Category Archives: Watches

Prediction Realised: The AlpinerX

My AlpinerX
Resolution: 1280 x 1400

In October last year I wrote an article celebrating the hybrid analogue/digital watch and offering some architecture and design observations from my collection of them. I ended up slightly sad about the style’s fall from fashion, but confidently predicting that new models with smartwatch capabilities would be forthcoming. It turned out that I did not have to wait long.

In March Alpina announced the AlpinerX, via a KickStarter campaign. That approach was designed to work around a frequent challenge with new digital watches from smaller brands, that of guaranteeing sufficient early sales to justify decent batch sizes of the components and materials. Predictably, I was an early backer, and my watch arrived in mid-June.

At first sight, this is simply a classic analogue/digital watch. I have read reviews comparing it with the Breitling Aerospace or Omega Speedmaster X33, but a much closer existing comparator is the Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar. That watch is a similar size, style and price and has a similar sensor set. The two watches share similar deep integration of the hands with the digital functions, so that they become, for example, the needle in compass mode.

However the AlpinerX goes further. It has a couple of extra sensors including a pedometer and a UV level meter, but this is also a fully-fledged connected smartwatch, just as much as an iWatch or equivalent, and it really comes into its own in partnership with your phone.

Size and Styling

Regarding the watch’s design, we should start by addressing the elephant in the room, or more correctly the elephant on the end of your arm. While it’s certainly not the largest gong around, it is a big watch, 45mm in diameter, larger than the Breitling Aerospace, and 14mm thick, much thicker than the Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar (or latest Breitling Aerospace Evo). This is not going to slide unnoticed under a dress shirt cuff. The size is a result of several factors. First fashion – we have all got used to wearing a dinner plate on our wrist like something from The Fifth Element – and its outdoor focus. Practically its composite case (which Alpina call glass fibre) may well have to be a bit thicker than a metal one.

However although I haven’t confirmed it, my money is on the size of the battery, or batteries. If Alpina’s claims are borne out they have pulled off a remarkable coup: a watch with the rich sensors and connectivity of a smartwatch, but with battery life measured not in hours or days, but around two years just like its non-connected cousins. I hope that promise comes good: Alpina haven’t provided a “sleep mode”, like older T-Touch models, in which the watch can be put into a battery-saving dormant state when not being used, and I do hope I’m not going to be changing the battery too frequently.

Although it’s quite large, it’s not a heavy watch by any means (a benefit of the composite shell), and it sits comfortably on my fairly average wrist. The Tissot, with its solar power solution, may be slimmer, but the AlpinerX is perfectly wearable, albeit better with casual clothing.

The watch has a simple, clean design, with simple white digits on the face, matching markings on the bezel (which rotates to work with the compass) and clear intermediate markings. The digital display takes up most of the bottom of the dial, dark yellow in background mode, or white on black when lit. Unlike some designs, the digital display has been positioned symmetrically, and all the cardinal points of the analogue display are retained.

Alpina offer buyers the ability to select the colour scheme of almost all elements of the watch, allowing extensive customisation, although in reality the main choices for most components are black or navy – the latter being a sort of dark purple (which I rather like) rather than a completely neutral blue. In the expectation this will be a travel/holiday watch, I have chosen cheerful orange highlights wherever possible: for the hands, the ring, and the stitching on the leather strap. I also have a rubber strap in bright orange, but so far the leather strap has proven adequate for my use, and very attractive with a texture reminiscent of woven carbon fibre.

Operation – General Observations

Operation of the watch is very simple, using the three buttons on the right-hand side. The “pusher” button in the crown lights the display and toggles through the main functions. Within a selected function the bottom button selects sub-functions (e.g. count up or count down) and the top button does start/stop.

The rotating “crown” appears to be simply decorative. As we will see, Alpina have missed a number of opportunities where this could usefully provide setting adjustment , but that’s not the model here. For more complex settings this is a watch controlled not directly, but via the companion app on your phone. That allows the local controls to be simpler, but does sometimes mean that it can take some digging into the app to find out how something is managed.

The free-rotating bezel (with click stops) provides a compass indicator which can be teamed with the compass needle to provide azimuth and heading indication. At least it does something useful!

