A reoccurring theme runs through Matt Hranek’s new book, A Man and His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them—over and over again, we learn that celebrities like to give away their favourite timepieces. Elvis Presley gifted his Corum Buckingham to his longtime valet; Bill Murray gave his Timex Indiglo to his favourite maître d’; and Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona was bestowed, many years ago, upon his daughter’s then-boyfriend (before hitting the auction block and fetching $17.8-million this past October).
There’s a certain mystique that comes with a pre-loved timepiece, especially those owned before the advent of the cell phone. Back in the day, a wristwatch was not only a stylistic flourish, but a necessity for punctuality. How often did Elvis, or Bill, or Paul, look feverishly at the minute hands of the timepiece, itself tarnished by the patina of daily use, while racing to an appointment? Watches tell the time, but they also tell stories, and Hranek’s latest book consolidates some of these stellar tales by accessing some of the world’s most exclusive watch archives, and going to the watch owners themselves.
There’s a certain mystique that comes with a pre-loved timepiece, especially those owned before the advent of the cell phone.
For Hranek, a self-described “watch guy”, it is a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust that matters to him most. It once belonged to his father—to whom the book is dedicated—and was passed to Hranek, at the age of 18, upon his father’s death. “All I knew is that I needed to have that watch,” Hranek explains in the foreword. “I needed him with me—and that watch kept me connected to him.” As the author points out, watches are objects that start conversations among those who are prone to noticing them, and often the stories are attached to their acquisition. What’s tantalizing about Hranek’s book is the first-hand accounts; he does not simply tell the story of Bill Murray giving away his Timex Indiglo, he has Dimitri Dimitrov—the beloved maître d’ at the Tower Bar at Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel—describe receiving it from Murray. “I had on an old Baume & Mercier … It’s always semidark in the restaurant, so it can be difficult to see the hands. Bill says, ‘that’s garbage—it’s no good!’ … Then he removes the Timex from his wrist and says, ‘take this!’ ”
Other first-hand accounts come from the likes of Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of famed restaurant Le Bernardin; Benjamin Clymer, founder and executive editor of the watch blog Hodinkee; and men’s clothing and accessories designer Grahame Fowler. All are accompanied by skillful photography to show every beautiful scuff and scratch; vintage timepieces get better with age, after all. And it’s clear from Fowler’s description of his Rolex Submariner reference 5513—which was found washed up on the beaches of Dorset after laying in the sand for 20-odd years—that telling the time is not often the aim of the watch-collecting game. “A lot of people say it’s wrecked. Actually, it’s destroyed, but for me it’s a work of art. It’s like a piece of sculpture … And it actually keeps fantastic time—you just can’t see what time it is.”
All photos by Stephen Lewis from A Man and His Watch by Matt Hranek (Artisan Books) © 2017.
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