Blog No. 7: From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

Promotional watches photo by Ken Kessler

Explaining to purists, fanatics, monomaniacs or other anally-retentive types that it’s possible to love more than one of anything is often fruitless, always difficult. Take any subject, and a fire-breathing, hard-core “tifoso” will present a challenge to those with an open mind.

Examples? Tell a Porsche-ophile you adore Ferraris, or vice versa, and you might elicit a response somewhere between a snort of derision or outright disgust, or perhaps a shaking of the head in pity, as if you’re merely a benighted soul beyond saving. Leica vs Nikon, tubes vs transistors, French wine vs any other country’s, Mac vs PC – it affects  extreme elements in all pursuits, and watch lovers are no different.

Most basic of the horological conflicts is mechanical vs quartz, and I am as guilty as most serious watch enthusiasts of loving the former while decrying the latter. On the other hand, I like to think of myself as mature enough not to demonstrate contempt for those immune to my prejudice, just as I do not expect non-audiophiles to understand my hi-fi fetishism. But they should, at least, condone it.

Thus, I would never even entertain thoughts of a negative nature against those who demonstrate similar passion for hobbies or pursuits of which I have neither knowledge of nor interest in: fishing, football, train-spotting, computer gaming, reality TV shows, equestrian matters, needlepoint, abseiling, trash metal, ad infinitum.

This preamble is to ask your forgiveness in advance of admitting to a guilty pleasure, contrasted with something more in keeping with the accoutrements of a watch magazine’s Editor-at-Large. I would no sooner turn up at a watch salon wearing an infra dig timepiece than I would wear tweeds to a black-tie affair.

To prepare you for my indiscretion, I proudly announce that the latest watch to grace my wrist is a Grand Complication, with moon phase, no less. This is, to those who know me, as likely as Abu Hamza eating a pulled pork sandwich in the middle of Trafalgar Square, because my prejudices include abhorrence of useless complications, but the rest of it more than makes up for the lunar component.

My bucket list is now one item shorter, with the acquisition of the Peter Roberts Concentrique Grand Complication 5. Its claim to fame is being the commercially-available version of the first wristwatch ever produced with five hands from the centre – the watch Peter made in 1972 to complete his course at WOSTEP.

Peter Roberts in article by Ken Kessler

Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5

Peter wears it regularly, yet he’d never made another, despite exhortations from collectors. When a colleague discovered a supply of new-old stock movements nearly identical to the one in his original project piece, he decided to mark its 40th Anniversary with a limited run for others to buy. He added a moon phase to enhance the full calendar, full chronograph and second time-zone (GMT) functionality, to qualify it as a grand complication.

It is simply a joy to wear, to gaze upon, to contemplate. It ticks all the boxes, from the use of one of the greatest movements of all time – a complicated derivative of the Valjoux 72 – to extreme rarity, stunning looks, impeccable finish … even the strap and buckle stand out from the crowd. This is serious high-end watchmaking, devoid of comic book nonsense, ludicrous styling, bling or other soon-to-wear-off details.

Peter Roberts in blog by Ken Kessler

Inside the Grand Complication 5

But Ken Kessler has, like everyone else, an evil twin, and I can’t resist the silliest timepiece in my collection of novelty watches, promotional items and others I would never wear. I was reminded of it by a spoof in Private Eye, which featured it in the annual Christmas Gift Guide of imaginary presents. Little did the writers know that this one actually exists.

It featured a “Sundial Wristwatch”, as ludicrous a notion as one could devise, even warning that it was only of use in the daytime. Its price was suitably “high end”, in the £795 region. Hmmm … I bought one from Fossil over 20 years ago for a few bucks. eBay is full of ’em.

I guess it’s a case of art imitating life. Crazy thing is, if you know how to use it, it’s as accurate as any timepiece one can own….