Book Reviews: A survey of watch related literature

Book Reviews: A Survey of Wristwatch Related Literature

ver. 1b-1-Aug 2000
by ThomasM

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The world of timekeeping in general, and mechanical watches in particular, is a fascinating and complex field. The highly complex micro-mechanical systems, the history of the development of the movements and design trends, and the political and personal intrigues of the industry provide for interesting reading and endless opportunity for research. As a parallel to scientific and engineering development, and as a reflection of broader economic and socio-political circumstances, the development history of watches can provide a unique perspective.

As with any complex and sometimes arcane subject, a basic knowledge of the field gleened from authoritative literature can prove both useful and interesting, as an ends unto itself, or as a useful context for the further enjoyment of the field.

Following are reviews of some of the books available on the subject of wristwatches. Some are collectors guides, others are more history oriented. Some are very technical, others make for interesting light reading. Most of the books contain good photographs, for in addition to being a useful and virtually indispensible utilitarian part of modern life, watches at their best can be functional works of art.

My perspective and comments are those of a passionate collector of wristwatches for the past twenty plus years. During that time, I have had opportunities to meet and talk to other collectors, watchmakers, and the business people that allow the watchmakers to stay in business. I have developed a voracious appetite for technical and historical facts, trivia, minutiae, anecdotes, almost anything watch related. There are a lot of good stories, and quite a few misconceptions and myths on the subject. Some commonly held ideas are just downright wrong. These myths and legends are part of the charm of watch collecting, but some sound knowledge of historical and objective truth is always useful.

All of the books reviewed are or have been in my personal library. All critical comments are my own, subjective but sincere. At no time do I intend to be mean or malicious, but I do try to "call 'em like I see 'em." All copyrights remain the property of their respective owners.

If you are interested in aquiring any of these books, but have trouble finding them, send me an email. I should be able to provide most of these books within a few days time plus shipping.



Title: Revolution in Time
by David S Landes
Publishers Price: $

Photos and Graphics: Some interesting historical and antique timepieces, shot in a museum style.

Text and Editorial Content: The prose is written in a very readable albeit academic style, ie, it is obvious the author is an academic, with credible academic credentials, and has spent most of his life in academia. Oh, and did I mention that the book is pretty academic?

Audience Level: beginner to advanced

Summary: The author takes us on a journey through the mists of time, using the development of time measurement as the guiding vector.

Landes presents an interesting read on a somewhat esoteric, yet ever pervasive topic that is fascinating in how low key it is in our consciousness despite permeating every aspect of modern life, the perfect example of "hiding in plain sight."

Worth the time to read, if you have any interest in the subject whatsoever. But, do not read it expecting in-depth collector or brand or model specific information - you will be disappointed. Rather look at it as an academic introduction to the development of time keeping, in a broader historical context.

Title: Chronograph Wristwatches: To Stop Time
by Gerd-R. Lang and Reinhard Meis
ISBN # 0887405029
Publishers Price: $79.95

Photos and Graphics: Good basic reference photos, laid out in a frame by frame format. The technical graphics are detailed, useful and interesting.

Text and Editorial Content: Highly technical subjects do not usually make for fun light reading, but for someone interested in the specific topic, the text is well written. The (nearly) comprehensive section on chrono calibers is an indispensible reference for hardcore chrono collectors and historians.

Audience Level: Intermediate to advanced

Summary: As a chronograph collector, I would have to say that this book is a must have for anyone seriously interested in the chronograph category. The book is practically divided into different sections - historical overview and detailed technical reference; photo galleries that are organized by sub-categories in the chronograph genre, and finally reference tables and charts. The historical and technical information is excellent, providing extensive technical information that would be hard to find in any one source anywhere else. The photographs are useful in an academic way. Not artsy, they are taken and presented in a "mug shot" type format, which is more than sufficient for their intended use as reference for various models and calibers. most are in black and white and provides excellent hotographic reference for various makes and models, as well as movement graphics and photos are that virtually indispensible for the collector or chrono enthusiast. The caliber reference at the end of the book is extremely useful to collectors.

Title: 20th Century Wristwatches
by George Gordon
ISBN # 0737293020
Publishers Price: $180 (?!?)

Photos and Graphics: Good to excellent

Text and Editorial Content: ? Where was the editor?!?

Audience Level: This is a tough one. Beginners will be confused by the text, advanced collectors will be frustrated by it. All can enjoy the sometimes excellent photographs of rare and unusual wristwatches, though.

Summary: Rambling and poorly written, I can only recommend it to those that are looking for the photographs of rare and unusual pieces.

Title: Prestigious Watches
by Sophie Ann Terrisse
ISBN # 0-8478-1991-4
Publishers Price: $50

Photos and Graphics: Awesome! Worth the price for the pictures alone.

