The term ‘horology” is broadly defined as “the study of timekeeping,” though in modern usage, the term usually refers to the study of mechanical timepieces. For those who are drawn to the technical brilliance involved in fine watchmaking, and appreciate the unparalleled aesthetics of a finely crafted watch, the moniker “horologist” only begins to describe the almost romantic appeal of a fine timepiece.
There are many books available on the subject, and in this short article, we’ll take a look at our favorites for the true watch aficionado.
1) Best Book #1: Watchmaking by George Daniels
Recognized as the greatest watchmaker in his lifetime, George Daniels might have been expected to write a book as technical and complex as his craftsmanship. But in his seminal volume, Watchmaking, great pains are taken to keep the layperson from being overwhelmed with an enormously complex subject. This well-illustrated book is more than just a step by step guide—it is designed to encourage interest in the subject, and inspire a new generation in the fine art of watchmaking.
Each aspect of constructing a fine timepiece is carefully described, and precise line drawings with captions complement the text throughout. For any with an interest that goes deeper than the case of a fine timepiece, Watchmaking is an easy-to-follow explication of how a mechanical watch is constructed, and the deeper understanding gained by reading it will surely add to an appreciation of the subject.
2) Best Book # 2: Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking by Michael Clerizo
Focusing on the story of how traditional watchmaking survived the nearly fatal introduction of quartz technology in the 1970s, Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking chronicles the renaissance of the mechanical watch and the group of craftsmen responsible for saving the nearly 500 year old traditions. Featuring hundreds of illustrations of watchmaking virtuosi, this beautiful volume is a must for collectors interested in the story of the modern mechanical watch.
Among the many craftsmen featured from Europe and the United Kingdom is the renowned George Daniels, inventor of the the coaxial escapement made famous in Omega watches. In addition to his story, major interviews with other modern masters include Vincent Calabrese of Italy; Marco Lang of Germany; Philippe Dufour, Antoine Preziuso and Franck Muller of Switzerland; and Roger Smith of England. Many other craftsmen from workshops throughout Europe and the UK are introduced and illustrated as well.
3) Best Book #3: The World’s Most Expensive Watches by Ariel Adams
Focusing on watches that have commanded a minimum of $200,000 in the last decade, Ariel Adams presents some of the most collectible, extravagant, and interesting modern day timepieces. With essays that include intricate descriptions of individual watches, the author chronicles not simply the timepiece’s construction and complexities, but also how it became so valuable.
By considering ephemeral aspects like the prestige of a particular brand, its exclusivity, and collectability, Mr. Adams shows how prices for particular timepieces have soared in recent years. In addition to contemporary watches, the author includes a section on historically relevant references, many of which have commanded prices well over $5 million dollars.
4) Best Book #4: Lange & Söhne: Great Timepieces from Saxony by Reinhard Meis
Written by one of the most important horological scholars of our time, A. Lange & Söhne: Great Timepieces from Saxony is a two volume set that is more than simply an informative text on the brand. This set serves as the definitive history of not just the storied manufacturer, but also the history of watchmaking in Glashütte, the renowned watchmaking center and birthplace of the German watchmaking industry.
Meis’ exemplary scholarship chronicles the history of the region through the lens of A. Lange & Söhne, and includes technical data on Glashütte watchmaking, the difficulties of the war years, and closure and re-establishment of the company after German reunification. This in-depth piece of scholarship will appeal not just to serious collectors of A. Lange & Söhne, but any serious watch enthusiast.
5) Best Book #5: The Impossible Collection of Watches by Nicholas Foulkes
Featuring the most important 100 watches of the 20th century, this impeccably produced coffee table art book is more than just a collection of beautifully photographed timepieces. Nicholas Foulkes has included the major families of watches, as well as a few individually remarkable pieces like Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph.
Each featured timepiece is analyzed individually in Mr. Foulkes trademark style, and readers will gain a sense of how the timepiece fits into the history of horlogerie. Suitable for beginners looking for a stunning introduction to important wristwatches, this beautiful volume also contains a few rare watches that may not be known even to experienced collectors.
6) Best Book #6: Rolex: History, Icons & Record-Breaking Models by Cappelletti & Patrizzi
Rolex occupies a place like no other in the world of fine watchmaking. Rolex: History, Icons and Record-Breaking Models is a comprehensive look into both the watches and the special cache of the brand. Including essays of both technical and historical interest, with in-depth descriptions of the most iconic models, the authors cover the roots of the brand, and show how Rolex capitalized on the technology to become one of the most iconic brands of all time.
Superbly illustrated with period photographs and macro-detail, this volume also includes a section dedicated to the most important Rolex examples ever offered at auction, and is a must for any lover of the brand.
7) Best Book #7: The History of Watches by David Thompson
A collaboration between British Museum Horological curator David Thompson and prize winning photographer Saul Peckham, The History of Watches is a comprehensive overview of timepieces from the last 500 years. From sixteenth century stack-freed watches through decorative timepieces from the seventeenth century, to precision chronometers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all the way through mass produced watches of the late 20th century, each time period’s watches are painstakingly described and beautifully photographed.
Individual manufacturers from Europe and the United States are represented, including all the great Swiss brands, as well as German Glashütte watchmaking. Beautifully photographed and expertly written, The History of Watches is a must have reference for any watch lover.
8) Best Book #8: Ultimate Daytona by Pucci Papaleo
Focused tightly on one single model in the long and colorful history of Rolex watchmaking, Pucci Papaleo’s Ultimate Daytona is by far the definitive volume on a definitive timepiece, and is a collectible work of art itself. At 608 pages, the volume weighs in at 27 pounds, and features over 2,000 photographs of over 120 Cosmographs.
Each individual watch is subjected to intense scrutiny and carefully detailed description. Painstakingly photographed using a proprietary technique that makes the subject appear to float above the page, Ultimate Daytona features a level of descriptive and photographic detail that is simply unparalleled in any volume on any timepiece.
Like the watch it chronicles, Ultimate Daytona is a unique masterpiece.
9) Best Book #9: Moonwatch Only: The Omega Speedmaster Guide by Rossier & Marquie
Compiled by an aerospace engineer and a research biologist, Moonwatch Only is more than just a history of the fabled timepiece. It is a meticulously researched and complete description of one of the most loved watches of all time. Vaulted into its heavenly status by NASA when the Speedmaster was chosen as a tool for astronauts, the aptly named Moonwatch occupies a place like no other in the history of modern timepieces.
Moonwatch Only presents a complete overview in a systematic approach, with photographs and descriptions of individual watches, as well as a flowchart to help identify any model. Of interest to any horologist, Moonwatch only is a must have for any Speedmaster collector.
10) Best Book #10: Chronograph Wristwatches: Memories of the 20th Century by Paul White
For anyone fascinated by the chronograph, this three volume set is by far the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. Using a team of like-minded chronograph aficionados, Paul White assembled a remarkable collection of rare and valuable chronographs over a ten year period by haunting estate sales, auctions, and the inventories of private dealers. The resulting assembly of timepieces is truly remarkable in both its content and scope.
While everyday collectors will pour over rare examples from well-known brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex, true lovers of the chronograph will delight in the details of lesser valuable, lesser-known brands. Conveniently arranged by type and brand, the text includes an extensive treatment of the history of military chronographs as well.
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