlds of connoisseurship. Stamp collectors may have their British Guiana 1 Cent Magenta, but watch collectors and enthusiasts have an inexhaustible cornucopia of minutiae over which to obsess as well. Whether it’s vintage Speedmaster logos, the most intimate details of the private lives of Rolex bracelets, or the profound cloud of mystery surrounding the origins of that most ubiquitous of all pieces of horological equipment the spring bar we watch lovers love nothing better than to investigate, perseverate over, and interminably argue about the fine points of watches, clocks, and general horology.
Here are six of our favorite stories where we went deep, and then went deeper.
A Clock Worth Stepping On
On the corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway, in New York’s financial district, a clock has been sitting embedded in the sidewalk since 1899. The clock was originally put in place by the corner’s tenant, William Barthman, a jewelry retailer, and in one form or another a clock has been ticking away at the same location ever since.
The design of the clock has changed over the years, and William Barthman, though still present downtown, is now at a slightly different address, up the street at 176 Broadway (the current corner tenant is now, rather unglamorously, a Vitamin Shoppe). And the sidewalk clock is one of those things that most pedestrians probably walk over without a second glance or second thought. But behind its apparent banality is a deeper social history of both New York, and the history of the city’s public clocks, which Stephen Pulvirent dug into in his “Story of New York City’s Sidewalk Clock.”
That Time We Took You Through The Restoration Of A Vintage Quartz Watch
The Girard-Perregaux watch that we looked at in this story is practically a laundry list of things most watch enthusiasts love to hate. It’s really got it all. It’s quartz, it’s battery powered, it’s got an oh-so-seventies blobby cushion case; it’s got a fairly cheesy dial designed to look like a printed circuit board, and a not inconsiderable amount of plastic inside. Why hell, it’s even got a date window; if you want to hate on a watch it’s got something for everyone.
And yet it’s also one of the most historically important watches ever to come out of Switzerland: the Girard Perregaux watch in the story uses the legendary quartz caliber 350, which was the very first quartz movement to operate at a frequency of 32,768 Hz, now the modern frequency standard for quartz movements. The story also upends the idea that quartz watches are not worth collecting because they can’t be restored clearly, they can be. Parts are an issue, naturally, but no more so than they would be for the restoration of any number of vintage chronograph movements. HODINKEE contributor and watchmaker Aaron Berlow has the story, in “The Restoration Of The Girard-Perregaux Caliber 350, The Most Important Quartz Watch You’ve Never Heard Of.”
The Deepest Dive Ever On The Omega Speedmaster Professional
Ah, the Omega Speedmaster Professional. If you’re a collector fond of parsing the finest of possible fine points in the examination and classification of vintage watch models, you can hardly do better than the Speedmaster Professional. Made over sixty years and more, in a bewildering plethora of variations (some separated by only the most minute of differences) the Speedmaster represents an opportunity to engage in virtually Talmudic discourse on what makes one model distinct from another.
With a view to generating our own Guide For The Perplexed on the subject, Ben Clymer and HODINKEE contributor Eric Wind took on this most abstruse and arcane of horological topics, and came up with our very own Reference Points story on the subject a tour-de-force so taxing to research that after it was all over, the authors said didn’t care if they never saw another Speedmaster again (they have since recovered). The fruits of their labors may have been watered with tears but are no less sweet for that, and you may taste the savor thereof in ourReference Points: Understanding The Omega Speedmaster Professional.
An Incredibly Granular Story About The Rolex Oyster Bracelet
This story came to us from our own vintage watch expert, Louis Westphalen, who asks at the very beginning of the story, in a flourish of very Gallic rhetoric, “Why write a story about some random stainless steel bracelet that has been around for decades?”
Why indeed. Though the Speedmaster Professional may win the palm for most bewildering number of variations on a theme for any vintage watch model, it cannot be denied that in general, vintage Rolexes can come pretty darned close. Dial, handset, and case variations are all discussed on a regular basis and in excruciating detail but the Oyster bracelet is not often a part of the conversation to the same degree. And yet, as Louis argues in his story, the evolution of the Oyster bracelet is a microcosm for the evolution of technical watchmaking at Rolex in general, with updates in its design often acting as a bellwether for moments of increased technical evolution at the company as a whole.
Find out more than you ever thought it was possible to know about the Rolex Oyster bracelet, in his Historical Perspectives story,“The Fascinating (And Totally Geeky) Story Of The Rolex Oyster Bracelet.”
A Story Produced In Response To Your Constant Clamoring To Know What Baselworld Looked Like In The Forties
To watch journalists Baselworld is the Superbowl of the watch year, with hundreds of brands competing for attention, coverage, and above all, retailer orders, in what’s indisputably the single biggest annual event in the industry’s calendar. The Salon Internationale Haute Horlogerie has its own charms but for sheer comprehensiveness there is no beating Baselworld. The thing is, two months later most of what happened at Baselworld is a distant memory, with everyone already wondering about what they might see next year, and the last thing on most people’s minds is what happened the year before much less what happened years before.
However, as I’m sure someone once remarked somewhere (probably more than one person and probably more than once) we forget the past at our peril, and with that in view, HODINKEE contributor Eric Wind dug up, from the dusty back rooms and attics of the Internet (by which I mean, eBay) a series of photographs showing what Baselworld looked like in 1946, as a shell-shocked world struggled to find its feet again after the long nightmare of the Second World War. Certainly the images show a far more restrained environment than the Vegas-like panorama of over-the-top stands we see today … but it’s still watches in windows. Plus a change, plus c’est la mme chose.Check out Eric Wind’s “Historical Perspectives: A Look At Baselworld 1946.”
The Greatest Spring Bars Story Ever Told
Full disclosure: I wrote this story. Fuller disclosure: this is the story that made HODINKEE founder Ben Clymer give me the side-eye and say, “Um, so we’re really going to publish this?” I’ll be the first to admit, this isn’t as click-bait-y a story as we’ve ever published but what can I say, sometimes you get a bee in your bonnet about a particular subject and you know you will not find repose until you run a particular subject to earth.
The spring bar as we all know is how 99% of watches out there are kept affixed to their respective straps and bracelets and yet, it never occurred to me to even wonder who had invented them until a HODINKEE reader wondered idly in the comments to one of our stories, who might have been responsible. Finding an answer turned out to be far more complicated than I’d originally thought and led to a number of blind alleys and false leads, but as I got deeper and deeper into the subject I found it touched on some surprisingly unlikely subjects, including an altitude-record setting flight from the earliest days of aviation, and the Second Boer War. Truly, if you dig deep enough, even the most banal subject can yield an interesting story … probably. If you’ve come this far, peace be upon you and may you derive some small pleasure from discovering The Surprisingly Not Totally Boring Search For Who Invented The Spring Bar.