10 Watch Books (and Other Horological Literature): A Broke Watch Snob’s Guide

By: Damon Bailey

There’s something to be said about the sex appeal granted to a watch simply because it’s new and shiny. Perhaps the watch isn’t literally new, but it’s new to you, and so the natural high experienced for its unexpected discovery makes it as equally coveted. As consumers, we’ve become inundated with the regular showcasing of our neighbors’ ever-expanding collections thanks to social media and limitless bank accounts (or so we might be lead to believe).

Sober up, dear reader. You’re being played like a fiddle.

Limited editions, flipping opportunities, and Instagram “likes” are all the justification we need to funnel cash flow toward the watch-game. Maybe you’ve played down the cumulative cash total put toward your collection because, “No sweat, I’ll make my money back on the forums tomorrow” has been your mantra.

If watch-collecting has become a socially acceptable form of insanity, then at least channel that passion toward understanding the game (or, God forbid, learn to appreciate what you might already have). Consider substituting “the fix” for another timepiece with a watch book on horology.

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For far less than the cost of a watch service, there’s a ton of literature out there at your fingertips beyond web-based journalism. Fortunately, most archive-quality brand catalogs can be acquired at no cost simply be emailing the customer service address for whatever brand may peak your interest. For a more expansive approach, check out these ten alternatives:

Click on a name to jump sections
Wristwatch Annual
A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches
The Watch
The Watch Book (Compendium)
A Man and His Watch
Chasing Time
The Watch of the Future
The Art of Defying Time: Eberhard & Co.
Breitling: The Book
The Vintage Rolex Field Guide
Honorable Mentions

Please note that some of links below are Amazon Affiliate links – these are marked with an asterisk (*) Check out our footer for more info.

Wristwatch Annual (ongoing)*

By Peter Braun
Type: Reference / Catalog
370-430 pg, $35

Since 1999, Peter Braun has cataloged selections from nearly 150 different watch brands’ latest line-ups, paired with high-level insight to their history, significance, and illustrated roster of in-house calibers produced for the year.

Because companies are often switching ownership and direction for their collections available, the early years of these catalogs are especially important as vital archives for anything that wasn’t captured (or plugged) by third party coverage for the time. If Rolex were to release a “Pepsi” update tomorrow, you could expect twenty-five websites to cover it on Watchville, but this was far from the case twenty years ago and especially so for anything remotely close to a micro-brand.

@Wristwatch Annual 2018 pg.50

Company bios for the brands typically includes contact information, annual production numbers, the cost range of their more popular collections, and even the employee headcount. Where AP employs 1,300 workers, Doxa only has 48. Where else would you find this kind of data? Also of note, there seems to be a fair spread of names cataloged from the most popular to utterly obscure. In alphabetical order, we’d see Stowa, Tag Heuer, Temption, Thomas Ninchritz, Tissot, and Towson (a whopping four employees); all are worth a mention. Thanks in part to this indiscriminate coverage, we gain exposure to ultra niche brands to better shape our understanding of what comprises the watch world.

A recent edition runs around $35 but used, previous years could easily be acquired on eBay or Amazon for as little as $6. The value is unbeatable. Check out Wristwatch Annual on Amazon.*

A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches*

by Ryan Schmidt. 2016.
Type: Informational / Coffee Table
349 pg, $80

If there were ever a watch book that was as informative as it was pornographic for horological content, you’d be pressed to find more visually stunning alternative. As the title suggests, the Wristwatch Handbook breaks down the mechanics and terminology behind watches, however with a greater focus on the movements that make them significant. This isn’t a discussion about why the Rolex Daytona is an iconic driver’s watch. It is, however, an objective tracing of the automatic Daytona engine to its El Primero roots and later evolution.

@The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive
Guide To Mechanical Wristwatches pg. 10

From barometers to flying tourbillons, ultra-rare complications and their earliest days of record are explored to their fullest extent in this top tier watch book. What are the various terms for different hand types or dial configurations? What sort of finishing is seen decorating a particular movement? The illustrated material will get you savvy enough to understand higher level discussions.

