Watches

Episode 4 – and so it ends

So, my month of self-imposed watch austerity is up.  I’ve done it.  No watch but the F has passed my wrist in the last 31 days.  What have I achieved?  Well, clearly absolutely nothing.  This is first-world stuff.  Wearing a £7 Casio is not deprivation in even the remotest sense.  However, a glass of decent malt is clearly called for in celebration.  Don’t mind if I do.

In the real world I may have achieved nowt, but I’ve learned a few things…

There’s an F-91 near you

First, these things are everywhere.  I’d wager that, as you read this, you’re no more than 3 metres away from an F-91.  Casio weren’t able to tell me how many they’ve precision-glued together since 1991, but it’s got to be a few million.  They’re abandoned in office drawers, forgotten in bags, Blu-tacked to the dashboards of cars, on wrists and even (I saw it) on a string around someone’s neck.

f-91W plus 1

Sitting in a local coffee shop, looking idly out of the window, I saw ten Fs in as many minutes.  Is there a more ubiquitous watch?  I doubt it.  They’re just there, quietly getting on with the job with only an hourly ‘beep’ to remind you of their presence.  And the fact you can’t work out how to turn it off.

The classless watch?

Sitting in a meeting last week with some of the board of a UK utility company, I spotted one under the cuff of one of the directors.  He knew how to turn off the beep.  On the same day, I picked up a parcel (yes, another watch) from the local Post Office. The postie behind the counter was wearing – you guessed it – an F-91 – on a battered and faded NATO.  On that coffee shop visit I saw them on the wrists of super-trendy hipster types, the guy who emptied the street bins and the barista. It really is Everywatch.

They don’t give in – or give up

They’re near-as-dammit indestructible too.  Who needs a G-Shock?  I’ve worn mine on the Real Tennis court and it’s been belted with a heavy wooden racquet.  It’s fine.  It got dropped on the stone tile floor in the office.  Not a mark.  It’s survived the teeth-loosening, pneumatic-drill vibration of the flat-twin engine on my Ural 650 combo.  Believe me, when someone hits the big red button there’ll be three things left: Nissan Micras, smiling, smug cockroaches and F-91s.  And the F-91s will still be going ‘beep’ every hour.

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Am I about to give up my collection, ditch the vintage and declare unending loyalty to my F?  Well, no.  But there is a rather freeing simplicity to an F-91.  It does the job of telling the time, waking me up, timing my run all without fuss, bother or drama.  In fact, it does it so simply and effectively that I’m going to open the wormcan and say it’s firmly A Classic.

The ultimate cheap classic?

I’ll stick my neck out here. In my view, it does the whole ‘form and function’ thing just as well as any other classic watch. It’s the best kind of classic too – a democratic one that pretty much anyone can afford and enjoy. No waiting lists, no buzz-to-enter heavy-carpeted boutiques, no sniffy watch salesmen.  Just nip on line and your F will be beeping happily from a box on your doormat the next day.

F91 and collection

And, if it gets trashed in the process of everyday life (unlikely as that is), you can just shrug and buy another with the change in your car’s ashtray.  You can’t say that about a Nomos a Breitling or a Rolex.

So what started out as a bit of a joke has been great fun.  It’s started conversations with new watchie friends, made me think and reminded me that a watch doesn’t have to cost the GDP of a small central European country to be engaging.  But it certainly does say something for my affection for the F that it’s on my wrist as I write this.  And it’ll be there, every so often, for a long time to come.  I’ve come not just to admire, but like, the F-91 hugely.  Beep.

By the way, in that parcel was a cal.1620 Omega LCD Speedmaster from 1977.  Yup, they made digital Speedies.  But that’s a whole other story…

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Watches

Episode 3 – The Devil’s Watch?

A little over a week ago, I decided to lock my watchbox and forsake my usual vintage mechanical, and high-end quartz serious tickers for just one watch.  And not any old watch at that – I chose, from Amazon, a £7, resin-cased Casio F-91W, the cheapest of the cheap.  A watch for less than the price of two pints of London Pride, a couple of Starbucks coffees (although I’d argue S’bucks has little to do with coffee) or a 3 minute parking ticket in central Oxford.  The plan?  To wear this single watch for a month.  No changes, no backsliding into Breitlingdom or Rolex City, not even for an evening.

It’s been fascinating watching watchie people’s reactions to my ‘one watch for a month’ experiment.  It’s been almost as fascinating watching the complete non-reaction of normal (i.e. non watchie) people.

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Watchland reaction has ranged from the horrified to the puzzled.  You see, to most watchies, quartz is what powers Satan’s nastiest wristwatch.  But even he wouldn’t allow a digital quartz into the seventh circle.  Digitals are no watchie’s friend.  Apart from a very select few of us who either obstinately believe function matters as much as form or are just plain contrarian.

Normal people simply don’t care.  Let’s face it, apart from muggers, no-one is really fussed what you’re wearing on your wrist.  Unless, perhaps, it’s so truly hideous that people can’t help spot it.  Or it’s a Rolex day-date or Sub.  If you wear one of the more obvious Rolexes (Rolexi?), you will spend some time answering the “is it real?” question from observers, never very satisfactorily and always with a slight blush of embarrassment.

No, the F-91W is a stealth watch.  Not so much Sub as subfusc, it quietly and efficiently gets on with telling you the time (the date, the day and a few other useful things like when you need to wake up) without fuss.  That’s what most people want a watch for.

But, as utility-based as it is, I think I chose the wrong watch for my (admittedly lighthearted) experiment.

I’ve discovered, the F-91W, despite its unashamed utility background (or maybe because of it), achieves rather more than just timekeeping status.  It seems to have that indefinable thing that marks a watch out as remarkable.  It may even be (pace fellow watchnerds) a bit of a classic.

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I’d wanted a sort of antiwatch.  A watch that ticked all the opposite boxes from the usual contents of my watchbox.  But the Casio isn’t it.  An antiwatch, under my definition, would have been a watch that pretended to be something it isn’t. A plastic gold Armani thing would have been a better trial.  Or maybe even a fake.  But the Casio makes just as much of a statement as an IWC Ingenieur.  It is what it is.  Plain, no messing, no pretence.  It’s not – as I suggested – a sort of horological Toyota Pious.  No, the Pious is a car for people who have principles, but not enough of them to get a bicycle instead.  The F-91 is a watch for people who want something that tells the time as simply, cheaply and clearly as possible.  It makes a statement by completely not giving a tuppeny toss about making a statement.

Given all that, I shouldn’t really have been surprised by people’s affection for the watch.  I’ve had a few emails from ex and serving soldiers.  They remember their F-91s from their time in camo (or more likely No5 dress) and they remember them fondly.  As one said, “Robust doesn’t do the F-91 justice.”  Another one talked of how his F (see, the affection of an abbreviated nickname already) had done everything he’d asked of it through two tours in Afghanistan, all without failing once or even needing a new battery.

It’s currently doing something rather more domestic – timing one of Pip’s world-class culinary creations in the oven.  And I shall be sad when my month with the F is up. It’s not only earned a place in the watchbox, but my affections too.  I’ve actually grown fond of the damn thing’s sheer unassailable, unbustable, unapologetic functionality.  It’s the watch equivalent of a mongrel terrier.  It ain’t pretty, but by God it makes you smile and just plain works.

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