The Jealously List 2020
👹 The best articles of the year that we didn't write: Swatch, Heuer grails, vintage Patek Philippe chronographs, and (of course) John Mayer
Welcome to Rescapement’s first annual Jealousy List — stories from other publications throughout the year that deserve recognition, and that I perhaps wish I’d written myself. Much the way a collector might become wrought with jealousy when seeing a wrist shot or insufferable “new watch alert” featuring a timepiece they themselves had been eyeing, I experience the same feeling of emotional pain when another outlet publishes a great piece of writing.
What starts as a begrudging tip of the cap though, eventually becomes something more sincere. Game recognize game, as the kids (used) to say. The focus here is on timeless pieces — articles that will be as relevant in 10 years as they were on the day published. With that, enjoy at my envious expense the 2020 Jealously List.
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A Collected Man
This is the year A Collected Man became perhaps the best content producer in the business. However, my favorite article from them wasn’t their bread-and-butter forte about six-figure independents, but rather their exploration of Swatch. In the piece, John Goldberger refers to Swatch as “the last real innovation in the history of horology” — it’s fascinating to read about Mr. Goldberger’s collecting of the plastic, quartz tickers, despite the fact that he still says he won’t let one touch his wrist.
Jason Heaton’s article on not getting a watch for his 50th birthday is Hemingway-esque in its simple profundity. This passage reflecting on the meaning of Rolex and the American Midwest hit home for me:
Where I come from, I didn't see anyone wearing Rolex. While many from the coasts and Europe saw fathers and role models wearing old Subs and Datejusts, in the American Midwest, the Crown is largely seen as ostentatious, impractical, and pretentious. So while I was spending time in New York, Geneva, and more far-flung post codes where Rolex is common, coming back home with one on usually meant having something to explain, if not to others, at least to myself. This forced me to examine what it was that I liked about Rolex specifically, and about watches in general. And it really had nothing to do with the name on the dial or any prestige associated with it.
Wei Koh, Revolution
Wei Koh starts this in-depth exploration of vintage Patek Philippe chronographs by explaining his unrequited, unfulfilled love of the Patek reference 1463 “Tasti Tondi”, the brand’s first water-resistant chronograph:
A watch that is so hallucinatory in its beauty that if you were able to bring back the ghosts of Gérald Genta, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Phidias, and lock them in a room for one hundred years, they would not have been able to design a chronograph that could surpass the beauty of the 1463. But what I love most about the Tasti Tondi is that as Patek Philippe’s one and only water-resistant vintage chronograph, it was a symbol of modernity and adventure in the context of the 1940s and ’50s.
Koh goes on to explore Patek’s entire (and I mean entire) range of vintage chronographs. Despite the decidedly not-woke optics of analogizing wristwatches to women, this 10k+-word opus is a true must read.
On the Dash
Jeff Stein from On the Dash lays out his list of the “16 Grails of the Vintage Heuer World”. For each of his choices, Stein explains why it’s a grail, exactly how rare it is, and a few tips for grail hunters. Meanwhile, For budget hunters, he offers the “next best thing”, where he directs collectors to similar watches that can be had at a fraction of the grail’s price. I’ve always enjoyed the methodical logic of Stein’s collecting and writing, and the 6,000+ words here don’t disappoint.
Here are On the Dash’s top 3 grails (head to the article to see all 16):
Three Register, Black Chronograph, Waterproof — Ref 2447 N (1940s / 50s)
Triple Calendar Chronograph, Waterproof – Ref 2547 (1940s / 50s)
The “Big Subs” Autavias (1962)
Jon Bues & Eric Wind
Every GMT-Master reference from Rolex, from the 6542 to the modern Pepsi and Batman — 35, in all, spread across one table. It’s so good, and perhaps the most ambitious video and project of 2020. The second-best thing Hodinkee produced all year.
Alvin Chong, SJX
Perhaps the best (online) exploration I’ve read examining how time came to govern industry, and then life:
The Industrial Revolution laid the foundations for contemporary, developed societies that are driven by capitalism and anchored to a time consciousness and discipline that continues to prevail today. Awareness of time is now ingrained, since it is impossible to escape the omnipresence of time that is now displayed everywhere – clocks, watches, and phones, or even microwaves and cars. Society is now governed by schedules and timetables, with workers often struggling to meet deadlines.
These distilled notions of time spurred by the Industrial Revolution demonstrate that even though time itself is grounded in the unchanging laws of physics, it is also very much an inescapable social construct.
A behind-the-scenes look at how the world’s first mechanical alarm watch, the Vulcain Cricket, became the “President’s Watch”, starting with Harry Truman and continuing to this day. It tells the story of the Paajaneen family reviving the tradition of gifting a Cricket to the U.S. President, including to then-Vice President, now President-elect Joe Biden.
The Open Caseback
I’ve had an essay titled “Buy what you love is bullshit” in draft for about a year now. Luckily, The Open Caseback roughly approximated my feelings in this piece:
I want to propose an alternative to “buy what you love.” Something more concrete and tangible, something easier to work with. In doing so, I also want to try to connect our purchasing decisions to something greater than our own individual indulgences.
This is my new mantra: “Buy the future you want to see in the watch world.”
When we buy a new watch, we’re doing more than merely acquiring an object for ourselves as individuals.
Typically, posts introducing a new product are formulaic garbage; this one wasn’t. It had perhaps the best paragraph about a watch I read all year:
It does not signal wealth; rather, it signals that signaling about wealth is really something beneath its dignity, and it ought to be beneath yours too. It breathes the essence of a genteel, refined, and unostentatious lifestyle, redolent of battered vintage Bentleys looking in need of a paint job they will never get; large, rambling country estates going slightly to seed; complaining to your domestic partner of several decades in a reedy, irritated voice that the rabbits have gotten in amongst the cucumbers again; of sitting in sullen silence by the fire on Christmas morning while the relatives revel until you get everyone's attention, at about one or so, by shouting that the damned dog isn't going to walk itself. Laugh if you will, a man can dream. The only downer to me about the whole business is that this lovely, lovely watch, which finds pandering to transient tastes of any kind unworthy and irrelevant, is a limited edition. Something like this, I feel, ought to be made on a regular basis – if nothing else, to keep hands and eyes and minds sharp, and to remind the company, as much as its customers, where its philosophical, technical, and artistic centers of gravity really lie.
While perhaps no longer the beating heart of the community they once were, watch forums are still home to some of the best scholarly discussions. This post from WatchProSite was one of the most informative I came across all year, explaining the intricacies of Rolex Submariner bezels, with plenty of reference images that you’ll keep coming back to.
In so many ways, Tudor is pushing the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation forward, experimenting with retailer collabs and limited editions, reviving heritage models, and working with materials that Rolex simply won’t (bronze, titanium, etc.). This article even goes deep on the painstaking process of crafting Tudor’s fabric straps. These are the types of articles that make one appreciate the innovations still happening in modern watchmaking.
John Mayer became the “world’s most influential watch collector” by following his own taste and nerding out on everything from G-Shocks to concept APs. Of course, his enthusiast for vintage has given wings to the entire industry, helping to spur its growth over the past decade-plus. Another of his most important traits? Independence:
What’s most notable to those I spoke with is Mayer’s free-agent status. Today, any celebrity who has shown an ability to read a clock is typically lassoed into a paid ambassadorship with one of the larger brands. Mayer’s love of watches, unburdened by corporate commitments, is accompanied by a sheen of authenticity.
Sure, memes are great, but this Reddit For Sale post for a dull, $20 Pottery Barn Travel Clock is absurdly beautiful. It satirizes the infamous Travel Clock (objet d'art) from the beginning:
At its core, the Pottery Barn One-Year Travel Clock is a quartz clock with a one-year power reserve and alarm complication. The clock is inconvenient to travel with, and its dimensions (dimensions) allow it to replace your cell phone in your pocket or replace an outfit you wanted to bring with you. While the purpose of these clocks have not changed from being boites de charge (boxes of burden), we think the modern collector can appreciate these pieces and jeu de role (roleplay) to experience the same pains of the early traveler.
If it’s audio you’re looking for, there’s plenty of that too: the Hodinkee Radio episode with Ben Clymer and Eric Wind talking vintage watches, auctions, and condition is pure old school, as is the Blamo! Podcast featuring Mr. Wind. Meanwhile, the A Media Operator episode with Ben Clymer gives interesting insights on the future of Hodinkee as a brand and e-commerce platform.
Finally, lest you believe print is dead, there were also a number of articles available in physical, ink-beneath-your-fingers, magazine form, including Aldis Hodge’s reflection on watchmaking and crafting a legacy in Hodinkee Magazine Vol. 7 and Felix Scholz’s history of the Cartier Pasha (also found in Revolution Magazine). Meanwhile Blackbird Watch Manual’s Vol. 3 had a French theme, with features about F.P. Journe and some of the country’s most important astronomical clocks.
Thanks to Charlie for helping with the compilation of these articles. Don’t worry, we’ll have an entirely self-serving “best articles of the year from Rescapement” soon enough. In the meantime, breathe in the superlative writing from other publications that aren’t The Finest Newsletter About Rare Watches.
 Ironically, I borrowed the idea of a “Jealously List” from another publication.
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