For many, the interest in watches is as much about the pieces themselves as it is about the knowledge, history and romance which surrounds them. As the understanding grows, so does the passion. However, when first entering this world, you could be forgiven for not knowing exactly where to start your education. With much of the information dispersed among collectors and obscure forum posts, it’s also not entirely clear what the best books are to tighten your grasp on different areas of horology.
Among many of the established collectors, experts, dealers and auctioneers that we know, there does seem to be a constant, however different their tastes might be. They all seem to treasure tomes dedicated to their passion. Some may even be as hard to come across as the timepieces in their collection. Having spent more time at home recently, we’ve also taken the opportunity to read back over some of our favourite books, as well as discover new ones. This got us wondering, what have others been reading during this period?
A bookshelf dedicated to Cartier, owned by Harry Fane.
With this in mind, we asked a carefully selected group of people - from master watchmakers, to auctioneers and veterans of the industry - what their favourite horological books are. Some, such as Roger Smith, picked practical ones which they used throughout their career, whilst others, such as Alex Ghotbi, opted for a choice which speaks to the simple pleasure of reading about the masters in this field.
Through these recommendations, we not only hope to add a few books to our Christmas lists, but also learn a thing or two about those making the recommendations along the way. If any of these books capture your attention, we've taken the liberty to add links to the most appropriate place to purchase them, though it should be noted we do not have any commercial relationship with any of the authors, publishers or sellers of these books. We just thought it would be worth sharing them with you.
Sam Hines – Ultimate Rolex Daytona
The Worldwide Head of Watches at Sotheby's, based out of Hong Kong, Sam Hines has been involved with the auction world for over two decades. In that time, he's discovered, handled and sold some of the most interesting pieces that have come up in the open market. It is no wonder, then, that his go-to book is the reference point for one of the most sought-after vintage models of the last few decades, the Rolex Daytona.
The unmistakable cover of Hines' choice.
“The Ultimate Rolex Daytona has kind of become a bible for me in recent years. The larger book, not only gives daily inspiration and serves as a piece of art at home, changing the page to see yet another beautiful Daytona when leaving my apartment, the mini book sits on my desk and is referenced daily."
Details from the larger version of Ultimate Rolex Daytona.
“I use the book to remind myself of the Daytona and all the variations that exist that make this model so iconic and yet so collectible but it serves as a work of art too, that inspires my creative side. The illustrations are laid out in such a thoughtful and wonderful way and even the text on every page is the same length in every single entry. It has taught and reminds me to be flamboyant but also thoughtful of every microscopic detail of what we do in our business.”
You can add a copy of Ultimate Rolex Daytona to you library here.
Alex Ghotbi – Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking
A long standing collector of independent watchmakers and a dedicated enthusiast of vintage Vacheron Constantin, Ghotbi was involved in founding many of the earliest online watch forums, when the watch community took its first steps online. Having turned his collecting into a profession, he now acts as the Head of Watches for Continental Europe and the Middle East at Phillips, helping to put together their sales throughout the world. If you know Ghotbi as a collector of all things independent and unusual, his choice certainly won't come as a surprise.
Alex Ghotbi's go-to choice.
“Today, as we are closing the 2nd decade of the millennium, independent watchmaking is gathering a well-deserved traction from collectors and mainstream media alike. However, just ten years ago, these artisans were only known to a small circle of cognoscenti and with little information on them other than on online forums."
"That is why this excellent book by Michael Clerizo, published in 2009 is such a gem. The book is beautifully written and reads like a novel. Clerizo focuses on the human element, the stories these watchmakers have to tell and their colourful personalities, all illustrated with hundreds of photos enabling us to literally delve into the workshops and the watches of these masters."
Some of the independent watchmakers covered in Clerizo's book, including George Daniels, Sven Andersen and Franck Muller.
“He covers 11 artisans in depth: George Daniels, Sven Andersen, Vincent Calebrese, Philippe Dufour, Antoine Preziuso, Frank Muller, Aniceto Jimenez Pita, Alain Silberstein, Marco Lang, Vianney Halter and Roger Smith, he also covers 20 other watchmakers such as Greubel Forsey or Stepan Sarpaneva in less detail. It is also extremely interesting to see how in the past 11 years (since the publishing of the book) certain of these watchmakers have become superstars whereas others have had more discreet careers."