For those used to more complex smartwatches with high-resolution OLED displays, the simple two-line alphanumeric digital display might look a little crude. However it suffices to provide most of the information you need while actually on the move, and presumably helps deliver the excellent battery life. Again the operating model is for detailed review to be done on the much larger display of the phone. On a positive note, the simple display could be readily combined with the design of any of my Swiss hybrid watches, even the diminutive 1987 Omega Seamaster Polaris, so maybe there’s scope for a smaller, neater variant of the watch at a later date.

When illuminated (which happens by default every time you switch functions or activate the connection to the phone) the digital display is bright and clear. When the backlight is off the digital display is a bit dim, but there’s no issue with the clean, high-contrast analogue indicators (or hands, as they are otherwise known 🙂 ).

The watch has a number of nice touches. For example, one of the challenges with this style of watch (which is also a problem with multiple dial chronograph watches, although it’s rarely mentioned) is that sometimes the hands obscure a key part of the digital display. Alpina has come up with a neat solution to this – simply swing the hands out of the way of the display when the user activates the digital display. (However it has to be said that the neatest solution for smaller watches, adopted by Rado and older Casio and Seiko models, is an oblong case with digital displays above and/or below the dial. Sometimes simple is best.)


Use of the AlpinerX depends heavily on connection to a phone. It is therefore rather annoying that the process of connection can be rather fiddly and unreliable, especially with Android devices. Experiences vary – mine is that the two devices will connect and communicate easily immediately after the phone has been rebooted. However if thereafter the phone’s BlueTooth is turned off and on, or the devices are separated for a long time, then it can be tricky to get the connection working again, and the simplest, but not ideal, solution is to restart the phone.

What seems to happen is that the watch thinks it is connected but the phone does not, and in this mode there’s no reliable way to restart the process. I just hope that Alpina can improve things and deliver a firmware and/or app fix, which at least is an option here.

Timekeeping Functions

Ultimately, setting the extended functions aside, this is a watch, and so needs to provide good basic timekeeping. It therefore comes as a surprise that some capabilities standard in every digital watch since the 1970s are either missing, or delivered in a non-standard and somewhat clumsy fashion.

The biggest omission is the alarm function. Either I am being very stupid, or the AlpinerX doesn’t have one! There is no way to simply set the watch to make a noise at a pre-appointed time of day. You can set the watch to receive a push notification from your phone, and then set your phone to provide the alarm, but Alpina warn that doing so can harm battery life, and if you are going to do so, you might as well just use the alarm on your phone. If your phone suffers from late alarms due to the brain-dead Android “doze” mode, then this watch is not going to help you.

There are no direct controls to set the time on the watch. The idea is that the watch takes its primary time from the phone, which in turn takes the time from the network. This allows an elegant, simple solution to travel adjustments and so forth, but it’s not clear how to make micro adjustments if needed. In my experience “network time” can sometimes be adrift of the time provided by a good watch. If you are in an area where the network does not provide reliable time indication (like during a flight) you will have to adjust your phone manually, and if you don’t have your phone when you need to adjust the time, you’re stuffed.

Operation of the stopwatch is straightforward, but the count-up/count-down timer is really annoying, as you have to set the target value on the phone before it can be used. This is one example where it would be really useful to provide a way (the rotating crown, obviously?) to set the value locally. If I’m going to have to use my phone, I’ll just use the timer app on my phone, or wear a thirty year old watch where this just works.

Fitness Monitoring

On a more positive note, the AlpinerX does provide some very useful fitness monitoring features: principally a pedometer and a “connected GPS” mode for tracking an exercise route and duration. If you’re not doing complex exercise and you don’t need heart rate monitoring, then you don’t need to wear a Fitbit. That could provide a useful simplification to the holiday gadget set.

As pedometers the AlpinerX and Fitbit Charge 2 agree within 0.2%: 12 steps in over 6300 on my first test. However they behave very differently in “connected GPS walk” mode. The AlpinerX can be fiddly to get started with first GPS fix, but then very accurate – you can see where I double back to my car at the start of the walk with the parking ticket. The Fitbit is very crude by comparison, taking only a handful of fixes in an hour. The result is about a 10% difference in distance, with the AlpinerX’s figure of 4.7km rather more believable than the Fitbit’s “straight line” estimate of 4.3km. (The Fitbit is also more painful to sync with your phone if they have been disconnected for some time, although the AlpinerX can get confused if you turn Bluetooth off and on and try to reconnect. You pay your money and take your choice.)

The AlpinerX’s “phone first” model means that it only provides a simple time display during the exercise, and I would like to see this extended to some basic “steps/distance so far” information. Yes, I know I can get my phone out, sync them and read the phone, but I don’t want to do this when walking.

I haven’t tried the sleep monitoring, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it. Even with its heart rate monitoring the Fitbit can’t discriminate (for me) between “asleep” and “lying awake but still”, and I don’t expect the AlpinerX to do any better, especially since I would probably have to use the “under the pillow” mode. If you thrash about all the time when you are awake it might work…

UV Sensor

The AlpinerX has something which I haven’t encountered previously in a watch, a UV sensor. The marketing claim was that “AlpinerX can give timely warnings to reapply sunscreen or seek the shadow…” This is a great idea, but unfortunately the initial implementation falls a long way short of expectations.

Based on the claims, I was expecting an intelligent function which would continuously monitor UV exposure throughout the day. Plug in some information about your skin type and the strength of your suncream, and the phone would automatically set an alarm to remind you when to take action. Fat chance.

As far as I can see, the current implementation requires the user to switch the watch to UV monitoring mode and manually initiate each measurement. The phone then displays a very simple set of maximum, minimum and average values for the day. There is no concept of history or cumulative values. There is also no way to get the promised “timely warnings”, because there is no alarm function.

There is a text page in the app which provides some guidance on interpreting the UV measurement, but I’m not convinced of its value. The guidance is almost exactly the same for all UV levels from 3 to 11, effectively just “use SPF 30+ sunscreen and re-apply every 2 hours”. That’s for a range which at one end shouldn’t trouble anyone but a troglodyte albino, and at the other would rapidly scorch an Ethiopian mountain dweller.

Alpina really need to sort this out, or modify their claims. Regular automatic measurements and an exposure history would be a start, and ought to be pretty simple to achieve.

Altimeter and Barometer

Like the Tissot T-Touch watches, the AlpinerX provides altimeter and barometer functions. Like the Tissot watches, it has then same challenge that with a single measurement it my be difficult to disentangle changes of weather and changes of location during the same period. You can come back to your starting point after a day’s travel which included weather changes and the altitude doesn’t quite return to its initial value. The AlpinerX does, however, appear to do something clever with either average pressure or in concert with the phone’s GPS and will correct itself given a bit of time at rest. Advantage AlpinerX.

The app displays a continuous periodic readout of your altitude throughout the day, but like the UV, the barometer reading is displayed as a crude set of current, maximum and minimum values. Given that the rate of change of pressure can be important, it would be great, and presumably relatively simple, to be able to see this as a timeline as well.


The AlpinerX has a built-in thermometer. Like other watch thermometers, this tends to indicate the temperature of the wrist while being worn, but the AlpinerX seems to be better than most, with a smaller error and quicker recovery to ambient temperature when then watch is removed, maybe due to the non-metal case. Ironically temperature is displayed as a timeline in the app, but tends to hover round a fixed value close to human skin temperature through the wearing day.

Guidance and Documentation

While the watch does many things well, getting the best from it is a real challenge given the frankly appalling documentation which is delivered with it. The box includes a thick printed manual … which doesn’t cover this watch at all! There is a three page “getting started” leaflet, but that doesn’t cover key functions such as time setting. Between the two of these I spent some time trying to pull out the crown, which is how other watches in the Alpina range achieve that, and I’m lucky that I haven’t broken anything.

You need to find the relatively well hidden link to download a PDF of the 23 page version of the manual to have a hope of understanding the watch. Why a printed copy of a 23 page manual isn’t included in the box is a complete mystery. The fact that it isn’t downloaded automatically with and intelligently linked directly from the app is a travesty.

It doesn’t help that the app is a graphic example of how ease of use and ease of learning are completely separate and sometimes even conflicting objectives. There is little or no help to find your way through its structure and the options. Once you have found how something works it is usually easy to use repeatedly, but I do wonder how many users will abandon some tasks altogether, defeated by the poor guidance.


