I don’t read a lot of books on watches. There sure are enough of them out there. Large, pretty coffee table books designed to be skimmed through while sitting in a large easy chair listening listening to background jazz and perhaps enjoying a scotch. These luxo-tomes are meant for high-end collectors, and priced as such. That doesn’t mean they are well written. Most of them list facts, but the best of them are actually worth a read. This is one of them. It also helps that it looks nice and have gorgeously printed images. Images that put even the best computer images to shame. I kid you not when saying that many of the images in the book look better than the real life timepieces.
The book is “Masters of Contemporary Watch Making,” and it is on just that. Talented watch writer and journalist Michael Clerizo (who writes about watch for the Wall Street Journal) selected many of today’s most talented and popular independent watch makers and wanted to write about who they are. There are other similar books on this topic such as 12 Faces of Time (that I reviewed), but Masters of Contemporary Watch Making predates it. The idea of understanding watch makers is a popular theme – and can be quite vexing. Watch maker’s aren’t always know to be the most open or social. It is often understand that to undertake the profession of watch maker is not only a serious ordeal born of passion and a fixation on minutiae, but also a lifetime dedication.
Clerizo’s tactic was to actually invade the watch maker’s element. Not just visit them, but spend an extended period of time with them. Interviewing them and seeing them live and work. The result is quite intimate. You see Clerizo hold back a lot of the time. He clearly learned a great deal of wonderful things from his experience, but needed to keep it brief given that the book focuses on 11 watch makers, and even refers to a good deal others. A lot of these people are true characters in their own right , and what you get is a mere glimpse.
What can one gleam from such a brief “visit” with these watch makers? Actually a lot. Clerizo keeps the book open to all readers. Watch nerds will find a lot to appreciate, and novices who know nothing about how a watch works, or hasn’t heard of any of these guys will still find things to be interested in. Though it is not a dumbed down text by any means. Clerizo is most focused on the people, their experiences, and most amusingly, their idiosyncrasies. A particularly good example of what you can expect is this excerpt from Clerizo’s report on the talents and eccentric Vianney Halter. “[Halter is] a man who grew up in two converted railway carriages, learned English by watching Star Trek, admits to being jealous of his cat, has a sneaker named in his honor, relaxes by flying a plane, calls himself a crazy French watchmaker, and creates watches unlike nay ever seen before.”
The list of watch makers that Clerizo features includes:
- George Daniels
- Svend Andersen
- Vincent Calabrese
- Philippe Dufour
- Antoine Prezuiso
- Franck Muller
- Aniceto Jimenez Pita
- Alain Silberstein
- Marco Lang
- Vianney Halter
- Roger Smith
Like I said, the rear section of the book includes a lot more than that, and Clerizo offers a handy glossary as well. OK, so these guys make amazing watches and are interesting people. But why the big deal? Well from a sociological standpoint it is interesting profile people who go into the same career, achieve success at it, and do something that from a functional perspective is sort of unnecessary. Common to all of these men is that they are brilliant (each in their own unique way), often times come from very humble beginnings, and would all be described as iconoclasts. Men like this drive the collector’s market. They are the face behind high-end watches, because the timepieces that come out of the large groups have no one with faces behind them. When investing in a timepiece from one of these men, you are buying a piece of them. You are subscribing to what they believe in, their tastes, and the pride they have in their own work. Masters of Contemporary Watch Making helps us understand more about who these people are, why they do what they do, and does a good job at showing their work next to a profile of their personalities. Clerizo does all this in consumable prose, offering a glimpse not only into the men, but also their timepieces.