Watch meet-ups are becoming increasingly common the world over. But while most are held in a city bar, this one was in a beach town, with a relaxed, homely atmosphere and a space turned into horological candy land with no details or extras spared.
Heading out of town for a watch get-together (GTG) isn’t the easiest thing to explain to people. Much less so to those who aren’t aware of how involving and obsessive this horological passion can become. From friends belonging to said group, I got pretty memorable (read: judgmental) reactions when I mentioned a few of my watch collector friends and I were getting together to commemorate and celebrate ‘Leap Day’ – the one extra day added to our calendars once every four years.
Admittedly, until a few years ago, it would have been hard to even imagine chancing upon a group of people that share this passion. Let alone them being willing to spend meaningful time with you solely on this premise. Yet here I was, on my way to Pondicherry, for a “leap year watch meet-up” with a bunch of fellow lost-causes.
If you’re still wondering why Leap Day is significant at all to a watch enthusiast, here’s a very brief background. The ability to depict time and other related astronomical information (such as date, month, phase of the moon to name a few) mechanically as far back as the 17th century inspires much romance as a symbol of human ingenuity. The awe-factor goes up many notches in case of a modestly sized wristwatch that needs no date correction whatsoever at any point (though it will in the year 2100, if we’re nitpicking). It advances the calendar forward with full ‘mechanical knowledge’ of variable lengths of months AND the extra day in February during a leap year. Since it does this continuously without requiring any intervention, such a mechanism is called a perpetual calendar.
Our host for the weekend, possesses such a perpetual calendar and therefore, decided to make a special event out of it, by inviting and gathering fellow enthusiasts in Pondicherry. A perfect excuse to get together, geek out and make merry; but the main event was to watch a perpetual calendar go automatically from 29 February to 1 March around midnight. I promise it’s more exciting than it sounds.
En Route to Pondicherry
The attendees were all from J9 – a group of watch collectors primarily based in India – and the metros were all well represented. Folks came in from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai. A bunch of us drove from Chennai to Pondicherry on the morning of 29th February, and feasted on some great food and drink for lunch in the heart of town, in preparation for the mega evening we were so extremely excited about.
Others were going to join in as the day went on, but the GTG was to be ceremonially opened, so to speak, on a pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon. In essence, we were going to be talking about watches for a duration that would at least equal a busy workday for most of us. It’s what horological dreams are made of.
A different kind of watch meet-up
I’ve been attending watch meet-ups and get-togethers (GTGs, as they’re more popularly referred to) for some time now, and broadly, there’s an established format for it. A restaurant or bar with some level of private space is chosen; collectors bring along a part of (or all of) their collection and lay it out for others to ogle, try-on and discuss. While discussing watches on a table may seem very dry on the face of it, it gets pretty deep. Basically, if you get it, you get it. Ceremonially, it tends to come to a close with a ‘group shot’ taken with extended wrists that show what watch the person wore to the event. These GTGs are usually private and are held by groups or clubs of watch enthusiasts.
In the instance of the ‘Perpetual GTG’, as I will now refer to our nerd-congress in Pondicherry, things were fairly different, with the event taking place at our host’s home in the popular White Town part of the city. I’ve known him for a while now and apart from having the most astonishing collection of watches I’ve ever come across among those I know personally, he certainly isn’t one for half measures.
The ambience and vibe he created was the single biggest highlight of the Perpetual GTG, with the most marvellous horology-themed setup I’ve ever witnessed (soirees thrown by top Swiss luxury brands included). There’s more to the experience of being with other horological enthusiasts or watch collectors than just getting together for some drinks. This is exactly what set this event apart, with our host really going all-out. Books, mementos, artefacts, photo-booths exclusively for shooting watches – they were all there in large numbers. And, of course, there were lots of watches.
To appreciate the depth to which this went, here are some of the things that were a part of this gala, apart from the spread of watches themselves. A figurine of a NASA astronaut, along with the original flight plan from Apollo 11 next to a collection of Omega Speedmaster ‘Moonwatches’. The most important texts in the field spread around – from Breguet to George Daniels. Flying maps, marine charts, loupes, macro lenses, straps, Leicas; check, check and check. For those who know, there was even a Tintin rocket – in close proximity to its namesake Speedmaster. This one really blew my mind.
The day’s proceedings
Not being based in Pondicherry, our host had sent his secret ammo all the way over to the venue, well in advance of the event. Admittedly, none of us knew beforehand how ‘extra’ his extra mile was. So, when we got there, he admitted he needed a little time to create the mood he felt the event deserved. With that we waited, took tea in the courtyard, with what felt like starvation before a feast. Soon, the green light was given and we headed to the pleasure room.
