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Benjamin Clymer wears an Ochs und Junior Moonphase watch made for the fifth anniversary of his website, Hodinkee.

Damon Winter • New York Times,

Watch website inspires a new generation

  • Article by: ALEX WILLIAMS
  • New York Times
  • January 15, 2014 - 4:08 PM

Jay Z asked him to pick out a watch for his two Carnegie Hall concerts last year. John Mayer brought him backstage after a concert last summer to talk about the singer’s latest acquisition. Time magazine named his watch-enthusiast site, Hodinkee, one of its 50 best websites for 2013.

Since founding the site as a hobby in 2008, Benjamin Clymer, a former UBS project manager, has emerged as a high priest to a growing cult of young mechanical-watch lovers that includes bearded heritage-brand devotees, fashion-forward Wall Street analysts and more than a few celebrities.

Together, this disparate crowd of micro-gear-heads shares a taste for retro-chic wrist candy built the same way as fine timepieces a century ago — the type of intricately crafted gizmos that were thought to be obsolete in the era when most people check the time on their smartphones.

“That’s the kind of guy we’re looking for: guys who are in it for the right reasons, that know that a great watch isn’t about bling,” said Clymer, 31.

This kind of wristwatch fandom is growing in the Twin Cities, too. In November, the North Loop boutique Askov Finlayson hosted Clymer for a watch talk with local enthusiasts.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of interest in watches in Minneapolis, but not a lot of opportunity for access, especially when it comes to vintage,” said Askov Finlayson co-owner Eric Dayton. “So a site like Hodinkee opens up that world to someone here.”

Judged by the success of Hodinkee (the name is a bastardization of the Czech word for wristwatch, which Clymer discovered through a Google search), this secret society of Generation Y watch lovers appears to be swelling. The site (which features news, reviews and original articles) attracts about 470,000 unique visitors a month, Clymer said.

In the view of Mayer, the site can attribute its success to a connoisseur impulse that is on the rise among young urban professionals. Flashing a timepiece with an impeccable pedigree is a way to announce that you have taste, not just money.

“It’s really all about the depth of your knowledge more than the depth of your wallet,” Mayer said. “There’s a new kind of consumer out there, where a vintage Ford Bronco worth $35,000 beats any Ferrari on the road, because it demonstrates a certain reach and individuality in their taste.”

Stuck in time

It was not always so. When the site started five years ago, it seemed like a stretch to imagine legions of young tastemakers reduced to heavy breathing over a “Goldfinger”-era Rolex Submariner 6538/A. For years, the news media had been filled with dire pronouncements that the wristwatch was destined to follow the typewriter and the cassette tape into obsolescence.

Clymer did not buy the premise. He had grown intrigued by mechanical watches as a teenager, when his grandfather handed him an old Omega Speedmaster, and he figured there had to be other young guys like himself who liked to while away the hours searching eBay for the perfect Bulova Accutron Spaceview from the 1960s.

“I’ve always said most guys are watch guys,” Clymer said. “They just haven’t really found the right piece yet.”

Dayton said he sees parallels between this current watch trend and the direction heritage-style menswear has taken over the past five years.

“Guys are willing to invest in something if they know it will last, both in terms of quality and also style,” Dayton said. “And a great watch will last generations. I have a watch that belonged to my grandfather that’s one of my most prized possessions, and someday my watch will belong to my son. You can’t say that about many things.”

The new collector

Hodinkee is an unabashed fan site for regular guys, as opposed to the traditional, cataloglike watch-enthusiast publications, which feel more like clubhouses for silver-haired aristocrat collectors. Clymer lured in younger readers with stunts, like the time he road-tested a putatively indestructible Reactor Trident military watch by running it over with a 2 ½-ton Bentley.

Dayton said Clymer’s everyman approach translated well to the Minnesotan crowd that gathered to hear him speak last year.

“Here’s one of the most informed people in the world when it comes to watches, and yet he’s still willing to go over the basics,” Dayton said. “I think that’s why Hodinkee has been so successful. It’s an online gathering point for people who are passionate about watches, but you don’t have to be an expert or a collector to feel welcome and included.”

The site’s brand recognition is getting noticed in the industry. Last year, Clymer became the first digital journalist to be selected to the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Oscars of watchmaking. Despite his rising profile, however, Clymer said he would never want to be considered part of the establishment.

“I don’t want to be an industry insider,” he said. “I’m a fan of this stuff. Tonight I’m going to go home and look at watches on eBay, I promise you. That’s what I do all day.”

 

Staff writer Tom Horgen contributed to this report.

 

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