This is “haute horology” at its most creative and superfluous. For this reason, there is a focus on high-end houses with reputably high dollar associations. Check out A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches on Amazon.*

The Watch*

by Gene Stone. 2006.
Type: Informational / Coffee Table
250 pages, $45

In 250 pages, author Gene Stone offers what few other books can: a comprehensive crash course in horology that’s as approachable for neophytes as it is acceptable to neckbearded veterans. This is no easy feat for any watch book.

Subjects discussed include a brief watch history, overview to collecting and maintenance, and the near-impossible task of succinctly representing fifty brands unique in their approach and impact on the watch world. Manage your expectations appropriately; expect to see Swatch between the pages of F.P. Journe and Vacheron Constatin. For this reason, it’s probably the best option among the watch books reviewed to provide the most objective insight and resources regarding the hobby’s entirety. This would make it ideal for beginners.

In the Panerai section, you’ll find twenty archive-worthy images over the span of four pages; content space commensurate with Panerai’s popularity. Alternately, Nomos would rate two pages and Rolex is allotted six. What are Corum’s most important watches? It will list the Bubble, Golden Bridge, and Coin Watch. You’re getting “wave tops” here, which would be just enough to get your feet wet.

The photography is not original, nor should it matter. This is a compilation of existing reference material (likely sourced from the companies, themselves). Should the reader be so turned around that they still can’t make sense of what’s what, “11 Modern Watches that Look Vintage” (among related lists) well at least get them a foothold of familiarity. This book has been printed in such high numbers that you’d easily find them used on Amazon for under ten bucks. Check Out The Watch on Amazon.*

The Watch Book (Compendium)*

By Gisbert Brunner. 2019.
Type: Informational; Brand Reference / Coffee Table
504 pages, $54

From Lange to Longines, the collected volumes of the Watch Book I & II make for a extensive overview that’s brand-focused. This watch book encompassing everything from the most extravagant side of watchmaking to the “entry level” luxury. In addition to a historical perspective on the 42 brands discussed, we see here popular models credited for the company success. A discussion of Eterna will include vintage ads, notes on its founder, wristwatch alarm patents, the Kontiki series, and effects on the changing of hands from one conglomerate to the next (something you’d never see in an authorized release).

The author’s significance deserves to be mentioned. In today’s day and age with unlimited access to online resources and financial support, fanboys can become overnight authorities on watch discussion (even less energy is required to start some microbrands). Since having first studied horology in 1964, Gisbert Brunner has become one of the foremost experts for the watch scene and has penned more than 20 books regarding every aspect of the field.

@The Watch Book (Compendium) via Amazon Product Page

If you think getting only one volume at a time is sensible, reconsider. The two volumes combined are credited as 500 pages of content, but translated in three different languages side-by-side (English, French, and German). That accounts for 330 pages of utter jibberish if you only speak one of those languages. Believe it or not, this is not unusual to see in watch reference books, especially so for company-specific ones that can still end up costing several hundred dollars. The obvious flip-side to this are books completely written in a single language. Be extra careful you’re not picking up a German-printed Longines book unless you’re only interested in the value for reference photographs. Check out The Watch Book Compendium on Amazon.*

A Man and His Watch*

By Matt Hranek. 2017.
Type: Novelty, Interviews / Coffee Table
216 pages, $24

Matt Hranek has tastefully compiled a photo album of snapshots featuring watches from all walks of life and the colorful cast of characters who’ve owned them. Celebrities include Sylvester Stallone, Mario Andretti, and Ralph Lauren (among 37 others of cultural significance). In their own words, they speak to the personal connection imprinted on their watch of choice, many of which are refreshingly humble in taste. Swatches, G-Shocks, or Sears-brand specials… it’s all fair game.

Collectively, these intimate accounts blur the lines when considering the question, “Does the watch define us or do we define the watch?” Or, “At what point does this object evolve from material value (ownership) to sentimental attachment (relationship)?” Type B folks, eat your heart out.

@A Man and His Watch pg. 21

Between the ideas shared, historically important watches are represented on behalf of those unavailable to comment; Andy Warhol, Elvis Presley, and Paul Newman are among them.