I do like the AlpinerX. It is a smart, capable watch and has delivered on a majority of its promises, if not all. It has already supplanted my Fitbit for my fitness walks, and I expect it to become my primary travel watch, although given the additional dependency on my phone, I may have to carry a second more traditional hybrid watch on longer trips, just in case.

Coming to this watch from my experience with older hybrid models, that phone dependency is a challenge, although I suspect users of other smartwatches might be less surprised. I would prefer the AlpinerX to be independently capable of all the traditional timekeeping functions, including setting alarms and timers, without recourse to the phone, and I don’t see a good reason why it isn’t.

With my other watches, any limitations are permanent, for the duration of my ownership. By contrast the AlpinerX architecture does allow some of its limitations to be addressed through firmware updates or even simple app changes, and I hope Alpina listen to me, and other users, and work hard to progressively improve the product. At the same time, I would like to see them open up the data, and maybe even the app functions, through a development API or SDK. The independent developer community could deliver significant value to users if this watch is treated as a platform, not a closed product.

If Alpina are thinking of further similar models, then I suggest they do treat the Breitling Aerospace Evo as a reference, not for its functionality, but for its size. It pulls off the trick of being wearable as both a casual watch, and also with formal or business attire. A smaller and thinner AlpinerX model which could do that might make it into my list of regular daily timepieces, and that would be a great result.

This is a good watch, and at least partially realises my prediction about the future of analogue/digital models. It’s not without frustrations, many of which could have been avoided, some of which can still be fixed. It will be interesting to see where Alpina take it, and whether others recognise a good thing.

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Architecture Lessons from a Watch Collection

Early 1990s Hybrid Watches
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GX8 | Date: 21-10-2017 10:06 | Resolution: 5118 x 3199 | ISO: 1250 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 30.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

I recently started a watch collection. To be different, to control costs and to honour a style which I have long liked, all my watches are hybrid analogue/digital models. Within that constraint, they vary widely in age, cost, manufacturer and style.

I wanted to write something about my observations, but not just a puff piece about my collection. At the same time, I am long overdue to write something on software architecture and design. This piece grew out of wondering whether there are real lessons for the software architect in my collection. Hopefully without being too contrived, there really are.

Hybrid Architectures Allow the Right Technology for the Job

There’s a common tendency in both watch and software design to try and solve all requirements the same way. Sometimes this comes out of a semi-religious obsession with a certain technology, at others it’s down to the limitations of the tools and mind-set of the designer. Designs like the hybrid watch show that allowing multiple technologies to play to their strengths may be a better solution, and not necessarily even with a net increase in complexity.

Using two or three rotating hands to indicate the time is an excellent, elegant and proven solution, arguably more effective for a “quick glance” than the digital equivalent. However, for anything beyond that basic function the world of analogue horology has long had a very apt name: “complications”. Mechanical complexity ratchets up rapidly, for even the simplest of additional functions . Conversely even the cheapest of my watches has a stopwatch, alarm and perpetual calendar, and most support multiple time zones and easy or even automatic travel and clock-change adjustments. Spots of luminous paint make a watch readable in darkness, but illuminating a small digital display is more effective.

The hybrid approach also tackles the aesthetic challenge: while many analogue watches are things of beauty, most digital watches just aren’t. Hybrid watches (just like analogue ones) certainly can be hit with the ugly stick, but I’ve managed to assemble a number of very pretty examples.

The lesson for the software architect is simple: if the compromise of trying to do everything with a single technology is too great, don’t be afraid to embrace a hybrid solution. Hybrid architectures are a powerful tool in the right place, not something to be ruthlessly eliminated by purist “Thought Police”.

A Strong, Layered Architecture Promotes Longevity

Take a look at these three watches: a 1986 Omega Seamaster, a 1999 Rado Diastar, and a recent Breitling Aerospace. Very different, yes?

Sisters Under the Skin, or Brothers from Another Mother?

Visually, they are. But their operation is almost identical, so much so that the user manuals are interchangeable. Clearly some Swiss watchmaker just “got it right” in the late 1980s, and that solution has endured, with a life both within and outside the Swatch Group, the watch equivalent of the shark or crocodile. While the underlying technology has changed only slightly, the strong layering has allowed the creation of several different base models, and then numerous variants in size, shape and external materials.

