Today I catch up with fellow watch nerd and vintage expert, Angus of AHW Studio. Angus runs a horological and bespoke jewellery company, with two retail outlets located at the Strand Arcade and at The Rocks in Sydney, Australia. I’ve always admired his depth of knowledge and passion for vintage watches, so I sat down with him to talk about his collection and give us some insights into what he collects and why.

Shopfront at The Strand Arcade in Sydney

Me: “The first question I wanted to ask you is how you got into collecting vintage watches personally?”

Angus: “It was a very specific Richard Lange. It wasn’t actually a vintage watch, but it got me into collecting watches. I had this itch to want to discover the world of watchmaking. It was about the emotion, with vintage watches there’s an irreplaceable emotion that I hadn’t felt before, maybe because these things are not from my time.”

Me: “I mean there’s something to be said for an object that’s lived as long as your forebears and is still achieving the purpose it was designed for, right? A thing so finely made that it’s lasted for generations.”

Angus: “Yeah, absolutely.”

The ever-stylish Angus wearing a vintage Omega Constellation

Me: “Well my second question was going to be what makes old watches special and worth collecting, but you’ve kind of already answered that. The emotional attachment to something from an era that was made as well as people of that time could make it. Like a project of passion.”

Angus: “I think for something beautiful to be made, there always has to be a form of struggle. It doesn’t have to be a famine. It doesn’t have to be a war. But there has to be a struggle… technologically, because we’re so used to precision now, but back then it was not normal. It wasn’t normal to have atomically-synced time that you don’t have to think about. The push for precision, that’s what really drives me to collect as well.”

Me: “What does a watch need to have to make its way into your collection?”

Omega Constellation with calibre 561 on a beads of rice bracelet, alongside the “Golden Decay” ring in white gold

Angus: “My biggest point is that it has to be a first of something. The reasoning is because… before it, nothing existed. The second point is, I don’t believe in the ‘limited run’ thing now, but I believed it back then. Like a watch made for only 2 years because they had a shortage of steel, you know? It has to be tethered to some form of event that affected us all. Like World War 2 affected most of us, and the shortage of steel was common, because it was being used by the military. That filtering down to every industry, even the watch industry, to the point where watch cases were being made in brass and then chromed to have the effect of steel. That itself was interesting enough. Because it was an uncommon thing. It makes me want to collect a steel watch of that period.

Me: “Because it was rare?”

Angus: “Because it was rare. And it costed more. I’m carrying something that is… it’s locked in a time capsule. In its own bubble. The third point would be an “only”. It’s the only watch that this company created. Or it’s the only…”

Me: “The only watch that achieved this particular milestone?”

This Constellation is one of the “famous 100k”, the highest performing chronometers of pre-quartz Omega. It deserves an article all to itself…

Angus: “Right. It was the only watch that was made in this plastic, for example. So, it could be a mistake. Sort of like an experimental error. Or it could have been such an overengineered thing that it was the only watch to achieve that frequency, and then it didn’t need to anymore. Because it got there! Or even the opposite where I enjoy something that is so low-end, it was made to be so cheap, like one that I’ll show you which is a disposable military watch made for the Vietnam War. That was meant to be non-maintainable, and they actually spent more effort coming up with injection plastic to indicate that it’s a watch that you don’t need to bring back to the service center anymore.”

Me: “It was kind of more effort to reduce maintenance, wasn’t it? It’s like, let’s make it right the first time, and not have to worry about servicing it.”

Angus: “Yeah. This thing should not go back to a watchmaker’s bench. It’s like space food. It has its lifespan. It’s built for this amount of time, and the fact that I could find one in decent enough condition means it was not disposed of.”

Me: “So to summarise that, it’s something that achieved a first of some sort, something that is rare in some fashion, or it was a one-off or a mistake. Were there any other traits?”

Deconstructed view of Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Quartz, image courtesy of @ahwstudio

Angus: “So the overarching trait would be that it needs to speak a human language. It needs to reflect something human.”

