One of the things you’ve gotta talk about when talking about watches, is the cost of getting into the game. A lot of us get interested in watches well in advance of actually being able to afford most of them – I happened to be in graduate school when I got bitten by the watch bug; we’d just had our first kid and we didn’t have a proverbial pot to piss in, but what we did have was a computer and internet access, which meant fast and easy access to a whole universe of things both desirable and completely unaffordable. Though I started out mostly interested in history and the physics of precision timekeeping, it wasn’t long before I began hankering for something modern. It’s interesting to think about what one’s first “good” watch really was, because “good” and “expensive” definitely don’t stand in direct relationship to each other, and though the insane spike in prices for both vintage and new watches over the last ten or so years tends to obscure that fact, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful watches out there for the asking – some of which you can almost literally acquire with change recovered from in between the sofa cushions.
I remember being very fond of a Casio G-Shock that I got in 1986 – it has shed its band and the outer resin case is long gone, but I still have it – and the beauty of such watches is that even if fortune smiles upon you as you move through life, and you find a bit more gold clinking in your purse and can afford something more expensive, and more conventionally fine, you will never regret that first purchase. My own early experience with the Casio G-Shock, far from being something I try to forget, has instead inculcated in me a lifelong love of G-Shocks in particular, and Casio in general, for letting me have a rollicking good time horologically at a period in my life when buying a bag of dried beans required thoughtful evaluation of my carefully husbanded financial assets.
Another utterly fantastic wristwatch made by Casio, is this one: the AE1200WH-1A World Timer. I have been admiring it in a desultory fashion for many years, and the other night, fueled by free-floating melancholy and a judicious titration of Russian Standard, I decided to splurge on one.
I don’t know exactly when this watch was introduced, but the technology is certainly contemporaneous with the G-Shock – 10 year lithium battery, LCD display, reliable quartz timing package and the ability to display the time in all 31 time zones around the world. Its design appears to be derived from, or at least related to, the Casio F-91W, which came out in 1991 and is also still in production; both watches are in the Classic Collection. There is also a countdown timer, stopwatch, five daily alarms, and on-demand backlight, as well as an analog LCD display that always shows home time, and, for a wonder, even displays running seconds.
The really delicious feature of the watch is the world map display – this is found right above the main digital display of the time, and the current local time zone is in black. If you’re on the road, selecting the local time zone is an absolute piece of cake; you just go to World Time mode with the Mode button (unlike many digital watches, operation of the AE1200WH-1A is very intuitive and once you get a basic sense of how to make your way around the four control buttons, you won’t be screwed if you lose the manual) and then use the button labeled Search to select the right time zone.
This allows you, if you are curious, to observe some interesting things about how time zones are organized, such as the fact that all of China observes a single time zone (UTC + 8:00).
Like all really great tool watches – the classic Mark series pilot’s watches, for example – the AE1200WH-1A gives every indication of not having been designed, per se, at all, but like the Mark series, its pragmatism in design and execution manages to transcend simple functionality, and achieve an aesthetic all its own. This is watchmaking at its most straightforward and unpretentious; there is none of the smug sanctimony of so much modern watchmaking, where even at the entry level, it is becoming distressingly easy to find the sort of sophomorically clichéd design cues reserved in former times for things much more expensive. The plastic case and mineral glass crystal, as it turns out, reward closer scrutiny with a surprisingly rich display of somewhat muted but strangely elegant geometry, and while the AE1200WH-1A doesn’t have the broad-shouldered tough-guy vibe of the G-Shock, it has another kind of retro-tech appeal that while not apparent at first glance, becomes more pronounced and more enjoyable the longer you wear the watch.
I suspect that the AE1200WH-1A and its ilk may create a lot more real joy in the world than all the Paul Newman Daytonas put together. For me this was something of a nostalgia buy – we have reached a point in the history of watchmaking where, thanks to the advent of the smartwatch, it is now possible to view an autonomously regulated LCD-and-battery watch with the same reverence for precise but outmoded timekeeping technology that I used to reserve for Shortt-Synchronome precision regulators.
I can’t put this watch on without vivid memories of a time in horology when this sort of tech represented absolutely the last word in practical and functional timekeeping technology, long before terms like “tropical dial” and “ghost bezel” had arisen, to trouble the world. Besides, as mid-life crisis purchases go (although you don’t have to be wracked with todesangst to buy one, several of my younger H. colleagues bought one after seeing mine) this is one heck of a lot cheaper than a sports car – a cheery, guilt free, surprisingly beautiful and moving $24.95 Value Proposition.
Available online from Casio right here. Go on. Treat yo’self.