Monday, December 28, 2015

How Should You Respond to "How Much Is that Watch?"

Advice columnists frequently say that it’s fundamentally rude to ask somebody how much something costs. But really it’s not.

Price is something that many people can wrap their heads around. We’ve all bought things and we all have a foundation for understanding the value of money. The question “How much did you pay?” is often spoken out of genuine curiosity, with not the slightest drizzle of judgement. It’s often a question that people ask because they can’t think of anything else to ask. “How much was your house?” is a better question than “Why did you paint your house yellow?” “How much were those shoes?” is kinder than “Are those shoes comfortable?”

When somebody asks you how much your watch is, that means they have noticed your watch and you should do a happy dance right then and there. Break out the Champagne, too. How often does somebody notice your watch? About as often as cicadas come out of the ground, I bet.

A Thomas Prescher triple axis tourbillon. The watchmaker 
wrote, “The meaning of such a complicated 
timepiece is much more art for art’s 
sake than the search for any improvement of a rate. 
A triple axis tourbillon with its spiral-shaped movement 
takes up far more room in the space of a 
case than either the single or the double axis tourbillons. 
It is especially the unencumbered view that makes the 
tourbillon seem to hover in the air on its three flying axes.... 
A triple axis tourbillon is not only a technical 
masterpiece of the art of watchmaking, 
but it is above all a piece of art that 
draws our eyes to it—magically—a kinetic 
sculpture of time.” Photo from .
Brides magazine offered this advice to a befuddled bride laid siege to by nosy friends and strangers: “In no universe is it ever OK for anyone to ask a woman how much her engagement ring cost. Let us be clear: The only thing someone should say when you flash your rock is ‘It's so beautiful! How did he propose?’ Cut. Scene. End of story.”

That may be true for engagement rings because everyone notices them, like they notice a stretch limo and wonder how much it costs to rent. But because watches are the quintessential under-the-radar accessory, the fact that somebody actually takes an interest in your watch is a like finding a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan for $2,000 a month, or finding a real Rolex Submariner at a flea market for $100. It’s exciting and you should take advantage of that.

So what should you say? You should say two things: the actual price and everything about the watch. The question is, what should you talk about first? The price or your remarkable watch?

Get the price out of the way. Be honest. Don’t worry that the person who’s asking might think that’s an outrageous amount of money to spend on a watch (assuming that it cost a lot of money). The friend, stranger, or family member who’s asking might have an expensive hobby, too. Maybe they collect yachts or breed expensive show dogs. Or not. It doesn’t matter, because the only way to talk about what comes next is to quickly immerse them in the notion that some watches cost a lot. Tell them quickly and get that part over with. Just as it’s better to jump into a cold swimming pool than it is to wade in painfully.

Now that they know how expensive your watch is, you can explain why. This is your chance to teach that person about watches. You can say something like, “Before I bought this Blancpain, I had no idea that watches could be so expensive. Now that I own it, I’ve learned a lot about watches and realize how remarkable they are. Did you know that the Dalai Lama owns 15 Rolex watches? And that right before World War I, critics including the New York Times ridiculed wristwatches as a fad? That there are some Seiko and Bulova watches accurate to within five or ten seconds a year?”

Whatever fun watch facts you have on the tip of your tongue, have them at the ready.

You are now the Ambassador for all of Watchdom.

Talk about how Breguet invented the tourbillon, how Rolex popularized the self-winding watch, the rivalry between Omega and Rolex in James Bond movies, Martin Luther King’s Rolex, how the Swiss beat the Quartz Revolution, how a co-axial escapement works, your favorite watch complications, your grail watch, how watchmakers are continually making advances in mechanical technology, such as HYT, which blends fluid mechanics and traditional watchmaking, or describe the Parmigiani Ovale, whose hands change size as they move around the oval face.

Tell them about astronaut David Scott’s Bulova, which he brought to the moon as a backup for NASA’s official Omega Speedmaster. (And it’s a good thing that he did, too, because his Omega watch’s crystal popped out. Being able to time things, including how much remaining oxygen you have, is a very handy tool while on the moon.)

Tell your friend about how tourbillons defy gravity, and how clever, creative, and breathtaking tourbillons, French for “whirlwind,” are. And that the tourbillon was invented in 1795.

You have a lot to talk about. You will dazzle your friend with wonders from the watch world. They will want to buy a beautiful watch. That’s your job once somebody asks you to reveal your watch’s price.

You can turn the innocent question “How much did your watch cost?” into an opportunity to convert your friend into a watch lover. And let them know that there are great, far less expensive, watches, too.

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