Let’s be upfront about it: The watch industry is downright intimidating during the best of times and outright impenetrable in the worst of times. When you combine the spectacular prices, the minutiae of mechanical details, and the history of these century-old brands, it’s damn near impossible to find a proper guide into navigating questions like, “How can I get into watchmaking?” or “Why are the hands on my watch loose?”
Enter Anthony L., better known on Instagram as the @nobswatchmaker. You may be one of his 12,000 and growing followers, or maybe you’ve just seen a post or two of his where he documents the unglamorous lifestyle of a watchmaker in NYC. It’s often hilarious and rings true to the many stereotypes people have about the luxury watch industry and the people around it. Through all the “sex piles” and the glitz of watch influencers on Instagram, Anthony’s account cuts the crap — or BS, if you prefer — and offers the rare portrait of the watch influencer as an educator rather than a celebrity.
Anthony’s path into the industry reflects his portrayal of it on social media.
“There is no romance in watchmaking for me,” he says. “I was forced to learn watchmaking at the ripe age of 12. I absolutely hated it. I hated it with a passion. I was a 12 year old and all I could think about was playing outside with my friends and watching cartoons on Saturdays. Instead, I woke up everyday at 5:30 A.M. and worked on watches until it was time to go to school. I would come home, do my homework, shower, sleep, rinse, and repeat.”
He started documenting his daily repairs in 2016 after realizing that the people posing as “experts” online lacked any sort of horological credentials.
“I remember scrolling through Instagram and seeing a bunch of people posting incorrect watchmaking stuff,” he says. “It didn’t click for me yet. A couple weeks later, my friends wanted my opinion on some watchmaking videos from YouTube. I remember watching those videos in complete disbelief. It was full of misinformation and definitely nowhere near close to what watchmakers do day-to-day. It was at that moment that I told myself to just document my process. I don’t claim to be a master watchmaker at all. My goals at the time were to showcase what I do with my own unique style. Just that in itself was enough to amass a huge following full of watchmakers, aspiring-watchmakers, watch enthusiasts, and salespeople.”
These people are exactly the kind that Anthony hopes to continue to draw in with his new book, 100+ No BS Watch Tips — For Watch Enthusiasts and Sales People. At a little over 250 pages, it’s quite a bit longer than what you’ll find on his Instagram, but it offers a perspective that is almost impossible to find when most modern horological literature focuses on history and brand identity rather than substantial facts. Yes, this is where you’ll find an answer to simple questions such as, “How often should I service my watch?” and answers to questions that require going into vast detail such as “How to run your own quality control check on an automatic watch?”
This book isn’t just for beginners either. It is a substantial resource for even the savviest of horological veterans. Where in other hands, a book of this caliber could read as dry as a textbook, Anthony balances his knowledge base with a humor and candor that is rare in the conservative Swiss watch industry.
With the holiday season around the corner, this is the perfect stocking stuffer for the watch enthusiast in your life.
Read on for the rest of my conversation with Anthony about his watchmaking career and why he decided to write a book at this time.
How did you become involved in the watch industry?
After my apprenticeship, certifications, and brand trainings, I quickly realized that although I may not like watchmaking – I definitely respect it and was definitely good at it. I stuck around because it paid the bills. As I got a more mature understanding of watchmaking, it dawned on me the level of representation us watchmakers get compared to other trades. We’re a dying trade. According to the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry, 1,200,000 watches are sold annually. Yet plenty of watchmakers are either dying or retiring with only a handful entering the field each year. Your average watchmaker is at retirement age. Anyone younger than 60 years of age is considered young.
What would you like to teach the average watch geek?
Here’s one thing I would tell the average watch geek – Get your hands dirty. Try your hand in watchmaking. Go on eBay and order an ETA 6498 (even a fake copy would get the job done). Get yourself some tweezers, a loupe, and screwdrivers. Disassemble and reassemble the watch. Nothing beats first hand experience. There’s two things that will happen. You may find that watchmaking is actually not for you and that you’re just an average watch geek (saving you thousands of dollars on future watch DIY projects). Or you may find that watchmaking is your calling and dive a little deeper into the watch industry (and potentially even become a watchmaker). There’s no need to stand on the sidelines in today’s day and age. Get first hand experience yourself.
