When it comes to my watches, there are two big questions: What does my watch say to the world and what does it say to me?
We all know that watches are highly personal. They can mark an occasion, reflect your personal style, reward an accomplishment. We feel naked if we leave the house without one strapped to our arm. This is the aspect I’m most interested in. The emotional relationship we build with these tiny machines.
I wouldn’t call myself a collector. Maybe aficionado would work. Or you could say I’m just a fan. When reference numbers start to come up, I fade into the background. Like so many watch people, I love watches for how they represent life’s significant moments.
There happens to be a watch that is special to me, but I don’t own it. I’m talking about the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Up/Down. In a roundabout way, Lange represents the idea that I somehow made a career for myself – which I didn’t really think was going to happen. The 1815 Up/Down symbolizes possibility.
Like everything A. Lange & Söhne makes, the watch is refined. It has a simple dial with two sub-dials (power reserve and small seconds) as its defining features. The typography is clean and iconically Lange. The movement quality is astronomically high and the overall aura is punishingly understated. Even the cost is “price upon request.” Only people who really know are going to appreciate this watch, and that’s half the point.
This watch in particular appeals to me for two reasons. First, because I prefer things that are perhaps one deviation away from what is expected. Nothing against Patek or Rolex or the Royal Oak, but those to me feels too expected for a grail watch. Sometimes it feels like everyone I know has the same 911, the same Leica, and the same watch. I want something slightly more niche.
Another reason I like A. Lange & Söhne is because the brand and the people at the company feel authentic. I’ve been to Saxony to see the manufacture and everything there feels true to itself. It’s not trying to create some feeling about who it is based on market research. In an era where everything feels like marketing strategy, Lange just feels right.
So, why don’t I own one?
Immediately after graduating from college I moved from Southern Ohio to New York City. My goal was to find a job at a clothing company, a marketing firm, or a magazine. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew in New York. Fortunately, my best friend worked for MTV as a stylist in the costume department and he wanted to help. This was the early 2000s when MTV was at peak popularity. One day he called to tell me he’d recommended me to an agency that was hiring. I went to interview and got the job. I had no idea what I was doing and was just happy to have a job.
The firm represented a lot of big brands, and one of the clients was a watch company called A. Lange & Söhne. Up until this time I basically knew nothing about watches. I didn’t grow up around luxury timepieces and I doubt I had even spoken the word “Submariner” at that point in my life. I think the agency knew this because they had me work on the clothing side of the business, where I had zero interaction with the watch brands. Once our client P. Diddy sent me to return an uncomfortable amount of diamond jewelry to Harry Winston and I walked by Wempe. That was about as close as I got to nice watches.
Our office was set up in a newsroom-style open format. Desks were clustered together, facing each other, two-by-two. A fellow assistant worked at the desk directly across from me. He was from Geneva and went to boarding school. He spoke French, German, English, and probably five other languages. He would talk on the phone all day in his suite of languages and the only two words I would understand were “Britney Spears,” which for some reason I recall hearing with regularity.
My Swiss deskmate was the one who worked on the watch accounts. He would have watches from Lange around all of the time when they were going out to or coming back from photoshoots. I was fascinated with these pieces. They seemed utterly unobtainable, which made me like them even more.
I purchased my first “real” watch in 2006, after I landed a big client for my new consulting business. I had no dependents and some savings, so I went and bought myself an IWC Portuguese Automatic. I originally saw the watch at a shop on Madison Avenue when I was making $25,000 as an assistant. In that moment I decided: When I can afford it, I will come back and buy this watch. To my delight, that day actually came. I still own the watch today. I love what it represents.
I remember wearing my IWC on the subway the day I bought it and feeling strange. It felt bigger and more important than any watch I had ever owned. I felt self-conscious about the purchase and nervous to be wearing it. Those feelings dissipated when I thought about how I had made good on a promise to myself. I showed up in New York City with a few bucks and one friend, and this watch was proof that I survived. From now on, if I ever felt any self-doubt, I could look at my wrist and know that good things are possible.
In the decades since then, several other important watches have spoken to me. Some I now own. Perhaps the one I have thought about the most, the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Up/Down, is the one I haven’t quite been able to achieve.
At the beginning of my career, the idea of owning a Lange seemed unlikely to the point of impossible. That idea has remained. It’s always there as a bit of unfinished business. The company occupies a special place in my heart – even if I haven’t become client. At least, not yet.
All the watches I own have personal significance. For instance in 2014, when I got married, my wife gave me a Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute To 1931 (which was a recommendation by none other than Ben Clymer). The question is, what would it take for me to actually buy this 1815 Up/Down?
Well, it would require me to admit something I’m not sure I’m prepared to accept. It would require me to admit that I’m not ready to stop collecting watches.
I keep saying I’m going to sell all of the IWCs, Rolexes, and everything else I’ve acquired over the past 15 years. The idea is to consolidate into a three-watch collection (of course, excluding the JLC from my wedding). Buying the Lange would mean that I’ve taken stock and simplified in a way that only a person who has owned and obsessed over a 20-watch collection can. Buying the Up/Down would, in part, be me saying that I’m older and wiser now. I no longer have the watch-buying sickness.
This watch is different, it’s the one I’ve dreamed about since my first days in New York – it’s symbolic, I’ll tell my wife. I’m not buying any more watches. And both of us will know this is not true.