You want to read more about watches and the watch industry. Here’s a beginner’s guide to must have watch books for watch lovers and enthusiasts. Read more…
For most watch lovers and enthusiasts, a time soon comes when they want to read more about watches in general, the watch industry or specific luxury watch brands. Of course, there’s a wealth of information online – on watch brands’ websites, watch industry blogs such as Hodinkee or Monochrome Watches, or on countless other enthusiast-run sites.
Sometimes, however, nothing beats traditional printed books. There’s something very satisfying about high-quality printed images, the look, smell and feel of a book, and being able to curl up with the story of a favourite brand or particular type of movement. For many people, books retain a timeless appeal, even in our busy digital age.
Your personal journey
Based on building a modest collection of watch books to support my watch industry writing, here are some personal – definitely not exhaustive – suggestions for new watch fans. It’s a starting point based on what I’ve found interesting and helpful, and nothing more. Building your watch book collection, like building a watch collection, is destined to be a very personal journey.
So here are some of my favourites, organised as general introductions to watches, more-specific examination of the watch industry, books on specific brands and a couple of more-specialised books. Though the article is aimed at newcomers to watches and watch collecting, I haven’t restricted my suggestions to pretty coffee-table books packed with pictures. Look forward to a diverse, hopefully satisfying, selection to get you started. Start by finding an author or topic that you like, then explore further as you dig deeper and wider into horology.
Books on watches in general
An excellent starting point
For a broad introduction to watches and the watch industry, The Watch, Thoroughly Revised (Gene Stone and Stephen Pulvirent) makes an excellent starting point with its brief history of timepieces, examination of influential brands and guidance on buying, collecting and maintaining watches. I’d complement Stone and Pulivent with a copy of Ivar Hauge Line’s About Time: Celebrating Men’s Watches, which examines the stories behind many of the world’s most iconic timepieces and brands.
Gisbert Brunner (and friends)
Next, try any of Gisbert L. Brunner’s books. These are often collaborations, as in The Watch Book (with Christian Pfeiffer-Belli), if not solo-authored like The Watch Book 2. Brunner is one of the watch industry’s most prolific authors. The aforementioned books feature fairly brief text in English, French and German, along with lush photography. They’re nice to own and read and Brunner’s authority is unquestionable, whether at this top-level or when he addresses more-specialised subjects with books such as The Watch Book Rolex.
The definitive wristwatch handbook?
My next beginner’s reference, which satisfyingly explores mechanical wristwatches and their mechanisms, is Ryan Schmidt’s The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches. This is much more than just another image-heavy coffee-table book as Schmidt systematically discusses the main mechanical complications and illustrates them with relevant examples from different brands.
And for a nearly-pocket-sized, but detailed, introduction to all aspects of watches and watch ownership, I’d be remiss to overlook Louis Nardin’s The Magic of Watches: A Smart Introduction to Fine Watchmaking. It’s a helpful newcomers’ go-to reference for anything from the anatomy of fine watches to practicalities such as water resistance and even watchmaking materials.
Books about the watch industry
For a beautifully-written commentary on the history of timekeeping as well as the contemporary watch industry, Timekeepers by Simon Garfield is fascinating. Garfield rarely goes into nerdy detail about specific brands or movements, but as a rewarding – sometimes quirky – context-giver for the world of timekeeping and watches, I recommend it.
Watches tell more than time
Similarly, despite being a book about ‘product design, information, and the quest for elegance’ in general, I’d recommend Del Coates’ Watches Tell More Than Time for its occasional-but-profound insights into the design and symbolism of watches.
Books about the history of watch advertising
Are you fascinated by watch advertising over the last century? In that case, Marco Strazzi’s Watch Ads 1900–1959 and its sister volume Watch Ads 1960–2000 should prove interesting. For obvious reasons, the books are very visual as Strazzi lets the ads, their images and their words tell the story of a century’s watch advertisements.
A good way to understand the modern watchmaking industry is to enter the minds of the people behind top brands. A classic is Jack Heuer’s autobiography The Times of My Life. Printed copies are rare, but the good news is that a PDF is readily downloadable – and free.
Read your way inside leading brands
For more recent perspective, Live Your Passion: Building a Watch Manufacturer (Aletta & Peter Stas, Gisbert Brunner and Alexander Linz) examines in some detail the building and operation of the Frederique Constant, Alpina and DeMonaco brands – with diversions, and some nice photography, into the realms of the classic cars, aviation and Runabout speedboats that Aletta and Peter so clearly adore.Then there’s the Swiss watch industry, which any watch enthusiast should understand. Pierre-Yves Donzé’s History of The Swiss Watch Industry: From Jacques David to Nicolas Hayek will get you up to speed before reading the same author’s A Business History of the Swatch Group. Despite being text books, with minimal illustration, they’re an excellent historical introduction to how Swiss watchmaking got to where it is now.