On a simpler level, this book might be best described as a romantic tribute to all the thoughts you may have never been able to articulate to folks who, “just don’t get it” with a little extra weight endorsed by some big names who do. Check out A Man and His Watch on Amazon.*

Chasing Time*

By Alastair Gibbons. 2018
Type: Collection Spotlight / Coffee Table
240 pg, $25

The most impressive thing about this watch book is that fact that all of its watches featured (well over a hundred) have cycled through the author Alastair Gibbons’ personal collection. Second, and most certainly not to be dismissed, all of its photography delivers with quality what the subjects deserve.

Aside from those awkward Youtube videos (where some silent mouth-breather caresses the crown of watch for several minutes), it’s not often that the public is granted such an intimate view of a collection this robust or varied in substance. We watch folks are reclusive and closeted by nature so it’s something of a treat to acknowledge the testament of work seen here.

@Chasing Time via Amazon Product Page

The assortment is largely comprised of vintage chronographs, with the common denominator being an uncommon condition for pristine appearance. It’s not snobbish in the brand selection. You’ll find the obligatory Speedmaster among the lesser known Nivadas and “noisy” Memosails.

You won’t find reference information here. However, Gibbons mentions the movements and their significance through brief descriptions of each piece. Check out Chasing Time on Amazon.*

Watch Books About Specific Brands

The Watch of the Future (Fourth Ed.)

By Rene Rondeau
Type: Period History/Reference
256 pages, $37

Good grief. Passion project meets exhaustive research in Rene Rondeau’s tribute to this innovative (and often dismissed) chapter of Hamilton’s history. It is, to say the least, a very impressive collection of information.

It’s a rarity to see a book on American watchmaking. Moreover, it’s crazy to think about how much of it would be lost to the sands of time if not for the efforts of a single man with nothing to gain beyond knowing the record of its existence was simply out there. The Watch of the Future is interesting for two major reasons, both of which merit their own discussions.

  1. A company’s race to demonstrate technological superiority and the speed bumps incurred along the way.
  2. A nation’s optimism for having just crushed the Axis Powers and how that inadvertently launched an era of space-age design.

It’s important to note this is not a sugar-coated account of Hamilton’s success. Their innovation was brilliant but brief for a reason, and the author pulls no punches in factually capturing the struggle.

@The Watch of the Future pg.35

Second, the content here is definitive. Rondeau eventually became Hamilton’s trusted historian and was granted unlimited access to their records, points of contacts, and source material. How was each watch advertised? What were the production numbers, its release date, and price? Why did it’s movement suck to service? All this and more for less than $40.

Last but not least, take note that this watch book’s the Fourth Revised Edition—a phrase typically reserved for scholastic text books, interpreted by your bank account as, “Go Fuck Yourself.” The difference here is that it won’t cut into your gas money, it’s not printed in Latin, and it’s actually something you want to read.

The Art of Defying Time: Eberhard & Co.

By Giuosue Cohen. 2020
Type: Authorized History / Coffee Table
235 pages, $75

Eberhard is not a brand that gets a lot of press in the States, nor do they appear to need it. They’ve been privately held and manufacturing their own timepieces without interruption for over 130 years. The significance to this is that any book produced under a single entity’s charge will be consistent in content discussed. Alternatively, how would you expect a company like Zodiac to be documented (having collapsed in the 1980’s, sold and then bankrupt in the 1990’s, resold to disinterested conglomerates, and the finally bought by Fossil in 2001 where it was stagnant for 15 years)?

One part reference, two parts historical, and three parts narrative, the author recounts several stories of remarkable individuals who were either influential for the Eberhard’s development or the greater community in their own right. The film, Dunkirk, featuring a pilot calculating survivability through time measurement, would be right at home in the plots recounted. Does this make the book feel syrupy sweet? Perhaps, a little.

@The Art of Defying Time: Eberhard & Co. via pr-exposure.com

As you would hope, the book covers significant successes and challenges between the 1940’s and 1970’s. The company transitioned hands from one family to the next on amicable terms, with the previous founders sitting on the board of directors through years of continued involvement. Whereas other companies would hope to sweep the shift in management under the rug, no attempts to tip-toe around the subject are made here. Collectible models such as the Extra-Fort and “pre Extra-Fort” are discussed, all the way through the oddball Chrono 4’s of today.