This is a classic example of long-term value from investing in a strong underlying architecture, but also ensuring that the architecture allows for “pace layering”, with the visible elements changing rapidly, while the underpinnings may be remarkably stable.

It’s worth noting that basic functionality alone does not ensure longevity. None of these watches have survived unchanged, it’s the strength of the underlying design which endures.

Oh, and yes, the Omega is a full-sized mans’ watch (as per 1986)! More about fashion later…

Enabling Integration Unlocks New Value

The earliest dual mode watches were little more than a simple digital watch and a quartz analogue watch sharing the same case, but not much else except the battery (and sometimes not even that!). The cheapest are still built on this model, which might most charitably be labelled “Independent” – my Lambretta watch is a good example. There’s actually nothing wrong with this model: improve the capability of the digital part, the quality of the analogue part and the case materials and design and you have, for example, my early 1990s Citizen watches which are among my favourites. However as a watch user you are essentially just running two watches in one case. They may or may not tell the same time.

The three premium Swiss watches represent the next stage of integration. The time is set by the crown moving the hands, but the digital time is set in synchronisation. There’s a simple way to advance and retard both in whole hours to simplify travel and clock-change adjustments. Seconds display is digital-only to simplify matters. Let’s borrow a photography term and call this “Analogue Priority” – still largely manual, but much more streamlined.

“Digital Priority”, as implemented in early 2000s Seikos is another step forwards. You set the digital time accurately for your current location and DST status, and you have one-touch change of both digital and analogue time to any other time zone. The second hand works as a status indicator, or automatically synchronises to the digital time when in time mode.

However the crown has to go to the Tissot T-Touch watches. Here the hands are just three indicators driven entirely by the digital functions: they become the compass needle in compass mode, show the pressure trend in barometer mode, sweep in stopwatch mode, park at 12.00 when the watch is in battery-saving sleep mode. And they tell the time as well! Clearly full integration unlocks a whole set of capabilities not previously accessible.

Extremes of analogue/digital integration

So it is with software. Expose the control and integration points of your modules to one another, or to external access, and new value emerges as the whole rapidly becomes much more than the sum of the separate parts.

Provide for Adjustment Where Needed…

While I love the look of some watch bracelets (especially those with unusual materials, like the high-tech black ceramic of the Rado), adjusting them is a complex process, and inevitably ends up with a compromise: either too loose or too tight. Even if the bracelet offers some form of micro-adjustment and you get it “just right” at one point, it will be wrong as the wrist naturally swells and shrinks over time. Leather straps allow easier adjustment, but usually in quite coarse increments of about 1cm, so you’re back to a compromise again.

The ideal would be a bracelet with either an elastic/sprung element, or easily accessible micro-adjustment, but I don’t have a single example in my collection like that. I hear Apple are thinking about an electrically self-adjusting strap for the next iWatch, but that sounds somewhat OTT.

On the other hand, I have a couple of £10 silicone straps for my Fitbit which offer easy adjustment in 2mm increments. Go figure…

We could all quote countless similar software examples, of either a “one size fits all” setting which doesn’t really suit, or an allegedly controllable or automated setting which misses the useful values. The lesson here is to understand where adjustment is required, and provide some accessible way to achieve it.

… But Avoid Wasting Effort on the Useless

At the other end of the scale, several of my watches have “functions” of dubious value. The most obvious is the rotating bezel. In the Tissot, it can be combined with the compass function to provide heading/azimuth information. That’s genuinely useful. The Citizen Wingman has a functioning circular slide rule. Again valid, but something of a hostage to progress. 🙂

At least the slide rule does something, if you can remember how!

Do the rotating bezels of my Citizen Yachtsman, or the Breitling Aerospace have any function? Not as far as I can see.

Now I’m not against decorative or “fun” features, especially in a product like a watch which nowadays is as frequently worn as jewellery than for its primary function. But I do think that they need to be the result of deliberate decisions, and designers need to think carefully about which are worth the effort, and which introduce complexity outweighing their value. That lesson applies equally to software as to hardware.