What mistakes do you see the most often from other watchmakers? And from watch enthusiasts in general?
One of the biggest mistakes I see independent watchmakers make today is not showcasing their work. They should be showcasing their work daily. Watchmakers like to keep things to themselves instead of being vocal. They want work to come to them. I’ve had lots of independent watchmakers contact me in regards to getting more business and a simple thing like showcasing their work always produced more profit dollars for them. As a watchmaker, you cannot showcase your work enough. You should put it all up display on social media (Instagram and Facebook work best). The main important thing is to be transparent, caring, helpful, and vocal. We as watchmakers need to be more vocal in the industry. The biggest mistakes I see with watch enthusiasts is that they’re too focused on wrist shots. The ratio between educational watchmaking posts to aesthetic wrist shots are mind-blowing. Post something educational and nobody bats an eye, post a watch on your wrist and everybody loses their mind. Your average watch guy cares more about a random wrist shot than they do about learning about their own watches. I don’t know about you but when I buy something, I want to understand exactly how and why it works. Even if it’s just a laymen understanding of it. I’ve had “watch enthusiasts” hand me their automatic watches for a battery change. I’ve had “watch enthusiasts” who didn’t know the difference between water resistant and waterproof. I challenge your average watch enthusiast to understand how and why their watches work. And I’m not talking about just a superficial understanding. Do yourself a favor and truly try to understand the functions of your own watch.
What prompted you to write a book?
There’s too much misinformation out there about watches, watchmaking, and the watchmaking industry. Almost every single watchmaking book I’ve come across was so dry that I’d lose interest 10 seconds into reading it. I wanted to write an uncommon guide that was both fun, conversational, and easy to digest. I was repeatedly asked over hundreds of times to write a book. The writing style and overall direct approach in my posts were the biggest factors in pre-launch book sales. My followers already have a good idea about my writing style and it’s really helped me a lot. People learn from my posts daily. One of my followers, an ER doctor in the states, summarized it best when he said even if he only had a couple minutes, he could read one of my posts quickly and still learn something new.
Do you remember your first watch?
One of my first watches was a Casio digital calculator watch. I loved it and wore it everyday. I may or may not have used that during math class in school.
What is the biggest challenge facing the watch industry today?
The marketing. The industry is still trying to tell stories in a 2017 environment using the same tactics they used in 2010. The current model of storytelling in the watch industry is bland. Just take a look at a couple watch brand accounts. You can’t post wrist shots, some random dates, and a couple names and then call that storytelling. You’re still trying to romance the watches with fancy trailers, voice actors, and flowery keywords. It’s not the way it works anymore. The industry needs to shake things up to compete in today’s times. Become a disruptor and think outside the box. Stop blaming the millennials and smart watches. Times are changing and the industry is not doing enough to stay on top of that. What the brands need to do is talk to their customers. Show them the behind-the-scenes. Be transparent and I don’t mean that typical “we use this steel, blah blah blah, we forge this, blah blah blah” I’m talking about the nitty-gritty, unfiltered details. Post the day to day. Post the shortcomings. Make weaknesses become strength or triple down on strengths and forget about the shortcomings. Get down to the consumer level instead of sitting on pedestals. As a big brand, it’s important to get super focused on core values. Get dirty and give yourself a face. People buy from people.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to be a watchmaker?
Get good at the fundamentals. Fundamentals will always be king. You should focus a large part of your time, especially in the beginning, on mastering the overhaul process for immediate return on investment. Get good with filing screwdrivers, disassembling and reassembling, oiling, regulating and adjusting, hairspring work, dial, and casing. I’m doing these things to this day. Fundamentals will always be important.
EDIT: You can purchase the book here.