November 2022 11 Min Read

The Philosophies of Matt Jacobson

By Russell Sheldrake

Some of you may already know who Matt Jacobson is. You may have watched his episode of Talking Watches back in 2015, or listened to his Hodinkee Radio episode in 2018, or perhaps you saw his appearance on Jay Leno’s Garage in 2017. You may also have come across him at the various public appearances he makes as Vice President and Creative Director for Augmented Reality at Meta (neé Facebook).

Despite his public profile, Jacobson would probably describe himself as an incredibly low-key person – not one to chase the limelight or overly promote himself or his collection on social media. While his collection of watches and cars might be impressive, his philosophies – not just in his collecting, but in every other aspect of his life – are even more so.

Jacobson grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, and has been a surfer his whole life. You could say that this upbringing in surf culture (and the fact he is a practising Buddhist) has informed all aspects of his life. When it comes to collecting – whether it’s cars, watches, or surfboards – Jacobson has an incredibly singular policy of “one in, one out”. He keeps his possessions to a minimum, and keeps only the best examples of what he can find.

At home in Manhattan Beach, Jacobson is able to surround himself with the objects, people and activities that bring him joy.

These are far from the only things that set Jacobson apart from most collectors. We wanted to sit down with him and discover all we could as there is a lot to learn from someone like him.

ACM: As someone who holds a senior position at one of the biggest companies in the world, but is also a lifelong surfer, how do you find the balance between these two? Are they separate entities in your life, or does one bleed into the other?

MJ: I think the thing about surfing is it really is a lifestyle sport. If you define yourself as a surfer, I think that informs a lot of the way you live your life and what’s important to you. I’ve been surfing since I was a little kid and I live around the beach here, so I think it’s a good metaphor for a lot of things in life. The beach and the ocean [are] great equalisers. [It] doesn’t matter who you are – you’ve got to earn your waves, and I like that. I like that it’s kind of a meritocracy that way.

That’s interesting. Do you find these kinds of lessons you’ve learnt surfing have informed decisions you’ve made in your career?

Probably – again, in terms of defining who I am as a person, I think being in the moment is really important as a surfer. I strive every day to be in the moment. It’s something I meditate on regularly – just being present and connected. The thing about surfing is I have no interest in wearing watches that count waves or send messages while I’m surfing; I just want my moment of disconnect.

“In terms of defining who I am as a person, I think being in the moment is really important.”

Another big part of surfing is the community…

Yeah, for sure.

And do you find yourself as a very active participant in this community?

Yeah, I think I do. I live and surf where I grew up, so I’m in the water with a lot of guys I’ve been in the water with since I was 10 years old, so that’s pretty amazing and fun. And then in Hawaii, I’m very respectful of the locals, of local tradition there. I think being part of that community is really key.

Do you find that there is a form of universal language when it comes to surfing? Are you having the same kind of discussions no matter where you are in the world?

Yeah, there’s always that “you should have been here yesterday”, “wow, if only you’d have been here yesterday – it was really great” kind of thing. That’s pretty universal. I was just in Spain in Saint-Sébastien and the first thing I did was head down and check the surf there. You get the vibe of what’s happening, what people are riding and how they’re surfing it. No matter where you are in the world – whether you’re in Europe or in the Pacific, or here on the beach in California – it’s pretty universal.

While he may be seen as a watch guy, in our space, Matt’s interests stretch far beyond what some may expect.

And this mantra that I’ve heard you talk of in the past, of being the best part of someone else’s day, did that come from your upbringing in surfing culture?

I think that just came from trying to be the best son, father, employee and manager that I could be. My daughter just got out of grad school and [when she started, she] said, “What should I really focus on?” I said, “Just be the best part of another person’s, day.” If you can just focus on that, you’re interested and interesting; you’re bringing something of value to the conversation. I think it’s so important. It’s not that hard. Yes, you need to do the pre-reading, you need to have strong opinions and be able to voice those respectfully, but again – do people come away from an interaction with you feeling better, like they’ve learned something, or like they feel better about themselves, or what they’re doing because of their interactions with you? That’s just a nice thing to focus on.