When considering a solid balance between information and visuals, Defying Time’s the compromise by which other “brand books” should be measured. It’s meant to be read, not flipped through, and worth a look for those seeking something beyond what’s mainstream.

Breitling: The Book

By Hervé Genoud
Type: Authorized History, Commemorative/ Coffee Table
336 pages, $205,

If you’ve ever gone to a downtown district gastropub, observed a cocktail menu printed entirely in Helvetica font, made up of ingredients you’ve never heard of (wtf is bitters), and served up with a giant ice-ball and candied rosemary, you can always count on two reactions:

  1. This is an experience that’s meant to cater to a whole other level of appreciation.
  2. It’s going to be really, really fucking expensive.

Breitling: the Book, is no different.

Content-wise, Breitling delivers on historical milestones, factory photos, the thought process behind their engineering, an extensive chapter on the Bentley partnership, and collaborations with various air show teams that have resulted in contemporary classics of today. A section titled “Instrument Panels” will take you to dial variations; it’s a very cute touch. Lest we forget, there’s a ton of macro-porn. With exception to glossing over references from the seventies and eighties, the imagery is about as comprehensive as you’d expect without compromising sex appeal.

@Breitling The Book

So what else does $200 get you? Gilded edges and an innovative book cover with stylish content. In short, designer aesthetics. Breitling treats photos of their watches as something worthy of display at white wall art gallery. You’ll never see a timepiece sharing page space with any other content so as to not distract from the subject. Sure enough, whatever print seen on the opposite page is designed to mimic a gallery’s “object label” for context, with condensed, undersized font utilizing a third of the page.

There are a ton of advertisements to be seen here, however they’re condensed to one inch thumbnails and stacked to evoke a Mondrian-esque appearance. Wildly impractical use of real estate, but boy is it cool.

Is it worth it? The other thing to acknowledge is the image a luxury brand (such as Breitling) must maintain for premium product consistency. If you’re going to pay five grand for a novelty dive watch with a stock ETA movement and 100m waterproofness, what makes you think you’d be getting any better of a deal for their official book?

The Vintage Rolex Field Guide*

By morningtundra. 2019
Type: Identification / Reference
244 pg, $45

Rolex is a funny brand. This has absolutely nothing to do with the company and everything to do your perception toward their success (however warranted it might be), in relationship to a constant feud between eye-rolling and admiration. They’re far from the oldest watch house, but they’ve remained independent and arguably the most internationally-recognized company name in the world, outshining “Ford” and “Facebook.”

This said, you can’t tread too deep into the watch waters without hearing about references like the “1016” or “1675” (Explorers and GMTs) without clarity for the model described. Sure enough, seldom do we often casually hear “reference” associated with any other brand besides Rolex. It’s that next level of collectability awareness that you’re either lucky to have not yet achieved or have been cursed for familiarity. If you do break into this space, reference numbers and the variants are your vice and it’s tricky territory to navigate alone.

The Vintage Rolex Field Guide is not a book with glossy photos with macro shots of patinaed dials spanning over half the page. It’s matte, filled with table charts, and (dare I say), begging to be dog-eared and painted with highlighter ink. If you’re already a person who obsesses over details, this book will certainly push you over the hump of curiosity. One section, for example, discusses the red font (better known as a “Red line”) on the dial of a ref. 1680 Submariner and its six iterations of appearance.

@morningtundra via Instagram

Some letters are raised in application while others feature a minuscule dissimilarity seen in the number six for “660 ft.” Each of these distinguishing characteristics rate the utmost attention to detail, as they could mean the difference between variances for integrity and, therefore, thousands of dollars in value. At $45 bucks, that makes for an investment more important than the watch, itself.

How could this watch book be relevant to anything outside of the Rolex family? Teaching yourself how to scrutinize the most minute details of a watch’s appearance is conditioning that could (and should) be applied to any other watch of vintage consideration for provenance. Check out The Vintage Rolex Field Guide on Amazon.*

Other recommended Reading…

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