SCENE | Wanna Buy A Watch?
Men's watches on women have been a consistent feature on Tomboy Style, from the Elgin A-11 to Pussy Galore's Rolex. What I love about vintage men's watches is the functionality—whether it's a pilot's watch, a diver's watch, or an astronaut's watch—it's fascinating to learn how the function informs the design. Although I do also love the size, weight, and statement of a men's dress watch on a woman too. Ken Jacobs, the owner of one of L.A.'s most beloved vintage watch stores, Wanna Buy a Watch?, talked vintage timepieces with me last week on the back patio of his Melrose store. If you're already up to speed on watches, this post may be a total snooze, if you're not into watches at all, it might also be a total snooze, but hopefully there are a few of you in the middle like me. It's important to note that these watches are expensive, no doubt about it, but they are not flashy and overt statements about money; instead the watches at WBAW? truly celebrate the craft and history behind a quality timepiece.
First things first, for women, 1960s-1980s men's Rolex Dates and Air Kings are the big mover in the shop right now. What used to be a completely normal watch size for a man (34mm) has been dwarfed over the past decade or so. But as men's watches swelled (sometimes to a ridiculous size), women's have grown as well, making these "grandfather watches" the perfect size for a lady. WBAW? sells them in gold, rose gold, and in steel, and can customize them with a painted Rolex dial in virtually any color.
Speaking of dials changing color, here's an example of a 1966 Rolex Date (left) with a "tropical" dial. "Tropical" signifies the rare occurrence of a dial aging into a marbled brown color due to some combination of humidity, sun, water...no one really knows the exact recipe, but since it's a rare defect, it has become something of a collector's item.
And speaking of rare and collectable, on the top left is a 1970s Omega Ploprof (Plongeur Professional), the same model Jacques Cousteau wore—the epitome of a "tool watch" (designed strictly for a job or function). Next to it is a more ubiquitous 1968 Omega Speedmaster. The Speedmaster is also known as the Moon Watch because with NASA's endorsement it was the first watch worn on the moon and still is the only watch qualified for EVA. Collectors will designate Speedmasters made before Apollo 11 as "pre-moon Speedmasters" and can be identified as such by looking at the caseback. One interesting note is that Speedsters are manual winding watches because a perpetual winding watch would fail to keep time with gravity changes (#spaceproblems). On the far right is a 1975 Rolex "Double Red" Sea-Dweller with a faded bezel, one of their iconic diving watches. Submariners and Sea Dwellers that have red text printed on the dial are highly highly collectable, in fact I've overheard a customer at WBAW? say, "Got any Red Subs?", and this Double Red Sea Dweller will easily fetch a five digit price tag.
Another Rolex I really love is the GMT-Master (named for Greenwich Mean Time). They were designed in collaboration with Pan Am for pilots on long haul flights to manage multiple timezones. The "Root Beer" colorway was really popular in the 1970s and continues to be a hot collector's item (above is a 1979), but the original design featured a red and blue bezel, a.k.a. "The Pepsi Dial".
While WBAW? leans heavily on Rolexes, and other big names like Omega and Cartier, they also have a broad selection of vintage chronographs. Above you're looking at two 1960s Wittnauers, and a 1970s Breitling (also a big name in aviation) which features a white bezel that is a functioning slide rule. Thinking about using a watch as a slide rule makes me cross-eyed, but man does it look cool.
Ultimately what's hugely valuable about what Ken and the team at Wanna Buy A Watch? do is edit. You'll only find examples of beautiful, distinctive, vintage watches that can visually stand on their own but are also functionally in as perfect a condition as possible. It's worth noting how remarkably friendly the team at WBAW? is too, especially in what can be such a snob-ridden retail niche. They are as interested in helping the guy who has a collection of 50 rare watches as they are the watch novice looking for his or her first timepiece. If you're in L.A., check them out, in addition to watches they have great bands and vintage jewelry on offer (and during the holiday season some excellent hot apple cider), and if you're not in L.A. take a browse online. [Wanna Buy a Watch?, 8465 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles].