A watch for the apocalypse

The world is burning. And we’re shopping for watches. 

By: Josh Cameron

The world is burning. And we’re shopping for watches.

This past year and incoming eon (probably), I’ve had the privilege of slowly slipping off my precarious perch on the razor wire of sanity from the comfort of my apartment. I know I'm not alone in this, and since my free time consists almost exclusively of Netflix, thinking about watches and reading the news while the world seems to be crumbling at a higher rate than usual, I've thought a lot about what the perfect apocalypse watch would be. 

You're right, it's a stupid thing to think about. What kind of a high-horse, pansy-ass spends these unprecedented times twiddling his thumbs and dreaming about things that tell time? And then blogging about it? Well, me. And quite likely you too, because you're here, reading a watch newsletter. 

I know I have better things to be doing. My career was upended and caused a sharp pivot with no safety trampoline to bounce off of, amidst a worldwide deadly virus, social uprisings, and a healthy dose of economic turmoil. But those circumstances bring to mind "what if" questions, and being so entrenched in this rabbit hole of a hobby, it made me think about the watch I'd want on my wrist when the aliens arrive with lightsabers or the zombies learn how to run.

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Let’s ask ourselves a few questions first.

There are a great set of apocalypse watch contenders, for mostly-valid reasons like utility, convenience, sentiment — but we’ve got to narrow down the criteria a bit. When the electricity has long since evaporated and the comets are raining down, we watch nerds will finally get the last laugh at the Apple fanboys and their uncharged wrist bricks. So smartwatches are out for sure. 

Do you have access to a veritable stockpile of button cell batteries with an infinite shelf life? Unless you’re good friends with the Energizer bunny, quartz is out of the question. "What about solar?" asks the one weirdo in the back. Bold of you to think the sun will still be around. Sorry solar guys (love you!), but solar is a no-go.

That leaves us, of course, with mechanical. Will your local watchmaker survive the 197th COVID variant? Mine probably will, the man is built like a redwood and truly seems like he could fight several bears at once, but that's beside the point. Taking a vintage watch with you into the void is a romantic idea, and it might be good luck to keep Grandpa's Bulova in your rucksack, but you ideally want something reliable, which rules out vintage for most of us. And so, we arrive at the modern mechanical timepiece. 

From here, it's mostly up to your personal preferences, or maybe which bunker you're eating ancient beans in. Will we need to know the year, month, date, day, and moonphase still? Maybe we'll rely on that one lucky asshole with the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar for that — but for us plebes, it's probably most beneficial to stick to the time and maybe the date. A chronograph might be useful to record the time between earth ruptures, but is a relatively delicate movement worth that?

If it works at the bottom of the ocean, it’ll work for us.

You can reach your own conclusions, but this is the thought process that landed me on the modern dive watch. It just works. For the pure utility of it, the robustness and water resistance will help it hold up over time. Shock-proofing and some light anti-magnetism come pretty standard. It might still have a bezel to time your supplementary oxygen for the weekly trip to the ration outpost and usually holds a reliable and uncomplicated movement.

The romance is still there, if that’s what you were into in The Before Times. You can wear your last grasp on some semblance of routine on a NATO strap or bracelet, with that click of the bezel or clack of the clasp wherever you are. It has everything you need and nothing else, withstanding everything you can and probably more. 

Your landing place might be different than mine — hopefully you could see it in your mind if you made it to the previous paragraph — but I made it to the Seiko Prospex SPB143. Seiko fanboys, rejoice. I’m normally a die-hard vintage guy, but that no-frills tool watch simplicity and less-easily-seen-by-enemy-faction-flashlights dark steel case just gets me. It’s tough, it’s pretty, the movement will surely outlive my scrawny ass. And as I lay dying in the ruins of what might once have been a Target, I can look down and say, “Dang, that’s a surprisingly decent date window execution.” God will look down (“Is that Jean-Claude Biver?”) and smile while he flicks me off this mortal coil.

As I send my 98,000th Slack follow-up of the day from my kitchen table, it's easy to believe my lunch break watch browsing can be something that matters more than the dent it’ll inevitably leave in my wallet. Maybe it will be someday. And it’s always good to be prepared, right?

Josh Cameron is a recovering journalist and founding editor of Danny's Vintage Watches. Find him on Instagram at @iamjoshcameron

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Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches, mostly vintage. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your inbox every Sunday. Follow us on IG too.

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