SHARP Watch Editor’s Letter: Reality Check

The watch I wear the most these days is worth about $80. It’s a reproduction of a mid-1980s design with a transparent case, a set of jaunty primary-coloured hands, and an exposed quartz movement. Most people would look at it and see a cheap plastic watch, but not me. I see a piece of pop art, the transparent superstructure of the Centre Pompidou, the outlandish furniture designs of the Memphis Group, and the era of exuberant (and likely substance-fueled) postmodernism from which they sprang. Of the dozen or so watches I own, this one is far from the most valuable in dollar terms, and certainly not the most mechanically interesting. But I love it all the same.

These are interesting times to be a watch guy. In the past year, we’ve seen one record-breaking auction sale after another, empty display cases at retailers, and police in full riot gear called in to contain the crowds vying for their chance to buy (and probably resell) a $300 quartz chronograph. As we move into the new year, grey market prices for the most-hyped models are beginning to cool, retail supply is catching up to demand, and things are looking a little less patently bonkers in our little corner of the culture. Still, I can’t help but wonder if watch collecting has lost something along the way.

Timepieces occupy a distinctive place in the hierarchy of things: part fashion, part art, and part finely tuned measuring machine. These days, thanks to social media, the crypto boom, and a couple of years of pandemic-fueled discretionary spending, watches have become a popular asset class as well. Regardless of how much a piece might be worth in six months, or how much it could fetch at auction, there is another consideration that’s far more valuable to watch enthusiasts like me: how it makes you feel.

I’ve been writing about watches for long enough to remember the days when flexing was something a man did in the privacy of his bathroom mirror and, while everyone is entitled to like what they like, there’s a lot more to a watch than what it says about your net worth. These pages are full of watches of all kinds, from ones you can buy for under a thousand dollars to ones worth more than a detached home in downtown Toronto. All of them have their merits, and some of them can, without exaggeration, be called masterpieces. Nothing, however, can replace the thing that made me and so many others fall in love with watches in the first place. I know what it is for me. You get to decide what it is for you.