I might be putting you on the spot here slightly, but can you give an example where you were the best part of another person’s day?

I don’t know if I have a specific example, but I will say [it’s about] being present, giving someone your full attention, not being distracted, not looking at your phone, putting devices away and just giving someone your full attention. There [are] so many times I read articles about people and how they really feel connected to someone when you’re looking them in the eye, when you’re paying attention to what they’re doing, and giving them the full respect of your time. I think that is powerful. To care, to take notes, to understand who the person is, to have the respect of doing the work before the meeting – you know, those kinds of things … I like to think that whether I’m in the water with somebody, or talking to somebody at the airport or whatever, that my interactions are positive.

Whether it’s in his role at Meta or in his everyday life, Jacobson’s interactions with others are always of a high priority to him.

Do you think this philosophy is becoming more and more prevalent as we are all becoming digital natives and we are tied to our technology?

Yeah, I think it’s so easy to try to set the right example right now, because I think the bar is pretty low. I think of interactions in the last few weeks that I’ve had with people who are in the service business but who never made eye contact with me. I understand they’re doing some work or whatever, but I just feel like again the higher in touch you can be, the better those interactions are. It doesn’t have to be a big, serious, important thing – it could just be something very simple.

Just moving on to another of your long-held beliefs: wearing a suit every day to work. How has that held up over the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, that was my thing. When I joined Meta, I was the oldest person by far and I’d come from the surf industry, and I was just too old to wear ironic T-shirts anymore. I was one of the first non-engineering people there and I said, “OK, how are we going to build this business?” So I started wearing a coat and tie. And now I don’t know if I’ll go back to that – I mean I love the idea, but now it’s a big statement to wear a coat and tie.

It’s interesting because when I met with CEOs from most of the big fashion houses in Milan, none of them were wearing ties. While they’re still doing traditional tailoring, Zegna have now started focusing on this elevated casual attire. It’s fantastic. So I’m embracing that. I love wearing a suit and a tie, but it’s such a big statement now.

Forever known as the only man in Silicon Valley to perpetually wear a suit and tie, the pandemic may have changed Jacobson’s dress code for good.

I had those same meetings pre-pandemic and we all had ties on. But I do think you get [much] better service when you’re wearing a tie; I think it shows respect and I think people give you respect back. It’s silly because it’s just clothing, but it’s interesting to me.

I was the only person I ever saw at Meta wearing a tie on a daily basis. I do like what’s happening with the elevated sportswear stuff – there’s a real continuum here of trackpants [at] one end and suits at the other. I tend to be over here, probably, just short of the most formal. I’m not really keen on suits without ties – I don’t really understand that. I like more of an overshirt kind of idea. And I think Mark Cho at The Armoury has hit that really well and he’s done a really good pivot.

They certainly seem to be creating a great option for a post-pandemic uniform. I wanted to move on slightly to unrestored vintage cars. Where did this passion of yours come from?

Whether it’s a watch or a car, I just love pieces that have a story. I’ve never been attracted to overly restored cars – I like cars that have a story, and I’ve made that my search. If something’s restored I’m generally not interested in [it].

I’ve also gotten to a place where I don’t want to have too much of anything, so I’d rather have really good examples of things that I care about [and] that I can use. I don’t want to be in a place where I don’t use stuff. I don’t want watches I don’t wear [and] I don’t want cars I don’t drive.

Seemingly in a state of constant curation of his material objects, Jacobson applies this thoughtful attitude across all the things he owns.

Do you apply that same thinking across every major purchase?

Yeah, the story is everything. I think so many brands are very focused on “how” and “what”, and not enough on the “why”, so I want to understand the “why” of things. Why are things built this way? Why were these changes made to this car this way? How did it reflect the moment when the changes were made? So I’m a purist and I don’t like things that are restored, but not everything has to be mid-century modern for me to love it – it’s just got to have good design. I really do believe that form follows function.

What are your thoughts on this trope of cars guys being watch guys, and vice versa? Do you see some truth to it, or has it just been overplayed?