Text and Editorial Content: Easily readable, there are some interesting technical descriptions that are good introductions to some of the more esoteric and specialized areas of watches and watchmaking. The components of a wristwatch are introduced and described, including the case, dial, hands, and movement. There is a section on the history of timekeeping that provides a brief overview of the development of various mechanical means to measure the passage of time. The description of the watchmaking regions of Switzerland is unusual and some may find it interesting.

Audience Level: Beginner to intermediate; advanced watch hobbyists may be interested in the book for the outstanding photographs.

Summary: Did I mention the photographs are awesome? and that this book has great pictures? Oh, yeah, and the watch images are wonderful...I have to wonder about some of the choices in the featured brands, and some of the Great Houses were conspicuous in their omission, but overall, for anyone interested in the visual aspect of wristwatches and their design, this is well worth the money.

Title: Time In Gold
by Gerald Viola, Gisbert L. Brunner
ISBN # 0887401376
Publishers Price: $79.95

Photos and Graphics: Very good to Excellent - the less than excellent quality of some of the photos printed in the book may be due to the printing of this edition rather than the original photograph itself.

Text and Editorial Content: One of the very rare watch books that is well written, it provides history and expert editorial that goes deeper than the "sound bites" and one liners that most watch books provide. There is ample history, technical information, and design comments to quickly bring any beginner up to the level of an intermediate, and collectors of all levels will find something of interest.

For brand specific information, this book is on par with entire tomes dedicated to a specific brand, and in many cases, even superior to the information provided in those other books.

Audience Level: beginner, intermediate. Advanced collectors may find the photos useful and interesting.

Summary: August, 2000 - I have just recently re-visited this book, and I am reminded of just why this book holds such a special place in my heart. It is well written, well researched, and is one of the very rare books on the subject of wristwatches that gives equal weighting to the text and the pictures.

For in-depth brand history and model information, I would rate this book a "must have" along with Wristwatches, which provides less depth but more brand breadth.

April, 2000 - This book holds a special place in my heart for me because it is one of the first watch specific books I ever bought, plus it has a great picture of the Audemars Piguet Philosopher watch, one of my favorite watch designs. I have not opened the book in nearly a decade, so specific comments will have to wait till I revisit the book.

Title: Swiss Wristwatches: Chronology of Worldwide Success Swiss Watch Design in Old Advertisements and Catalogs
by Gisbert L. Brunner, Christian Pfeiffer-Belli
ISBN # 0887403018
Publishers Price: $69.95

Photos and Graphics: Decent reproductions of original ads and company catalogs, providing a photographic and graphic history of the design trends and developments of the Swiss wristwatch.

Text and Editorial Content: There is very little text copy, with short essays (short relative to the total volume of the book!) attempting to put specific periods, usually a span of decades, into some sort of context. The attempt is marginally successful, at best.

Audience Level: collectors, historians, and hobbyists specifically interested in the design, rather than the mechanical, aspects of Swiss watches.

Summary: A very interesting approach to the topic, using unusual original source material to guide the reader through a photographic tour of the 20th century in Swiss wristwatch design. I have spent many hours just flipping through the pages, absorbing into visual memory the varied and unusual designs and design motifs. This has come in handy when I am looking at specific pieces to buy to add to my collection.

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Title: Wristwatches
by Gisbert L. Brunner, Christian Pfeiffer-Belli
ISBN # 3-8290-0660-8
Publishers Price: $39.95

Photos and Graphics: excellent in a practical reference sort of way. Most of the reference photographs are straight forward "mug shots" and so are simple and useful references, with no attempt to make them "artsy."

Text and Editorial Content: Straight forward historical snapshots, without fancy embellishments, there is a lot of unusual and not often found tidbits; a miniature self contained treasure hunt of information in and of itself. The text is always in three languages - English, French, and German, in a three column format, so the different languages to not visually clash with each other. Having the book for only a few days before leaving for an extended business trip, and getting so fascinated by the seldom encountered photos and descriptions of rare and unusual pieces from lesser known brands, which happens to be a collecting specialty of mine, I never thought to read the French or German, so I have no useful personal comments on the caliber of the text in those languages. But given the native languages of the authors...

Audience Level: All - beginner through advanced (but not technical)

Summary: A huge hardback book, very reasonably priced. Currently one of my favorites and a useful reference for anyone interested in vintage wristwatches. This book and Shugart's Complete Price Guide to Watches are probably sufficient for most collectors.

Title: Wristwatches: A Connoisseur's Guide
by Frank Edwards
ISBN # 1-85076-752-1
Publishers Price: $24.95

Photos and Graphics: excellent quality, but mostly of models that are readily found elsewhere.

