It is a familiar situation for many of us who would be called watch lovers: we are somewhere in public or a social situation and we want to strike up a conversation with someone who, judging by what is on their wrist, might quite possibly share our passion for timepieces. The question is how to broach the topic with them in order to start conversation in the first place, and if said conversation begins, how to use proper etiquette to ensure mutual respect flows in both directions.
Watches have been known to bring many disparate people together. Coming from different backgrounds, with varying tastes, political ideology, and outlooks on life, watch people are fortunate to have at least one single factor tying them together in a world of differences. This is amplified by the fact that in order to appreciate watches most people require both money and education. What comes with money and education is the upside of worldliness, and in some cases the downside of excessive ego. Creating familiarity and a sense of comfort quickly such that amenable social interaction can both begin and be sustained is not at all granted. Social etiquette among watch lovers can be as easy as “nice watch,” or as complicated as a delicate ritual of understanding potential safety concerns and being cognizant of one’s preferred sense of social standing.
No two “watch encounters” are going to be the same, and I’ve certainly made some mistakes myself. Benefit from my personal experience and the collective experiences of my close “watch friends” and colleagues when wanting to satisfy your very natural desire to have a conversation with someone who likes watches that you meet out in the world. I’ve put together a list of pointers and suggestions to help facilitate natural, safe, and most importantly, fulling connections between fellow appreciators of the horological arts.
Approach The Watch Topic Gently, And Then Immediately Identify Yourself
There are going to be plenty of times you spot someone wearing a cool watch while simply going about your normal life in the real world. Whether you are standing in an elevator or in line with other people, from time to time, you’ll be sure to notice a timepiece on someone’s wrist that you want to comment on. The desire to comment on someone’s watch (often to compliment it) seems healthy enough until you blurt out something which makes the person wearing it feel uncomfortable. Why uncomfortable? Well, it really depends, but it is often because people can be taken off guard when out of the blue someone comments on something they are wearing. It can make them feel both self-conscious and slightly vulnerable at the same time.
I’ve made the mistake of point blank saying “I like your (so and so watch model)” to people I randomly see out in the world. The most typical response I get is a funny look where the person is quickly trying to figure out what the hell it is that I am talking about. Here I am as someone who knows what they are wearing and assumes that the wearer also knows what they are wearing. I’ve found that in many instances that person doesn’t even know the name of the watch on their wrist – even if it is something cool.
If they do know the name of their watch and it is an expensive timepiece, then their halted reaction is typically due to security. I am speaking to them as a stranger, and for all they know I could be measuring them up in order to determine whether their watch is worth stealing. Too many watch collectors have sad stories of theft or loss that they likely don’t want to repeat. If I am a mugger, the last thing that person wants to do is engage with me. So even if you are utterly harmless and only mean well, it’s a common reaction for people with nice watches who are spoken to out of the blue to react pensively to say the least.
So how does one avoid awkward or defensive reactions when wanting to simply compliment someone on their timepiece? Watch collectors are a community, and to encourage a sense of community we need to notice and validate one another – so avoiding conversation isn’t always the most fulfilling approach either. My advice is to take it slow and gently broach the topic. I personally like to first ask for their attention, and then proceed to offer a very basic compliment to see how they react.
Saying “nice watch” isn’t a bad start, but it alone can result in a defensive situation by someone caught off guard. I prefer to begin by asking for their attention such as saying “excuse me” or “I hope you don’t mind that I noticed your watch.” Yes, this is a very cautious approach, but I think the person you will be speaking to will understand and appreciate your soft approach. Again, it really depends on the watch. If someone is wearing a several-hundred-dollar timepiece you can probably be more direct than if they are wearing something much more expensive and/or uncommon.
After getting the person’s attention, I further suggest commenting on the fact that you noticed and like their watch in general. I would not mention anything about the brand or model until you’ve gauged their initial reaction. Based on the person’s response to your interest, you can see where the conversation should go. If they offer a polite “thank you” or merely acknowledge your comment without additional information it might be a sign that they don’t know enough about watches to say more or that they aren’t interested in a conversation at that point. If, however, you sense a desire to further engage and they say something in response while glancing at their own watch (sometimes to simply remember what they are wearing), you can take things to the next step.
Once I’ve gotten someone’s attention, I find it important to quickly identify myself as a watch lover. This is important in removing defensiveness as well as trying to qualify yourself as a watch lover. Saying something like “I collect watches,” or “I’ve been a watch enthusiast for years,” is a good way to explain to them why their watch even caught your attention. Remember that not all watch collectors are even aware that there is a global community of like-minded individuals. People who read about watches online and participate in groups or communities can take the social experience of watch collecting for granted. Not all people who like or buy watches have relationships with anyone else that likes watches – so you need to be aware of them.
Explaining that you like watches and that you are also an owner of nice watches is further an important qualifier to relax them about safety issues. Someone who is a fellow collector is less likely to be a thief, and more likely to be someone who is interesting to speak to. Even if a random stranger happens to like a watch, the compliment might simply be an opener to some other type of conversation that person doesn’t want to have (like trying to sell something – that happens). A common technique used by many sales people when engaging in a “cold approach” is to compliment their target in order to have them lower their guard so that they can move on to a different topic. It is a good idea to quickly avoid this concern by immediately following up your opening with the message that “this conversation really is about your watch” and nothing else. How you do that is a matter of personal style and the culture in which you reside, but the rules for being gentle when it comes to approaching a potential “watch person” out in the real world and then removing security or comfort concerns is universal.