Me: “Kind of shining a light on the human condition?”

Angus: “The human condition, that’s right. Yeah. I’ve always loved psychology, I love how people think in different ways, in different cultures and at different times. To summarise I’d say: it doesn’t just tell the time, it tells of a time.”

Me: “I’m reminded of one of my favourite sayings, relating to what you’re talking about with struggle and conflict. It’s that growth comes at the point of resistance. Like there was a push to achieve something because there was a difficulty to surpass.”

Angus: “Yes, yes. Innovation comes from crisis, right? What I find amazing about time, and watchmaking, is that it’s literally timeless. You can’t touch it. It’s our attempt to like… mine whatever metals we can from the earth, to build something, to let us know something about the rotation of the earth. It’s self-contained. That’s so romantic to me.”

Caseback of the JLC. Note the “32,788Hz” branding: this was the first quartz movement to standardise the now-ubiquitous 32Khz frequency.

Me: “When you buy a vintage watch, do you immediately get it restored, or do you live with it in its current condition?”

Angus: “It depends. I spend all my time studying examples and comparing it to many other examples, by the time I’ve committed to one it will usually be okay, or it would be so crisp and raw and untouched that I’d probably want to keep it for a while [un-serviced].”

Me: “If you could give any advice to someone looking to start a vintage watch collection, what would it be?”

Angus: “Look at watchmaking history! That’s how I started. You should, or rather you ought to arm yourself with knowledge first. Once you have the knowledge, you will have a very great direction, and it’s pretty clear – to me, it’s really clear. The last 10 years or so of watch culture has been driven by popularity and market, driven by oversize cases and attractive dials, driven by brands. Its not that I don’t believe in that stuff, I just don’t feel like I want to pay more for what… others want. Rather I would like to pay for actual ingenuity and engineering of its day.

I don’t discriminate case sizes; I don’t mind what size they are. If it happens to be small, so be it. If it happens to be big, so be it. Its what it was. I always like to respect what the watch was, rather than fixating on like, what’s the dimension? How does it look on my wrist?

Me: “So you really are a collector in that sense, rather than buying a watch purely to wear.”

Angus: “Yes. But I also do wear the shit out of them. I also do wear [vintage watches] for style, to storytell, to also channel the period. I’m wearing the time capsule. I happen to have skinny wrists, and I feel that vintage watches are just classic. They’re in that classic size where even for a bigger gentleman or a very fine-wristed lady, it doesn’t really matter. They’re at a good average size for most humans, I feel. Form follows function. I find the lack of general historical knowledge is what stops people from spending money in the right way, I feel.”

Me: “It’s a hard sell for someone that likes the idea of vintage watches but is new to the game, telling them to study their history first and then that will guide their purchasing decisions. It’s essentially saying, here’s a book, study it or here’s a copious amount of material, get yourself up to expert level and then maybe you can buy a watch!

Angus: “No I mean that’s the thing. That’s how I started. There was always a high, as soon as I learned something that has a certain… technical detail I go straight to eBay to try and find an example of it. I definitely do that. But maybe a more general approach would just be to be honest with yourself and know what you’re getting. It’s too cliché to talk about oh, don’t fall for branding because everyone else is. I love Rolex for what they’ve done, I don’t necessarily like what they’re making now, because they’re making it for the current market. To pull back a bit, I’d say just arm yourself with more knowledge rather than wearing something that is not… honest.”

Me: “Something that is going to please others?”

Angus: “Yeah, yeah. If you’re truly content with what you wear it comes across.”

Me: “Can you talk me through your current collection?”

Angus: “The Harwood is short for John Harwood, from the Isle of Man, which is famous for the ultimate British watchmaking at the moment. Home of Daniels and Smiths. This was actually a Swiss patent from 1924 and the movement was made by Blancpain.”

Me: “Oh really?”

