A watch that's been everywhere, man

The Davosa watch off the coast of Tasmania.
The Davosa watch off the coast of Tasmania. 

Sending a mechanical watch around the country for people to wear and photograph sounds decidedly old-fashioned, but that's exactly why Sydney watchmaker Nick Hacko was attracted to the idea in the first place.

The journey all over Australia of a Swiss-made Davosa Panamericana (dubbed the Panaustraliana for the trip) is Hacko’s way of reminding people of the ‘old-fashioned’ storytelling potential a mechanical watch can harbour.

“A beautiful watch is one with some provenance, some history behind it,” Hacko told Executive Style last June at the beginning of the watch’s trip.

And in the 12-plus months it has been on the road, those who have worn the Davosa have made sure it has built itself a nice little travelogue of stories.

Since embarking from Hacko's watch shop in central Sydney at 2pm on May 10, 2013, the watch has been present for an Ashes Test mauling, travelled to the iron ore mines of WA, and has even sailed on a Dutch tall ship on an event-filled journey from Hobart to Sydney during last year’s International Tall Ship Festival.

Time at sea

Anthony Goldsmith, who wore the watch on the Oosterschelde, the largest restored Dutch sailing ship of the early 20th century, tells of being battered by fierce winds as the ship made its way up the east coast of Australia.

“We got hit by a massive gust,” said Goldsmith. “So it went from about 10-15 knots to about 50-55 knots and from a different direction. The boom - which was eight metres long and about 25 centimetres in diameter - flew across to the other side and just exploded.”

In the aftermath of having a key part of the ship splinter into matchsticks, Goldsmith hardly had a moment to sit and admire the timepiece on his wrist. But as an experienced sailor who has sailed the world over, Goldsmith's appreciation of knowing the time at sea extends beyond the simple measuring of minutes and hours.

A vehicle for memories

For Goldsmith, like many sailors, seeing a fine timepiece while at sea is a reminder of its storied history. It was English clockmaker John Harrison who in the 1760s finally solved the long-standing problem of how to measure a ship’s longitudinal position, by building a sea watch precise enough to enable navigators to successfully measure the passing of time, and therefore the earth’s rotation.

As much as accurate measurement of time at sea helped navigators conquer the world’s oceans, it turns out there are some things that never change for the seafarer. As Goldsmith puts it, “when you’re working along you pretty much get used to just three things: when can I go to sleep, when can I eat and what is the weather like. That’s all you need to know.”

It is Goldsmith's experience aboard the Oosterschelde that is exactly the sort of story Hacko believes a watch can trigger as it is handed down through generations.

This idea of a timepiece also serving as a vehicle for memories is a concept that has been used to great success by the Swiss watchmaking giant Patek Philippe, which advertises its watches with the slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

Forging a connection

In addition to the storybook that a quality watch will become, Hacko also feels that for those who choose to wear a mechanical watch, the periodic winding of the spring will come to mean more than just the powering of its movement.

“You have that connection with a watch where you have to keep feeding it,” Hacko says.

“You depend on the watch and the watch depends on you. You’ll find yourself often just sitting on a bus winding the watch. Turning that winder, hearing the clicking noise, that feeling is something that is lost [with battery and automatic watches]. And you can tell, if you wear that watch for years, if everything is OK with it. You develop a relationship where you really know your watch.”

In an age defined by infinitesimal technological accuracy, Hacko’s drive to reinvigorate our relationship with manual winding watches should perhaps be seen as an attempt to reintroduce different ways of experiencing time. Or at the very least, a sound warning that to be overly concerned with the precision measurement of time, may come at the expense of actually experiencing it.

“We are fascinated with time generated by atomic clocks ... yet in reality, do we really need to run our lives [to such precise time]? If you wear a mechanical watch, you know for sure that your watch is not going to be perfect. But it is a little luxury that you can say, ‘Hey, what does it matter if my watch is a few seconds slow? I don’t really care.’”

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