What Makes A Watch Stylish?
For me, it’s a lot of the same qualities that lend style points to clothes.
As HODINKEE readers know by now, I love watches and wear them – but I’m picky. To make the cut, a watch has to meet four criteria:
1. It has to keep time reliably – that’s a low bar.
2. It has to be hardy. I don’t like stuff that’s overly precious.
3. It can’t be too extravagant – that can get re-rationalized quickly. Helmut Sinn had it right when he said he wanted to make watches “as perfectly as possible, but only as expensive as necessary.”
4. And most importantly, it has to have style. I have to like it. This one carries a lot more weight than the first three. If it moves my heart, I’m interested. That’s what got me into design in the first place.
Okay, but what is style? I look at watches almost exactly the same way I look at menswear. Generally speaking, I make simple, conservative clothes that have enough cool to get me going in the morning. Similarly, all the watches I own have a very clean dial. I like a sparer face. My mind is filled with a lot of detritus already; my watch can’t be too tricky.
I’m really big on symmetry. So much so that my jacket lapel, shirt collar, and tie widths are all exactly the same. Proportion is a huge part of my design philosophy. Almost everything we make is cut to be “slim but not skinny” – close enough to the body, but with enough ease to it that you can move around. That sense of balance is equally important to me when it comes to watches. For instance, anything above 40mm is too big for me. I don’t have big wrists. On me, a Breitling feels like wearing a wall clock. On a bigger guy, it’s fantastic – it complements his size. It looks right and gives a sense of harmony and balance.
Versatility is also important. The reason I wanted to have a store and a clothing line was sort of to fulfill my own needs. I wanted clothes that I could wear to work in Manhattan … to go home to visit my parents in Mississippi… and then on a flight to Milan … without ever feeling out of place. I didn’t have stuff like that in my closet at the time.
Our first business cards had vestitum et sanae mentis on them – “clothed and in his right mind” (shout out to the Gospel of Mark for that one.) The idea was to clothe guys, but also make them comfortable and confident in what they were wearing, without them having to think about it too much. The idea is to free up your mind to focus on the stuff that’s more important than your outfit.
I’m a “clothes guy,” and I like thinking about my outfit, but a lot of customers aren’t and don’t. Similarly, I’m not a “watch guy” — especially not compared to y’all in the comments section — so my watch needs to be something I don’t second-guess. For me, that watch is a Rolex Explorer 1016. But before that it was a 1960s Zenith caliber 126 – I’ve had that one for 25 years.
What is that watch for you? No doubt your life looks different from mine – I’m wearing a tie six days a week, and the seventh I’m in swim trunks – and the answer kinda depends on what you’re doing every day. For you, it could be a Casio digital or a vintage Junghans Max Bill with a beat-up alligator strap. It’s probably not a Hamilton Ventura unless you’re Elvis Presley. In general, I’d say a stylish watch is one that fits seamlessly into your everyday look without having to spend too much energy on it … unless, of course, that kind of energy is fun for you.
I myself get energized when watches are secretly special. The Rolex Milgauss is a perfect example. The scientist’s watch. I don’t own one, but when I found out that it was designed to be antimagnetic (for guys in power plants, hospitals, research labs) I thought that was the coolest thing. I guess if you break down the name it’s not so secret, but it’s still a terrific backstory. By the same token, there’s this sweater that we make with merino wool and yak hair – totally under the radar and wild at the same time. No one’s gonna know, but “thanks, it’s yak hair!” is just as cool a response as “thanks, it’s antimagnetic!”
That orange seconds hand on the Milgauss gets me, too – I’ve always had a thing for Day-Glo. Whether it’s garment-dyed jeans or sneakers or oxford cloth shirts, the Sid Mashburn line has always over-indexed on neon.
In the end, I like simple, versatile pieces with a good sense of proportion to them … and maybe a cool backstory. Not rocket science here, but it doesn’t have to be. Is it interesting to you? Does it move your heart? There are so many fantastic watches out there, and ultimately the hallmark of style is just making it a part of your life and owning it.
Sid Mashburn is a designer and the namesake proprietor of five menswear shops, located in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and online.