… And Don’t Over-Design the User Interface

The other issue here is that unless it’s pure jewellery, a watch does need to honour its primary function, and support easily telling the time, ideally for users with varying eyesight and in varying lighting conditions. While I have been the Rado’s proud owner for nearly 18 years, as my 50-something eyesight has changed it has become increasingly annoying as a time-telling device, mainly due to its “low contrast” design. It’s not alone: for example my very pretty Citizen Yachtsman has gold and pale green hands and a gold and pale green face, which almost renders it back to a pure digital watch in some lights!

At the other end of the scale, the Breitling Aerospace is also very elegant, but an exemplar of clarity, with a high-contrast display, and clear markings including actual numbers. It can be done, and the message is that clarity and simplicity trump “design” in the user interface.

This is equally true of software. I am not the only person to have written bemoaning the usability issues which arise from loss of contrast and colour in modern designs. The message is “keep it simple”, and make sure that your content is properly visible, don’t hide it.

Fashion Drives Technology. Fashion Has Nothing To Do With Technical Excellence

All my watches are good timepieces, bar the odd UI foible, and will run accurately and reliably for years with an occasional battery change. However, if you pick up a watch magazine, or browse any of the dedicated blogs, there is almost no mention of such devices, or largely of quartz/digital watches at all.

Instead, like so much else in the world we are seeing a polarisation around two more “extreme” alternatives: manual wind and “automatic” (i.e. self-winding) mechanical watches, or “charge every day” (and replace every couple of years) smartwatches. The former can be very elegant and impressive pieces of engineering, but will stop and need resetting unless you wind or wear them at least every few days – a challenge for the collector! The latter offer high functionality, but few seem engineered to provide 30 years of hard-wearing service, because we know they will be obsolete in a fraction of that time.

Essentially fashion has driven the market to displace a proven, reliable technology with “challenging” alternatives, which are potentially less good solutions to the core requirements, at least while they are immature.

This is not new, or unique to the watch market. In software, we see a number of equivalent trends which also seem to be driven by fashion rather than technical considerations. A good, if possibly slightly contentious example, might be the displacement of server-centric website technologies, which are very easy to develop, debug and maintain, with more complex and trickier client-centric solutions based on scripting languages. There may be genuine architectural requirements which dictate using such technologies as part of the solution, e.g. “this payload is easy to secure and send as raw data, but difficult and expensive to transmit fully rendered”. Fine. But “it’s what Facebook does” or “it’s the modern solution” are not architecture, just fashion statements.

On a more positive note, another force may tend to correct things. Earlier I likened the Omega/Rado/Breitling design to the evolutionary position of a shark. Well there’s another thing about sharks: evolution keeps using the same design. The shark, swordfish, ichthyosaur, and dolphin are essentially successive re-uses of a successful design with upgraded underlying architecture. Right now, Fossil and others are starting to announce hybrid smartwatches with analogue hands alongside a fully-fledged smartwatch digital display.

In fashion terms, what goes around, comes around. It’s true for many things, watches and software architectures among them.


Trying to understand the familial relationships, similarities and differences in a group of similar artefacts is interesting. It’s also useful for a software architect to try and understand the architectural characteristics behind them, and especially how this can help some designs endure and progressively evolve to deliver long-term value, something we frequently fail to achieve in software. At the same time, it’s also salutary to recognise where non-architectural considerations have a significant architectural impact. Think about the components, relationships and dynamics of other objects in architecture terms, and the architecture of our own software artefacts will benefit.

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Collection, or Obsession?

I have decided to start another collection. Actually the real truth is that I’ve got a bit obsessive about something, and now I’m trying to put a bit of shape and control on it.

I don’t generally have an addictive personality but I do get occasional obsessions where I get one thing and then have to have more similar things, or research and build my kit ad infinitum, until the fascination wears off a bit. The trick is to make sure that it’s something I can afford, where ownership of multiple items makes some sense and where it is possible to dispose of the unwanted items without costing too much money.

Most of my collections involve clothing, where it makes reasonable sense to buy another T shirt, or bright jacket, or endangered species tie (of which I may well have the world’s largest collection). They can all be used, don’t take up too much space, and have some natural turnover as favourites wear out. Likewise I have a reasonable collection of malt whiskies, but I do steadily drink them.