Text and Editorial Content: well written introductions to many brands. Some interesting history is given, but advanced collectors may disagree with some of the subjective points made, as well as the selection (or omission) of certain brands. It seems one of the criteria for inclusion was commercial viability at the time of the writing of the book, and as such, is of marginal interest to vintage collectors. There are some interesting historical notes for currently extant brands such as Eterna, but why include Gucci, or worse, Christian Dior?

Audience Level: beginner through intermediate, with some specific data like production figures and turnover that may be of interest to advanced collectors. Since the company introductions focus nearly exclusively on current models and lines, this is of marginal use to vintage collectors.

Summary: A well written introduction to many brands. Relatively inexpensive by horology book standards, a worthwhile buy for anyone just starting out in the world of wristwatches. However, the title is a bit pretentious and hints at depths that are not delivered in the text. To me a connoisseur implies taste, natural or cultivated, and expert knowledge. The text is certainly not written with the reader already possessing expert knowledge in mind.

Title: Wristwatches - History of a Century's Development
by Helmut Kahlert, Richard Muhe, Gisbert L. Brunner
ISBN # 0764308610
Publishers Price: $79.95

Photos and Graphics: inconsistent, ranging from fair to excellent. I don't know if this spotty quality is due to the printing or the quality of the original photographs.

Text and Editorial Content: The writing rambles a bit, and seems clearly translated from a language other than English.

Audience Level: the photographic galleries may be of interest to the serious collector and watch historian, but otherwise, I cannot recommend this book to any level of hobbyist.

Summary: Despite the lofty goals promised by the title, the text and organization is superficial at best. The photos are a useful reference source, as is the "price guide," but be careful - prices for vintage watches change so rapidly that I would argue that book type price guides are a GENERAL reference at best, misleading at worst.

I am a bit surprised at the editorial quality, in light of the caliber of horological interest and scholarship in Germany, which is the original language of publication and national origin of the authors. To be fair, it is noted in the introduction of the book that this is a translated work, and being very familiar with the difficulties of good translation work, I would be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the authors. I would be interested to evaluate the book in German, the original language of publication. (Armband Uhren: 100 Jahre Entwicklingsgeschichte )

Unless the photographs are worth the price of admission to you, I would suggest a pass on this book.

Title: The Complete Price Guide to Watches
by Cooksey Shugart, Richard Gilbert, Tom Engle
ISBN # 1574321609
Publishers Price: $26.95

Photos and Graphics: poor reprographics, many of the black and white pictures are unclear and fuzzy. But, on the sheer range and breadth of the pieces shown, you have to be impressed. The line drawings at the beginning of the book, giving technical information and nomenclature, are excellent.

Text and Editorial Content: The sections introducing the technical aspects and industry specific nomenclature and practices are excellent. Some of the other essays are subject to personal opinion.

Audience Level: beginner through advanced

Summary: Love it or hate it, if you are a serious vintage collector, or just starting out, you have to have it.

Title: A Time Capsule: Omega Speedmaster
by Kesaharu Imai
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics: Excellent, many in full color. Includes some rare and unique photos of the Speedmaster "in action" plus lots of great photos of the golden age of the NASA space program.

Text and Editorial Content: Well written and researched, a lot of information is provided about the NASA space program and the race to the moon, one of the shining moments in human scientific endeavour. The fold out table of (nearly) all Speedmaster models and calibers alone make this book indispensible to the Speedmaster collector and historian.

Audience Level: beginner to intermediate, with some unique NASA space program information and time piece qualification trials that advanced collectors will find useful.

Summary: This book was published and distributed by Omega themselves. The book was provided free of charge to 30th Anniversary Moonwatch buyers for a limited time. I have seen the book sold in the re-sell market for over $100 (average transaction price - $75). A must have for Omega Speedmaster fans. One of the few watch books that will appeal to watch connoisseurs and non-watch audiences alike.

Title: The Moon Watch: The First and only Wrist Watch on the Moon
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics:

Text and Editorial Content:

Audience Level:

Summary: This was another limited edition promotional book commissioned, published, and distributed by Omega themselves. With its high production values, it is obvious the Omega marketing team know what they are doing. Personally, I happen to like the Imai book a little better, but I am hardpressed to quantify this preference. A quality book, a good and interesting read, slightly less "authoritative" as a reference source than A Time Capsule: Omega Speedmaster, but definitely worthwhile for anyone interested in the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, or the NASA Moon program.

Title: Patek Philippe - Complicated Wristwatches
by Leonardo Arte, Giorgio Gregato, Paolo De Vecchi
ISBN # 382901449X
Publishers Price: $29.95

Photos and Graphics: Photographic quality range from excellent to good. Some of the detailed photos and movement pictures are unique reference sources, as the pieces pictured are rare or one of a kind, not likely to been seen in person.

