Buying a good wristwatch is a lot like buying fine wine, it turns out: highly confusing. This is perhaps an inevitable result of dealing with any complex luxury product, but it provides a great insight into how so many people first experience wine.
The scenario is that I have been gifted up to £1,000 to buy a watch - I only mention the exact sum because it's pertinent to this story. That's a lot of money to me (and most people) and is certainly more than I would ever spend on such a thing. However, as an object which will have strong sentimental value, should last for decades and also represents great craftsmanship, it feels a worthwhile purchase.
The problem is that I know nothing about watches, nor do I have any attachment whatsoever to any brands. This must be a familiar feeling to many inexperienced people looking to buy fine wine: especially spending a lump sum on bottles that will have strong sentimental value, should last for decades and also represent great craftsmanship.
If I had to spend £1,000 on a case of wine for myself, I would know instantly what to buy: 2013 port, 2015 Côte-Rôtie, or 2015 German Riesling, most probably. Easy when you know how. But how do I go about deciding which watch to buy?
I began with two pieces of knowledge: firstly, I heard somewhere that quality watches are made by specialists - in other words, avoid any brand which is not a dedicated watchmaker. Secondly, a friend recommended a particular website called Hodinkee as a good resource.
With these scraps of info, I start researching. I find a good introduction to watches and learn about the differences between quartz and mechanical movements. I learn about the most important watch in the world (video below). I start browsing a retailer website.
After an hour or so of confusing but enjoyable research, it turns out that £1,000 is the bottom end of the kind of watch I want, and nowhere near enough for the top brands. But I do find one that I like: Larsson & Jennings Saxon 39 mm in black stainless steel. It's in budget (just), it's a recently released model, it has a mechanical movement, it's a modern brand that is half-British and - well, I like the look of it.
But despite the fact that I like it, I'm not confident it's the right choice. So I seek a second opinion. On the pages of Hodinkee, I find an article about the brand. It's a positive write-up. But then I read the comments section.
Of 38 comments, the vast majority are incredibly negative. So now I feel like a sucker and an idiot. Perhaps it shouldn't matter what other people think, but it does: I can't buy something which I know people would be scornful of.
It is this same insecurity which can make wine so inaccessible. The lack of knowledge most people have means that they feel unable to buy and enjoy the really good stuff, as they see it. Being a newcomer is intimidating and not having confidence in such a big purchase is strongly off-putting.
Overcoming these sorts of negative reactions is no easy proposition. In the wine trade, we often talk about how to attract newcomers; about democratising and demystifying wine. Trying to buy a good watch has given me first-hand experience of that newcomer. Quite what I will do next, I'm not sure. But all suggestions are welcome.