My Life Story In 4 Watches

My Life Story In 4 Watches
Our watches tell more than time. From childhood to fatherhood, the watches that define who I am.

What kind of watch do you like?

Now think of the exact opposite of that watch. Imagine that watch on your wrist at work, or at a beer garden with friends. Somewhere it will be noticed and might be commented on.

So, how uncomfortable do you feel?

If you’re like most people–if you’re like me–the thought of wearing a watch that isn’t your kind of watch is really uncomfortable.

Why is that?

Your Watch Has A Big Impact On Your Presentation

If your personal style is more classic or understated, then the watch you wear becomes very important. When you’re typically in khakis and button-ups or selvedge denim and tees, your watch can be the piece that determines the tone of your outfit.

For example, take a look at this classic outfit. White oxford and slim, dark denim:

dress watch white shirt jeans

Wearing a simple dress watch with this combination gives the whole outfit a low-key dignified feel.

Now, let’s change it up.

dive watch white shirt jeans

Pairing this outfit with a dive watch totally transforms it to give a sporty, active, adventurous inflection. We could take it even farther by swapping in a field watch or G-Shock.

My point: your watch speaks volumes. What do you want it to say about you?

The Two Faces Of Your Watch Choice: Identity & Expression

A watch tells the world who you are. Why? Because they’re supremely functional tools.

If you’re an active, physical boundaries-pushing type of guy you probably have a durable sport watch with integrated GPS to track your activity level.

If you’re a diver, like my colleague Chris Scott, you wear a dive watch because you’re an honest-to-God scuba diver.

If you’re climbing the corporate ladder, you might opt for the entry-level version of the dress watch you see your boss’s boss wearing.

A watch also tells the world who you want to be.

Watches are heavily marketed to what you’re interested in. Motorsports, mountaineering, or making deals: whatever you aspire to be, there’s a watch for that.

theres a watch for that

To me, there’s something special about the aspirational feeling of looking at watches. With a watch, I get excited about expressing myself in a way that’s difficult for me to get excited about with other kinds of style. I think that’s true for a lot of guys, which is why there are a million blogs and subreddits on watches.

By exploring the intersection of who you are and what you aspire to be, you can find the perfect watch for where you are in your life, right now.

My Life In Four Watches

Looking back on my life I can see how my preference in watches has evolved as I have, from child to adolescent to post-college to (somehow) adult.

Here’s the story of my love affair with four different watches. I know that watch choice is deeply personal, but if you’re looking for a watch – or want to be more considered in how you already wear your favorite timepiece – I hope this autobiographical tour speaks to you.

My Grandfather’s Citizen

vintage timex watch with new leather strap

A similar watch handed down to Primer editor & founder Andrew Snavely by his grandfather

Do you remember your first watch? I remember mine. It was my grandfather’s vintage Citizen on an expanding band, and as a kid I thought it was the coolest.

My grandfather died when I was young, and his watch was one of the only objects of his that I got to keep. He received it on one of his work anniversaries from Ford Motor Company, and he wore it every day for the rest of his life.

This says so much about what watches mean in our culture. Back in the day, if you put in your time at a company, they would give you a watch as both a reward and a token of respect. As a kid, getting to have that piece of my grandfather was (and still is) significant.

If you’re interested in wearing a classic vintage watch, check out “The Best Watch Brands by Price: A Horological Hierarchy.”

My High School “Dive” Watch

Old fossil chronograph watch

The high school watch of Primer's editor Andrew

As much as I loved my grandfather’s watch, I didn’t actually wear it that much because it was too valuable.

The first watch that I bought myself and wore was a Fossil knockoff of a Rolex Submariner. It had a blue face, a metal bracelet band, and it was heavy on my wrist in a way that made me feel impressive.

It helped that I’d earned the right to wear an imitation dive watch.

In 9th grade I saved up lawn mowing money to pay for my dive certification. Later that year, I was fortunate enough to go to Puerto Rico and complete my final check dives in the ocean. Of course, I didn’t wear the Fossil because it was strictly a fashion watch. But coming back and telling people, “Yeah, I went scuba diving for spring break,” with a dive-inspired watch on my wrist kind of defined me socially.

I was the kid who could scuba dive.

Dive watches continue to connote their heritage of being technical timepieces with a rotating bezel, and a screw down caseback and crown. They lend a feeling of sportiness and adventure without being garish.

For a look at some affordable dive watches, check out “The Best Men’s Dive Watches.”

Mountaineering Dreams

Suunto core black watch

In high school and college I had a few inexpensive Timex and Swatch watches, but nothing stuck. In my post-grad years, however, I returned to my family roots of hiking and went hard into mountaineering.

The Suunto Core was the apple of my eye, although I never pulled the trigger to buy one. I knew a few guys who had them, and I was smitten. This became my first aspirational watch: I wanted to be enough of a badass to need GPS, barometer, and compass on my wrist in the wilderness.

These kinds of wrist-top computers are great because they look cool but can also be used for running, hiking, and a ton of other outdoor applications. They connote ruggedness mixed with technological savvy.

The down side of this kind of watch is that they are not an all-occasions pick. They are strictly casual, and would clash with a suit. Unless you’re this guy.

Right Now: Dressy Chronograph

I went without a watch for most of my late twenties. This seems to be another common story: first, a smartphone replaces a lot of the functional need for a watch. Then, suddenly, you want the presence and style of a wristwatch again.

A mysterious confluence of factors got me interested in motorsports. I found myself with disposable income for the first time and bought a motorcycle, plus all the gear to go with it.

Some years later I traded in the motorcycle for a baby and a Kia, but I still get excited about Moto GP and Formula 1 races. As a gift for being such a sensible adult, I got myself a Skagen chronograph that’s professional with a hint of motorsports in its three-dial chronograph.

Chrono watches are simply watches that have multiple subdials that are able to tell elapsed time. They’re closely associated with motorsports because in the early days, people would time laps on their watches. Chronos are probably the single most popular subtype of watch because they connote not just motorsports, but also aerospace and other technical applications.

Nowadays, if someone really wants to time something with precision, they’ll use their phone or lasers or something more technical. But that early heritage – Charles Lindberg crossing the ocean with nothing but his smarts, a compass, and a wristwatch – is a powerful narrative even today.

For a deeper dive into chronograph watches, check out this feature.

What’s Your Watch?

Do any of these speak to you? We’ve taken a tour through some of the major styles of watches, but there are so many more to explore. If none of these vibe for you, get out there and start looking around … when you see the kind of watch that is your kind of watch, you’ll know it.

In fact, I think it’s much easier to have love at first sight with a watch than with a person. Just don’t tell my wife.

What’s my next watch? Hard to say. Probably something that says I’m mid-career and prosperous, and that I’m serious about my time. Maybe I’ll finally get a real Submariner or that Suunto. Either way, I know that it will be a super personal choice.

That’s the fun of picking a watch. You get to tell the world who you are and also reach toward who you want to be.

Which watch is your watch? Share it in the comments below!

Stillman Brown

Stillman Brown is a writer and TV producer who has created prime time content for National Geographic, Discovery, Travel Channel and many others. His interests span science & the natural world, personal growth, and food. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.