Angus: “And it had a little bit of connection with Fortis. The movement is a bumper-automatic, this is the first automatic wristwatch. The earliest automatic movements ever made were pocket watches with bumper or hammer devices anyway. There wasn’t anything freely moving [like a rotor] up until the Rolex Perpetual. I got this on eBay for about A$1,000. To me this is museum-grade, because it’s completely untouched, and I refuse to get it serviced.

In the early 30’s Rolex took this technology and reinvented it, to call it their Perpetual and apparently didn’t credit John Harwood. And then there was a lawsuit, and they eventually credited him as the inventor of the automatic wristwatch. There as even an advert, with Rolex and John Harwood’s face on it. It was like, really forced <laugh>”.

Angus: “The next one is of a time. It’s all about the watch case, and a shortage of materials. The only part of a watch that was made and produced in Australia, which is the Handley Watch Case Company down in Melbourne. They produced watch cases all the way from plated, base-metal stuff all the way up to 10K gold. This being in the middle, but ironically as steel watches they are coveted. It’s a Burin, which is an old Swiss company, they made beautiful movements. This looks to be 30s, 40s, so I’m guessing it was around World War 2. Australian built, screw-back steel case, like a 3-piece case. To me this represents local craft, of a time that will never exist again.”

Me: “Beautiful. And this piece?”

Angus: “Next up is a Moser.”

Me: “Any relation to H. Moser & Cie?”

Angus: “Exactly. It’s the original one. This is essentially a doctors watch from the 50s with a jumping seconds or a dead seconds complication.”

Me: “The dead seconds mechanism had a reputation of being a scientist’s complication, because it allowed you tell time precisely to a second. And it helps with things like timing a patient’s pulse as well, so its quite useful as a doctor’s watch.”

Angus: “I’m guessing that’s why this is a sector dial, to allow timing pulses in 15 second intervals. It has the caduceus, which is the snake around a sword, and I’m pretty sure this was used in the field somewhere. It still has perlon marks at the back, imprinted onto the watch case. It’s very Moser to use a very obscure complication [for a common task].

The last three I can encompass under one umbrella, it’s all in the very modern era, we’re starting in the 70s. So in 1970, the first iteration of a disposable watch. It’s a Benrus, American brand, Swiss made, Aussie-issued. Its an Australian-issued Vietnam War, plastic field non-maintainable watch.

On the back it has a big A in the centre for Australia, which is one of the rarest versions. It runs beautifully, really crisp. It came in a state like it would have come off a soldier’s wrist, like everything was disgustingly dirty. I cleaned it up with alcohol wipes and soap and water.

The next one is one of your favourites, it’s the Jaeger-LeCoultre from 1972. I have always chased the idea of a quartz watch in a gold case. There’s something about a seemingly cheap technology in the most unnecessary and decadent material. It’s the high contrast that I chase.

This one is a trifecta of investment from three big companies; JLC made the watch, Motorola made the integrated circuit, Girard-Perregaux made the movement. It was the movement that standardised the frequency of 32Khz in a quartz watch.

The last watch links to most of the devices that we have today, which is colloquially dubbed as Steve Jobs’ Seiko. I keep forgetting the reference, but this was made in July 1983. The one that Steve Jobs wore himself was made in April 1983, which auctioned for about A$40,000. I find this is part of his thinking, part of the lead to modern tech, and also is a reflection of my graphic design days.

For me typography and seeing what fonts are used where, at what time, is so important. The reason Steve Jobs basically existed was he wanted to build a beautiful product for the consumer. I love that mix between something completely commercial and sellable and also injecting so much of your own soul and philosophy into it. This is Japan’s iteration of a Braun-looking, Bauhaus-looking, Steve Jobs-wearing watch. It’s so of-the-period.”

Me: “Thank you very much Angus! It’s been a pleasure.”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Payne

    Incredible article man. You and Angus clearly know your stuff. Big fan of the Moser!

    1. Jason Swire

      Thanks mate! Appreciate it. This one’s all Angus, his historical knowledge is second to none.

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