Ok, yes, I am reviewing a four year old book. I’ll probably be repeating many other reviews, but I only recently stumbled upon this book at the local Barnes and Noble. I have to admit, the title rang some alarm bells that were not alleviated by the contents.
This is, indeed, a book about men and their watches. You will not find any women in here. I find this odd since the wristwatch started out as a woman’s accessory. Not only is it about men, it is predominantly white men. This lack of diversity is disappointing as love of watches is certainly not limited to one group. A quick tour of the various watch related sub-Reddits will prove that.
That said, let’s have a look at this book. First off, it has an awesome presentation, being a hard-cover book within a thick protective sleeve. It definitely looks nice on the shelf. The pages contain individual stories from many men both famous and obscure. I say obscure, because many of them are likely only known to hard-core watch aficionados and include watch dealers and designers. Excellent photos by Stephen Lewis accompany each and show each watch in amazing detail.
The stories come from numerous sources, some famous, some not so. Each focuses a particular watch that made an impression on the person being interviewed. The watches run the gamut from inexpensive Sears branded character watches to valuable pieces owned by the likes of Paul Newman and Elvis Presley.
Many of these stories follow a pretty similar pattern. A family member has a watch that piques the interest of the person being interviewed. It occurs enough that you would think it would get boring. Somehow it doesn’t. Whether it’s a tale of an immigrant family making their new life, or a father sharing a common interest, either in the mechanical or artistic, aspects of time pieces. While each of these stories are short, there is an intimacy to them that is unique to each story.
My favorites, however, are the out of the blue stories. A watch acquired unexpectedly, or one that usually no one would look at twice, except for the one-of-a-kind story behind it.
Perhaps the best example of this is the watch, given to Maitre D’ Dimitri Dimitrov by Bill Murray. Asked the time by Mr. Murray near a darkened cove of the restaurant, Dimitri finds it difficult to see his own watch. Murray removes and hand him his own Timex Indiglo, a simple, though exceedingly useful, watch with a handy greenish-blue light.
This, and other tales from some of the lesser known folks, are the best in the book. James Ragan tells the history of acquiring watches for astronauts in the Gemini and Apollo missions. Kikuo Ibe, a designer at Casio goes through the process of developing the incredibly successful G-Shock line, accompanied by photos of a couple of prototypes.
It’s these stories I found myself pulled into far more than the various celebrities in the book, such as Sylvester Stalone, Nas and Mario Andretti.
Before writing my own review, I read several online reviews of this book. Most of them were pretty harsh on the photography. All shot in a similar way, straight on against a black background, I can see where these reviews were coming from. However, I feel these reviews missed something in this seemingly simple technique. Tack sharp, these images give you an unblemished view of some very blemished watches.
As far as I can tell, no attempt was made at beautifying the subjects of the imagery. You see these watches as they were worn, rusty, scratched, dirty. Despite the worn appearance, these watches are beloved by their owners. They show their age and use.
One watch, another G-Shock, this one owned by Kenta Watanabe, shines a deep purple color. He explains that it started out white, but as an indigo dyer, and after two years of use, it had acquired the color.
To me, this book without the photos would have been a much lesser product. The photos by Stephen Lewis provide the complete picture to the stories told. That the watches are shown in their raw, imperfect, form, with their scratches and blemishes, is what kept me flipping the pages. That may go to my own roots as a photographer, but I also suspect that they will also please most others who purchase this book as part of their horological journey.
I am disappointed that this book leaves out such a wide swath of the watch loving community. I understand that this is a companion book to A Man & His Car by the same author, but again, even that title leaves so many out. It leaves a sense of incompleteness. Would I recommend it to others? I can only give that a tentative yes, simple because there doesn’t seem to be many books like this available to those with an interest in watches and their history. But you have to acknowledge, that this is a one sided history at best. An entire gender is left out.