“The book is fascinating, the stories are told in an almost intimate fashion and it also gives us a glimpse into the hearts, minds and ateliers of the creators of one of the most exciting horological genres of the past 30 years.”
You can add a copy of Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking to you library here.
Harry Fane — Cartier the Tank watch
In any industry or field of collecting, you find those who have decided to specialise and carve out their own niche. Harry Fane is one of those individuals. His love for all things Cartier dates back over four decades, to a time when no-one really cared about the Cartier name, other than a small group of dedicated enthusiasts. His career has taken him around the world, from hunting for vintage objects and jewellery in Indian palaces to delving into the archives of the french jeweller, in Paris, London and New York. Fane’s book of choice has been a trusted companion over the years, giving him a constant reference point for none other than the Tank watch.
The book Harry Fane has turned to time and time again.
“My bible is Cartier the Tank Watch written by Franco Cologni and published by Flammarion in 1998. This is by far the most extensive exploration of Cartier's Tank watches with great, old archive photographs."
"This book also dates the models and details their different shapes and sizes. There is extensive information about the movements and it even delves into the type of straps it was traditional for Cartier to use. An invaluable reference book for anyone interested in vintage Cartier Tank watches."
“If I had $1 for every time I have delved into this book, I would be a rich man.”
You can add a copy of Cartier the Tank Watch to you library here.
The original Cartier Tank, first designed in 1917, from Fane's collection.
Roger W. Smith OBE — Watchmaking by George Daniels
The only man to work as an apprentice to, and alongside, the great George Daniels, Roger has been making watches on the Isle of Man for nearly two decades now. In that time, he has been fine-tuning and perfecting the escapement that Daniels first dreamt of, the co-axial. Smith has become the flag bearer for English watchmaking, building on the work of his mentor, but also on that of those who have come centuries before him, such as Tompion, Graham and Arnold. His choice comes as no surprise to us, being the book which first started his journey as a watchmaker.
There could only be one book for Roger Smith.
“My book of choice is, I suppose, an obvious one, as it is Watchmaking by George Daniels. This seminal book describes the design and build of a single tourbillon pocket watch and takes you through the making of the complete mechanism, case, dial and hands."
“Quite simply, Watchmaking changed my life. I am not normally an avid reader but, upon receiving this book as an eighteen-year-old I read it from cover-to-cover several times! I found it so captivating that, by the last page I firmly believed that I could make a watch using what we now refer to as ‘The Daniels Method’ – where one person designs and builds a complete watch from start to finish."
“Little did I know that this would be the start of an exhaustive, seven-year campaign to prove to myself and George, that I could indeed become a watchmaker. Two pocket watches later I was invited to work with George in his legendary workshop based on the Isle of Man, where I spent just over three years working closely with him on the Daniels Millennium project."
“George is best remembered for his incredible achievements as a watchmaker, but this book is perhaps an equally profound legacy as it shares his complete methodology. Horology can be a hugely rewarding career with many different entry points and I would highly recommend anybody starting out to discover this highly specialised area of our craft through Watchmaking.”
You can add a copy of Watchmaking to you library here.
Dr. Helmut Crott — Montres et horlogers exceptionnels de la Vallée de Joux
To call Dr Helmut Crott a veteran of the watch world would be an understatement. Active in the field of horology for more than half a century, Crott has played a key role in shaping the market which we’ve come to know today. When he started out, wristwatches were only just beginning to become collectable.
To give you a sense of things, there was no distinction between a Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in yellow gold or in steel – though he has owned two of the latter. During his time, Crott has been a fervent collector, started an eponymous auction house focused on watches and been the owner of historical watch brand Urban Jürgensen. His selection is one that speaks to not only his depth of knowledge but also how long he has been studying watches.
Fours books that never gather dust on Crott's shelves.
“One of my favourite books - it comes in four Volumes - is written by Daniel Aubert called Montres et horlogers exceptionnels de la Vallée de Joux. Volume I was published in 1993 by Editions Antoine Simonin, Neuchâtel and the series ends with Volume IIII in 2012. Each Volume has a different title, which might be a little bit confusing."