No, I think the people who care about watches and cars care about things. Again, it depends on your motivation – do you like the stories behind them? Just being inquisitive for the sake of acquisition is not interesting to me. You always see who those guys are, right? But being intrigued by the story and being really “edited” and curated in the things that you care about? I really like that. I think there’s a real distinction there.

“My daughter just got out of grad school and [when she started, she] said, ‘What should I really focus on?’ I said, ‘Just be the best part of another person’s, day.’”

As you’ve said you like to use everything you own, you obviously wear your watches and drive your cars. Where do you draw the line between the work that is necessary to keep a car moving and what counts as restoration that goes too far?

They’ve all got to be roadworthy and safe. I like putting seatbelts in a car that didn’t come with seatbelts – I think that’s an accepted addition. I really think that driving, especially during the pandemic, became an enthusiast’s thing – you weren’t really going anywhere. I always used to think that in this era of self-driving there’ll be a renaissance of driving just for the sake of driving, but I just like to drive. I think it’s just amazing and wonderful with the freedom it gives.

You’ve also often spoken about your philosophy in your watch collection, where you have a “one in, one out” rule.

I’m actually more at “two out, one in” at the moment.

It’s easy to imagine there are many who share Jacobson’s wish to see a renaissance of driving in the coming years.


Yeah, I just had the opportunity, and I said, “OK, this is too much.” I’ve outgrown my two boxes so I had to get rid of some stuff. It’s so liberating. I think again [it’s] just [about] having better examples of the things that I care about – I don’t need to have doubles of something. [I ask myself:] how many times am I really going to be able to wear that?

Is this something that you’ve always done, or was it something that was brought about by necessity? Did you suddenly realise you had too many watches?

The idea originally came from my novelist wife, Kristohper Dukes. But yeah, I think that way with everything. The “one in, one out” policy applies to all – T-shirts, shoes, clothing, cars, watches, surfboards. I just don’t want to have too much stuff. I really do think that you surf better with fewer boards. I think the more you drive them, the better your car – nothing makes a car degrade like not using it. To me, it’s [about] not being controlled by stuff. I would never want to be in that situation.

“I’m actually more at “two out, one in” at the moment.”

Do you find that your possessions are fairly transient, so you never have one thing for very long?

No, because I really look at [whether I can] get a better example of the thing. If I’m committed to a kind of sports watch, can I get the best example of that sports watch? I’m not a “flipper” – I don’t get something [and] six months [later] get tired of it. That, I think, is too much work. I did an interview with Ben Clymer [maybe] seven years ago … at Hodinkee, and I still have a lot of those pieces. I still have my Mil Sub; I still have my Double Red Sea-dweller; I still have my 2526 Patek. Those are things that are not going anywhere.

So I’m not constantly trading, but if I see a better example of something, I’d rather have [that]. I really like tropical-dial watches, so I ended up with two tropical-dial subs. One had this amazing brown dial and the other had faded to this blue grey, both the dial and the bezel insert, 18-karat sub, and I looked at it and I realised I [didn’t] need two of those, so I let one go to a friend of mine. He’s super-stoked to have it, and I have the other one and I’m happy.

Is the thrill of the hunt a big part of the enjoyment of collecting for you?

You know what? Not really. They just tend to come to me. People say, “I know you like this thing” – not even dealers, just people. I can’t tell you one thing I’m looking for right now. I wasn’t looking for that Journe watch that you guys helped me with the strap for – it just came. I have not owned a Journe before; I know that market was overheated and a guy offered me a very early automatic version in a platinum case. I thought that was a really beautiful watch. I got a Lange, the 1A, the gold one with the gold band and a gold dial, which is a cool watch, and I wasn’t looking for that. I never would have found that, but it just happened.

It’s clear that Jacobson values quality, not only in the objects he owns, but in the stories they tell, in the interactions he has with others and how he spends his time. Something we can all aspire to.

We would like to thank Matt Jacobson for taking the time share with us his philosophies in life and collecting. We would also like to thank the team at Meta for helping make this possible.
Images taken by Pete Halvorsen.