Another trick is to make sure that the collection has a strong theme, which makes sure you stay focused, and which ideally limits the rate of acquisition to one compatible with your financial and storage resources. I don’t collect "ties", or even "animal ties", I collect Endangered Species ties, which only came from two companies and haven’t been made for several years. Likewise my jackets must have a single strong colour, and fit me, which narrows things down usefully.

The new collection got started innocently enough. For nearly 18 years my only "good" watch was a Rado Ceramica, a dual display model. About a year ago I started to fancy a change, not least because between changes in my sight, a dimming of the Rado’s digital display, and a lot of nights in a very dark hotel room I realised it was functioning more as jewellery than a reliable way of telling the time. So I wanted a new watch, but I wasn’t inspired as to what.

Then I watched Broken Arrow, and fell in lust with John Travolta’s Breitling Aerospace. The only challenge was that they are quite expensive items, and I wasn’t quite ready to make that purchase. In the meantime we watched Mission Impossible 5, and I was also quite impressed with Simon Pegg’s Tissot T-Touch. That was more readily satisfied, and I got hold of a second-hand one with nice titanium trim and a cheerful orange strap for about £200. This turned out to be an excellent "holiday" watch, tough, colourful and with lots of fun features including a thermometer, an altimeter/barometer, a compass, and a clever dual time zone system. That temporarily kept the lust at bay, but as quite a chunky device it wasn’t the whole solution.

The astute amongst you will have recognised that there a couple of things going on here which could be the start of a "theme". Firstly I very much like unusual materials: the titanium in all watches I’ve mentioned, the sapphire faces of the Breitling and the Rado and that watch’s hi-tech ceramic.

Second all these watches have a dual digital/analogue display. I’ve always liked that concept, ever since the inexpensive Casio watch which I wore for most of the 90s. Not only is it a style I like, it’s also now a disappearing one, being displaced by cleverer smartphones and smart watches. Of the mainstream manufacturers only Breitling and Tissot still make such watches. That makes older, rarer examples eminently collectable.

To refine the collection, there’s another dimension. I like my stuff to be unusual, ideally unique. Sometimes there’s a functional justification, like the modified keyboards on my MacBooks, but it’s also why my last two cars started off black and ended up being resprayed. Likewise, when I finally decided to take advantage of the cheap jewellery prices in Barbados and bought my Breitling I looked hard at the different colour options and ended up getting the vendor to track down the last Aerospace with a blue face and matching blue strap in the Caribbean.

Of course, if I’m being honest there’s a certain amount of rationalisation after the event going on here. What actually happened is that after buying the Breitling I got a bit obsessed and bought several and sold several cheaper watches before really formulating the rules of my collection. However I can now specify that any new entrant must be (unless I change the rules, which may happen at any time at the collector’s sole option 🙂 ):

  • Dual display. That’s the theme, and I’m happy to stick to it, for now.
  • Functional and in good condition. These watches are going to be worn, and having tried to fix a duff one it’s not worth the effort.
  • Affordable. This is a collection for fun and function, not gain. While there’s a wide range between the cheapest and most expensive, most have cost around £200, and are at least second-hand.
  • The right size. With my relatively small hands and wrists, that means a maximum of about 44mm, but a minimum of about 37mm (below which the eyes may be more challenged). As I’m no fan of "knuckle dusters" most are no more than 11mm thick, although I’m slightly more flexible on that.
  • Beautiful, or really clever, or both. Like most men, a watch is my only jewellery, and I want to feel some pride of ownership and pleasure looking at it. Alternatively I’ll give a bit on that (just a bit) for a watch with unusual functionality or materials.
  • Unusual. Rare colour and material combinations preferred, and I’m highly likely to change straps and bracelets as well.

Ironically I’m not so insistent that it has to be a great "time telling" device. There are honourable exceptions (the Breitling), but there does seem to be a rough inverse relationship between a watch’s beauty and its clarity. I’m prepared to accommodate a range here, although it has to be said that most of the acquisitions beat the Rado in a dark room.

So will these conditions control my obsession, or inflame and challenge it? Time will tell, as will telling the time…

Posted in Thoughts on the World, Watches | 1 Comment