“These four volumes describe the intimate horological world in the Swiss Jura mountains with anecdotes, history, society and techniques. This is where the most important automatons, pocket watches and wristwatches came from, in the period between 1770 and 2000. This is really the grail of traditional watchmaking."
“Whether it's the most complicated pocket watches, like the Leroy N°1 or the Henri Graves “Supercomplication” completed by Patek Philippe or the early complicated wristwatches from 1920 to 1950, these volumes go into remarkable depth. Though the book is written in French and the outlay might be somewhat old fashioned, the quantity of historical photographs and technical details it puts forwards makes it understandable and pleasant to read for anybody."
“I take these books in my hand regularly. And I always have the same pleasure.”
You can add can add Volumes II, III and IV of Montres et horlogers exceptionnels de la Vallée de Joux to your library here, here and here. Published in 1993, Volume I is harder to come by, and is certainly worth keeping an eye out for.
Kari Voutilainen — A Guide to Complicated Watches
Known as one of the masters of independent watchmaking, Kari Voutilainen has developed his own distinctive style when it comes to both complex and simple three-handed watches. Graduating from the Finnish school of watchmaking and then going on to complete higher courses at WOSTEP, he launched his eponymous brand in 2002, creating pieces under his own name ever since. He is known for introducing the world to the first decimal repeater back in 2005, which gives greater significance to his book of choice.
A book that opened unlocked secrets of complex movements for Kari Voutilainen.
“My recommendation is A Guide to Complicated Watches. It is written by François Lecoultre, who was a teacher in the watchmaking school in Geneva. This book was the only one to explain how a repeater works and how a perpetual calendar works. It explains in detail various principles and mechanisms. Very difficult to understand if someone is not familiar with mechanics."
“Complicated watches are not taught in watchmaking school and this is the only book from where it was possible to find information on them. Today the internet gives a lot of useful help on that."
You can add a copy of A Guide to Complicated Watches to you library here.
Some of the details within the book, courtesy of The Naked Watchmaker.
Nicholas Biebuyck — All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker
As a man who has been active in the watch industry in one form or another most of his professional life, Nicholas Biebuyck seemed like an obvious choice to ask for a book recommendation. One of the driving forces behind Blackbird Watch Manual, after being an active member of auctions rooms around the world for over a decade, Biebuyck has seen many sides of the watch world. Despite this, he never seems to tire of the words of George Daniels himself.
The book Nicholas Biebuyck can't put down.
“It would be easy to recommend one of the myriad of reference books or scholarly texts that I find myself referring to on a daily basis, but the publication relating to watches that has left the largest impression on me has to be All in Good Time."
"The horological content is certainly there, but what is most fascinating is the determination and grit shown by someone who was born to particularly meagre beginnings, and how those skills learnt early in life allowed him to not only become one of the greatest watchmakers ever to have lived, but to go toe to toe with the entire Swiss industry during the industrialisation of the co-axial escapement."
A look inside All in Good Time.
“We are lucky that George left us with so many rich resources, from the exceptional series of watches he produced, to Watchmaking that is virtually required reading for anyone in the industry and started many a career, not to mention the the multi-million pound education trust that was established from his estate on his passing, and the knowledge the great Roger Smith gained while toiling in the Daniels workshop on the Isle of Man."
"All in Good Time deserves a firm place among these, and is beautifully complemented by George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker & His Art by Michael Clerizo, which should also be on the reading list of anyone who really wants to understand the incredible life of someone who is a hero to many, including myself.”
You can add a copy of All in Good Time to you library here.
Eric Wind — A Grand Complication: The race to build the world's most legendary watch
After starting his horological career with Hodinkee, and then moving into the auction world as a senior specialist for Christie’s, Eric Wind recently set out on his own. During his time in the industry, he has been particularly active in the North American collecting community, mainly dealing in vintage pieces from the desirable Paul Newman Daytonas to more unusual pieces by Universal Genève and Enicar. An aficionado of all things vintage, his recommendation is one that digs into the origin of one of the most fantastical watches ever made, fuelled by the competition between two demanding collectors.
A different kind of watch book, according to Eric Wind.
"While there are many wonderful watch books in the vein of Patek Philippe Steel Watches or Longines Legendary Watches by John Goldberger, a book I encourage every watch lover to read is A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watch by Stacy Perman. It is a very different watch book in that it is a biography of two of the most important watch collectors who ever lived, Henry Graves, Jr. and James Ward Packard."