Books about classic watch brands
Where does one start? Pick your favourite brand, do your research, pay attention to online reviews (usually pretty helpful), and start reading.
Books on Rolex wristwatches
For Rolex books, Gisbert Brunner’s The Watch Book Rolex follows the usual teNeues coffee-table format with lots of nice photography and basic multilingual text. At least one Amazon reviewer, while liking this book, commented that there’s more detail in The Rolex Story by Franz-Christoph Heel. I’ve found Heel’s book useful.
At the time of writing, Hoy and Frost’s The Book of Rolex has just been published. The jury’s out, but for Rolex fans it looks promising and is surely worth investigating.
Books about specific watch brands
Here are a couple more of my favourite brand-specific books. Though long out of print, Breitling The Book (Hervé Genaud), is still available second hand if you search. It gives a satisfying, richly illustrated, overview of Breitling history up to 2009. Of course, as with all such books, product coverage inevitably cuts off just before publication – an occupational hazard of buying books about constantly evolving brands.
The same goes for Zenith: The Story of a Watch Manufacture Under a Guiding Star, by Joël Duval. Or Fritz, Coelho and Bilal’s IWC Schaffhausen: Engineering Time Since 1868. Both are recommended for devotees of the respective brands and epitomise the detail that a good brand-focused book should offer.
Even pre-owned, such heavyweight, brand-celebrating volumes aren’t cheap, but to accompany the real thing – or just out of curiosity – the best examples deliver with a true heavyweight punch.
Very specialised watch books
As you refine your watch industry interests and build a library of watch books, the likelihood is that you’ll get into increasingly specialised titles.
Maybe they’ll be about specific watches (few watch books come more detailed than Grégoire Rossier and Anthony Marquié’s encyclopaedic Moonwatch Only: 60 Years of OMEGA Speedmaster).
Alternatively, perhaps they’ll cover a particular type of watch or watch movement – as with Arno Michael Haslinger’s richly illustrated Heuer Chronographen: Fascination of Timekeepers and Motor Sports 1960s|1970s – addressing the major Heuer chronograph model series from 1960 to 1980.
And if German military watches are your thing, you’ll want Dr Konrad Knirim’s Militäruhren: Military Timepieces. 150 Jahre Zeitmessung beim deutschen Militär. It’s an encyclopaedic visual exploration of German military timepieces, supported by basic bi-lingual commentary and images giving valuable historical and operational context from before WW1 to post-WW2 Germany.
Where to buy watch books?
So, from studies of American watchmakers to the history of Patek Philippe, where will you buy your books?
If buying new, any source of new books is worth exploring. Then there are specialist watch book shops such as Suzanne Wettstein and Fabrice Mugnier’s Watchprint.com – they travel the world promoting books on horology with event-based bookshops at shows such as Baselworld. And, of course, they sell online. From an introduction to vehicle-inspired watches (Aaron Sigmond’s Drive Time: Watches Inspired by Automobiles, Motorcycles and Racing) to pinnacles of esoteric watch reading such as Das Unikat. Die Türler-Uhr. Modell des Kosmos, Watchprint will surely delight.
The usual online booksellers
Then there are the usual online outlets (and, of course, eBay). The likes of Amazon and the global Abebooks pre-owned bookseller network, are a great starting point for buying second hand – and avoiding full retail price. And, of course, there are local specialist watch and horology booksellers such as Jeffrey Formby Antiques in the heart of England’s Cotswolds – not far, in fact, from the Geckota head office.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning some watch industry magazines to complement your book reading. Start with the likes of QP, Revolution, Watchtime, Hodinkee, Chronos, Europa Star and the British Horological Institute’s Horological Journal – according to the BHI, ‘the oldest continuously published technical journal in the world.’ My recommendation for choosing watch magazines? Read as many as possible, then settle on your favourites. It’s that simple.
Watch books – you’re entering addictive territory
So that’s our brief introduction to reading about wristwatches and the watch industry. Be warned; as with watch collecting, it’s highly addictive territory. It’s so rewarding to lose yourself in a classic hardback book on the history of timekeeping. Or to while away a long flight reading about luxury watches on your phone. If you’re just getting into watches, welcome to the world of watch books. For newbies or seasoned watch lovers alike, a great book (or many) awaits you.
From George Daniels to Hans Wilsdorf and his Rolex wristwatches, and from modern dive watches to vintage chronographs, we wish you, the bibliophilic watch enthusiast, happy reading.