Text and Editorial Content: What text?

Audience Level: very specialized - see summary

Summary: Probably of interest only to the die hard Patek Philippe collector and hardcore fans of complicated watches, mostly in the chronograph category. The book is basically a photographic catalog of an excellent private collection, with little to no analysis or history.

Title: Hamilton Wristwatches - A Collector's Guide
by Rene Rondeau
Publishers Price: $

Photos and Graphics: Most of the graphics are black and white line drawings; useful reference for collectors, but certainly lacking of the artistic beauty of full color, professionally done photographs.

Text and Editorial Content: Readable, but probably of interest mainly to Hamilton collectors.

Audience Level: very specialized - see summary

Summary: The book consists primarily of three sections - the author's prose introduction and history of the company; a fairly comprehensive graphic galleries section of most of the models ever produced by Hamilton Watch Company; and a section of miscellaneous reference information, the specifics of which I have forgotten.

I would recommend this book to anyone specifically interested in Hamilton wristwatches or starting (or expanding) a Hamilton collection, but anyone else would probably find this book of limited interest.

Title: Omega Designs
by Anton Kreuzer
Publishers Price: $

Photos and Graphics: Good, but not great. I am not sure if the failing is the fault of the original photographer or of the printer/publisher. Many of the photos are softly out of focus or the color registration and bleeding are weak.

Text and Editorial Content: Fairly comprehensive introduction to the Omega brand and its products over the years, including company history and technical as well as product development. This book could be of interest to general watch aficionados as well as Omega fans.

Audience Level: beginner through advanced - easy introductory reading, as well as advanced reference material.

Summary: It had been quite awhile since I last took a look at my copy of this book (my library is spread out across three oceans), but I have seen this book in the bookstore several times in the meantime. I seem to remember the book format and photos were much better - sharper focus, better quality print, richer colors - then when I revisited the copy I have. I wonder if there were differences from one edition to another.

I would recommend this book, even with my disappointments, but if there are different editions and printing differences, I would definitely go to the trouble of searching out the best quality one, the differences are so great.

Title: Piaget - Watches and Wonders
by Franco Cologni, Giampiero Negretti, F. Nencini
ISBN # 0789200783
Publishers Price: $85

Photos and Graphics: very good to excellent

Text and Editorial Content: Well written and readable, especially considering that it was probably translated from the original manuscript (probably Italian)

Audience Level: specialized Piaget collectors and historians

Summary: Some interesting history on the House of Piaget, and some useful information on specific proprietary Piaget calibers. Very specialized, probably worth the money only to fans of the House and Piaget collectors.

Title: Minerva - a History
by Jean-Jacques Frey
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics: Excellent

Text and Editorial Content: very readable, especially considering the author's native language is French. Not meant to be an exhaustively researched academic tome, it is a good introduction to the House of Minerva, one of the last true manufacturers and a leading mechanical chronograph and stopwatch producer at one time.

Audience Level: beginner through advanced (advanced only because there is so little information generally available about Minerva to begin with)

Summary: This small book gives an interesting look at the history of a little known, but passionately collected Swiss manufacturer. Written and researched by the second generation owner and President of Minerva, it is a welcome addition to anyone interested in Minerva or chronographs in general.

Title: Blancpain
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics: Excellent

Text and Editorial Content:

Audience Level: beginner through intermediate, and for those that are contemplating the purchase of a Blancpain.

Summary: Nicely written, nicely presented introduction to the horological art as interpreted by Blancpain. A product line catalog masquerading as a reference book, with some interesting brand specific information.





Title: Ulysse Nardin - History in Time
by Rolf W. Schnyder
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics: Excellent, especially of the dream trio, the Trilogy of Time (Astrolabium, Planetarium, Tellurium)

Text and Editorial Content: very readable, with more information about current product models than about historical models or company history. Historians and vintage collectors will have to look elsewhere, but for anyone interested in some of the most complicated watches ever produced, or the current Ulysse Nardin line in general, this "book" makes for pleasant reading.

Audience Level: beginner through intermediate

Summary: Keep it for the pictures, read it for the specs.

Title: Chronoswiss: Fascination with Mechanics
by Gerd-R Lang
Publishers Price:

Photos and Graphics: excellent

Text and Editorial Content: slick - obviously edited (?) by professional copy editors

Audience Level: beginners and Chronoswiss fans; non-Chronoswiss advanced collectors may be put off by the commercial tone of the copy.

Summary: a fluff piece, with some useful non-commercial information

I welcome comments, suggestions, and corrections to this book list.

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