"Graves and Packard helped the high-end Swiss watch industry survive in a time of global turmoil and their horological legacies live on today with profound implications for how watch brands operate and what collectors want to own. I believe watches with Packard and Graves provenance will only become more valuable and important with time, especially with so many now sitting in museum collections and fewer residing in private hands."
"For me, reading the book also shaped how I think about watch collecting, both for my own watch collection and for assisting clients build their own collections. I find the very best collectors do not flaunt their collections on Instagram and are more private in their pursuits, as Graves and Ward were. And the legacies these men left, including in the world of horology and in their own families, are also interesting to ponder as we consider what we hope to impart as our own legacies on this earth."
You can add a copy of A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watch to you library here.
William Massena — Moonwatch Only
William Massena, the former Managing Director of Timezone and former CEO of Antiquorum, is one of the few people to have had a driver-side seat when the world of watch forums took off, as auctions changed and retail evolved. An industry veteran, he seems to have been around during many of the key moments of the last few decades. To mention just one example, at Baselworld in 1999, Massena asked François-Paul Journe the first question at the watchmaker’s first ever press conference. A lover of vintage and modern watches alike, his choice focuses on an enduring classic of 20th century watchmaking, the Omega Speedmaster.
Massena's go to choice.
"Moonwatch Only is certainly one of the best books ever written about a single watch model. The work is scholarly, and its importance is far reaching in the niche world of watch book writers. The authors faced a huge challenge to classify and codify a watch that has been in continuous production since 1957 with 125 different models."
"They created a methodology which not only makes this book an important reference for Speedmaster collectors around the world, but also for future watch book writers who could use Moonwatch Only as a template for other important watches with a multitude of models that may deserve the same recognition as the Speedmaster Professional. We are continuously bombarded by books often written at the express demand of a brand, and these books are more fairy tales glorifying a brand than genuine academic work. Rossier and Marquié gifted us with a wonderful book."
You can add a copy of Moonwatch Only to you library here.
The classic Omega Speedmaster 2998.
A Collected Man — The Watch: A Twentieth-Century Style History
Having reached out to some of the industry figures that we most respect, we thought we would finish off with our own selection. Whilst there are many books we find ourselves referring to on a regular basis, either to verify practical information in our day to day or for the enjoyment of the pictures which they contain, we thought we would choose a book which puts forward a comprehensive overview of a rich range of topics in horology. The Watch: A Twentieth-Century Style History by Alex Barter is such a book.
Barter's book, built on decades of experience in the auction scene.
It offers novice and experienced collectors alike something new to learn or pour into. We’ve known the author himself for quite some time, as he’s been heavily involved with the watch department at Sotheby’s over the last few decades. After a brief period moving around departments in the auction house’s London office, he developed a passion for watches, eventually being posted to Geneva to run the Sotheby's watch auctions in Switzerland. This book shares many of the insights and knowledge he has accumulated over that time.
It covers close to a century of watches, from the rise of the earliest wristwatches to the renaissance in watchmaking which occurred during the last decades of the 20th century. Aiming to be as comprehensive as possible, it breaks down each decade, detailing the era’s stylistic and design sensibilities, whilst also focusing on specific models. Barter’s skill lies in giving as much attention to the more unknown, but equally interesting, areas of 20th century watchmaking, as well as those you might typically come to expect. This approach is exemplified by Barter choosing to put an unusual Patek Philippe Calatrava on the cover - which he handled during a sale at Sotheby’s back in the day - rather than one of the more usual suspects.
The book is also filled with plenty of varied imagery, which brings the subject to life and contextualises some of the trends which Barter breaks down. Many of these images have been collected by Barter over the years, in his fortunate position working with Sotheby’s, with some of these being shared publicly for the first time. All in all, whatever your collecting focus, knowledge or experience might be, we think you’ll find something to enjoy in this one.
You can add a copy of The Watch: A Twentieth-Century Style History here.
We would like to thank Sam Hines, Alex Ghotbi, Harry Fane, Roger W. Smith OBE, Dr Helmut Crott, Kari Voutilainen, Nicholas Biebuyck, Eric Wind and William Massena for taking part in this article.