We looked around, in complete awe of what lay before us. Now, there are collectors and then there are Collectors. Our friend is clearly the latter. And with all those little artefacts I mentioned earlier, he had created the mood masterfully. I stress this for a number of reasons. One, seeing this was just pure inspiration on a personal level. Two, it gave a reassuring feeling that we’re not alone in this apparently outdated pursuit of horological appreciation. Three, it was a GTG setup unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Lastly, and most importantly, it was a reminder of the kind of fantastic people I’ve been able to meet thanks to this shared passion.
Once we had enough time to collect our jaws off the floor, we poured ourselves a drink, laid out our watches on the table and the Perpetual GTG was officially underway. Thus began an unforgettable event. Being in a breezy Pondicherry home, shoes-off and without worry was a stark contrast to the dressed-up-night-out routine a GTG can sometimes be. I loved how liberating and refreshing this was, putting the spotlight on nothing but the unadulterated enjoyment of the timepieces and company before us.
Collectively, among all those in the room, there were a lot of experiences, thoughts and quips to be shared. So off we went into exchanging notes about our recent acquisitions, chronometer certifications, the depressing state of watch retail and the inevitable vintage vs modern Rolex debate. At one point, we even found ourselves wondering how many countries across the world would have the equivalent of an HMT brand of watches. Yeah, not many.
This thought came from a friend whose mind seems to always be bursting with curiosity about seemingly insignificant things, but which make for riveting conversation once you get into it. This ‘look deeper’ trait is reflected in his taste in watches too. Like I said, ultimately, a large part of the fun is derived from the people you meet along the way and share this passion with. Talking about an astonishingly wide array of watch-related subjects was quite wonderful.
Apart from dissecting details, if there’s one thing guaranteed at a watch enthusiast gathering of any size and variety today, it’s photography. Just ask Instagram. Watch photography has become a genre of its own in the amateur space and the manageable size of the subject certainly helps. So we were also all quite engrossed in documenting our little geek-fest.
Now, our host is also a photography buff, to say the least, as you can see from the photographs in this story. Apart from the equipment he had at hand, there was a photo tent (with flashes, backgrounds and the works) he set up so we could take some A-grade shots of our watches. We spent less time there than we would have liked but managed some real good ones.
The selection of watches we had was nothing short of sublime. At the head of the table was a Patek Philippe 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph – the maker of this event, so to speak. Omega Seamasters, Rolex Sea Dwellers, Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMTs, Nautilus annual calendars, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reversos, Breitling Navitimers, Royal Oak chronographs, Calatravas and more – they were all there. So was the Nomos Club Campus J9 India edition.
Each of these watches went to their respective ‘corners’. There was one for divers, another for aviation watches, one exclusively for Speedmaster’s and then another for the marquee pieces. On the marquee table, the Patek 3970 held its pride of place. A grand complication isn’t an everyday affair after all.
Collections built with true personal preferences at their core always surprise you. Going through the collections of fellow members was no different. For instance, while one had a mega cool vintage Favre-Leuba chronograph, another showcased the Braun AW10 designed by Dieter Rams. This blinding love for watches, no matter where they stood on the spectrum, defined the evening.
Counting down to midnight
We were obviously keeping a close watch on the hours as we neared midnight. We couldn’t miss the visual spectacle of a mechanical wristwatch (gears and levers only, remember) switching automatically from 29th February to 1st March, ‘knowing’ that it’s a leap year. Those who’ve been around mechanical calendar watches of any kind would know that this switch often isn’t instantaneous. The date-change mechanism starts working a couple of hours prior, it’s visible many minutes prior and is fully complete usually within an hour after midnight. So starting 11:30pm, we were glancing at our wrists multiple times, watching it all unfold, breaking conversation about why the Rolex Oyster Perpetual may just be the single most underrated watch around.
With a bit of applause at the stroke of midnight, we waited for the 3970 to do its party-trick. By about 12:40am it had confidently switched to 1 March. We cheered for the perpetual calendar and chuckled at the amusing reality that a G-Shock (in attendance) did it sooner and more accurately than a Patek grand complication.
The Perpetual GTG was relaxed, memorable and unbelievably fun. And also mighty inspiring in terms of how GTGs should be done in the future. Hat tip to our friend for such a mega show; it truly sets a new benchmark. Honestly, India’s watch scene isn’t the most vibrant yet, but this weekend went to prove that nothing stops us from taking it to the next level.
From the outside, the world of watches can sometimes seem to be all about champagne-and-caviar, but for some of us who’ve bitten the bug on a more sentimental level, and as most GTGs I’ve attended go to prove, it hardly ever gets better than talking watches with a few good lads. A nice dram is a pretty neat bonus.
Images courtesy our host. Find him on Instagram @bonvivant1982