At the inception of The Open Caseback, I wrote “we’re not the target audience.” It was a reflection on the feelings of disenfranchisement many collectors and enthusiasts have, caused by long waitlists, secondary market premiums, lackluster journalism, or any other grievances. That reflection laid the groundwork for my (attempt at) critical engagement with industry and community topics. It fulfilled its role as the foundation, or a manifesto, to guide my writing efforts and those of the contributors. But it missed a key question that’s needed more and more: what battles are actually worth fighting in the watch community?
Frankly, I don’t yet have a good answer. My sense is, a question as large as this should be discussed as a community – I’m not trying to be a dictator here. Rather than proclaiming some grand vision for better days, I’d like to first shed some light on what I find to be unproductive uses of the community’s critical will power. By providing some negative definition, my hope is that we can begin a dialogue on what battles are worth fighting in more concrete, positive terms.
So, what battles are not worth fighting?
(1) The battle over watch industry journalism
A few weeks ago, we watched the travel clock debacle on Hodinkee unfold. It was certainly an ill-timed release in a global pandemic, where travel is anything but possible. But I think it’s fair to say the massive backlash from the watch community was about a lot more than the travel clock. It was clearly a catalyst that turned existing trembles beneath the surface into a full 10.0 earthquake that rocked the community. For many, the outpour of anger and frustration was mostly catharsis – pressure escaping after years of build-up. This time, Hodinkee was the object of the frustration, but we’ve seen other media outlets take flak over the last year or so, albeit on a smaller scale.
Now, I don’t want to discredit the value of catharsis, but I feel like that is all it has become. It provides immediate relief to deep-seated discontent, until it builds up once more, and we do it all over again. It’s a vicious cycle, and in my opinion, it’s one we should try to break. And break it not for some holier-than-thou moral reason. We should do our best to break the cycle because I simply don’t know what it does to benefit the community.
Is there any benefit to railing against Hodinkee or any other watch industry journalism outlet? In an era where all publicity is good publicity, my sense is, we’re not changing Hodinkee’s charted course as much as we are accelerating it. The other key point to recognize is that Hodinkee’s focus has shifted, drifting in the direction of lifestyle with a horology twist. Its audience is not the hardcore watch collector and enthusiast, and I find there to be no point in trying to get its attention back. They’re moving on; we should too.
(2) The battle over fine finishing
The proliferation of high quality macro images is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows us to see the intricacy and fine finishing of mechanical timepieces with intense intimacy. On the other hand, macros have created a flood of attention on the most minute imperfections. I would say the watch community’s most abundant critique on social media is around the finishing quality of watch X or Y.
I can’t help but wonder if the outrage over the finishing on a given watch is similar to the travel clock. Is it a surface-level symptom of a bigger problem, rather than the cause? Similar to the battle with mainstream watch journalism, I’m also not really sure what the critique of finishing on social media is supposed to do. Send a message to the brands? We’re not even sure they pay any attention to us. And what’s the alternative? Bring up our grievances with the local AD? The likelihood any AD has a tough conversation with their manufacturer partners over quality control issues is very low. If life has taught me anything, it’s that many will move mountains to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
These two examples are by far the most concrete, prevalent complaints by collectors and enthusiasts that I see in the watch community. Both are low hanging fruit – too low hanging. The critique of mainstream watch journalism and minute finishing details comes across as too cathartic for my own liking. It makes me worry that we’re more interested in feeling momentarily better than improving the community and industry as a whole.
So, what are battles worth fighting?
Perezscope recently used his research on Panerai’s fictional history of tritium based lume to confront Worn & Wound over the veracity of their Panerai history narrative. To me, this is an example of critically engaging watch journalism that is productive. Holding journalism accountable for telling the truth is a good fight in any community. It’s good because it has a clear, positive impact on the watch community – it trains our eye to recognize misleading statements, and how brands intentionally (and unintentionally) use them to their own gain.
With this article, it is my intention to push us to work for fruit higher up the tree, to move beyond fighting battles for catharsis. I just don’t want watch collectors and enthusiasts to rally ourselves up and battle in an echo chamber. As I mentioned, I don’t have the answer for what constitutes good battles, but I think we should ground the fights we want in tangible improvements for the community as a whole, short- and long-term. We all know the brands, journalists, AD’s, and everything else won’t magically turn around and change for the better – it’s on us to make that push.
Another day with the beast,
Update 17 August, 2020: Only a day after this article was published, Perezscope’s Instagram account got mysteriously disabled – says a lot about the state of the industry. You can follow his new account @Pereztroika.