Whether you’re a newbie in the watch world or a die-hard watch nerd, the quest for horological knowledge is never-ending. In the age of the internet, there are copious online resources to help quench your thirst for learning. However, there’s still something immensely valuable about printed reference material that’s thoroughly researched and illustrated.
Think of the experience of feeling the weight of a watch and hearing the pulse of its heartbeat in the flesh — surveying watch specs online pales in comparison. Similarly, there’s a certain power in the touch and feel of a book that just can’t be replicated in a blog post. Over the past several decades, some pretty phenomenal publications about watches have surfaced. Here, we’ve rounded up great books that should be in every watch lover’s library.
If there's a watch fan on your holiday gifting list, it's nice that you don't have to spring for an actual watch — pouches, boxes, winders and books make for thoughtful presents they're sure to appreciate.
Watches: A Guide By Hodinkee
Hodinkee is one of the foremost online resources for watch enthusiasts the world over — and their expertise is also available in physical print in the form of an impressive magazine and this hardcover book. First published in 2019, it’s penned by the site’s knowledgeable editors and makes for an appropriately visual treat with illustrations galore. Hodinkee’s book covers a range of topics every watch lover should understand, from horological history to iconic models and complications. It’ll be as entertaining to the veteran collector as it is informative to the curious novice.
The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches
Many Rolex fans are religiously devoted to the brand — consider this the Rolex Bible. James Dowling and Jeff Hess’s unauthorized history tells the story of one of the most instantly recognizable names in horology. Broken up into two main sections, the “old testament” explores vintage Rolex and the “new testament” highlights modern Rolex. From an intimate biography of the brand’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, to intricate images of Rolex models and ads, this book doesn’t miss a beat. Dowling and Hess are quite possibly two of the most knowledgeable Rolex experts of our time, and it shows. After you’ve combed through the 400 pages of Rolex bliss, display this handsome book on your coffee table for all to enjoy.
A Man & His Watch
If you’re looking for a book to tug at your horological heartstrings, look no further than A Man & His Watch. Matt Hranek’s collection of watch memoirs proves that these little machines are far more than just fashion and function. Once you become a “watch person,” one of the first things you’ll learn is that the sentimental value of a timepiece often exceeds its monetary value. Hranek poignantly illustrates this idea through his compilation of narratives about men and their watches. From pop culture icons like Sylvester Stallone to watch industry influencers like Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer, every watch has a story. Amidst these personal essays, you’ll also find stories from the archives of top brands highlighting some of their most famous watches and their wearers.
The Watch: Thoroughly Revised
In 2006, Gene Stone published the first edition of The Watch, and it quickly became one of the world’s best-selling horological books. In 2018, the title got a substantial update with the help of Hodinkee’s managing editor, Stephen Pulvirent. If you’re looking to dive deeper into any facet of horology, consider this book a one-stop-shop. It kicks off with a comprehensive history of timekeeping devices, from sundials to the modern smartwatch. Next, it chronicles 50 of the most significant watchmakers throughout history. The book rounds out with a set of intimate profiles on seasoned collectors. In addition, you’ll find practical advice on buying and caring for your watches as well as an extensive glossary of watch terminology.
Retro Watches: The Modern Collectors' Guide
Many of the fantastic books on this list manage some impressive depth despite being very broad in their scope. Sometimes, though, narrowing the parameters can help focus your interest. Author and collector of off-beat watches from around the 1960s Mitch Greenblatt does just that with a collection of over 100 watches from his own collection. Not only are the watches featured interesting and often surprising, but they reflect a side of vintage watches that are often overlooked — as well as a link to the mindset of another era. If you’re captivated by funky, retro-futuristic design, the book is an affordable delight. (Read the full book review here.)
Drive Time, Sea Time and Air Time Trilogy
The most popular types of watches today are those meant for action. Whether sport or military in origin, they're commonly divided into the three categories of land, sea and air. This trilogy of books, which has come out one by one over the years, tackles each in its own volume: watches' relationships with cars and racing in Drive Time, diving and sailing in Sea Time and, most recently, flying in Air Time. Together, they make a collection of their own worth amassing for anyone who considers themself a watch collector or enthusiast.
The Wristwatch Handbook
Within each treasured timepiece is a heart that gives it life: the movement. Once you dive under the hood of a watch, the technical aspects can become overwhelming, but don’t let intimidation stop you from understanding how your beloved timepiece works. Ryan Schmidt breaks down the components of this complex mechanism with the most accessible language possible in The Wristwatch Handbook. In-depth images of actual watches and detailed illustrations of the inner workings accompany each description. Let this be your tried-and-true reference guide to mechanical watches, from the most basic concepts to the most advanced complications.
George Daniels is arguably one of the greatest horologists of the modern era. From the invention of the co-axial escapement to the creation of one of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction, his work is a vital piece of horological history. His book, Watchmaking, is not for the faint of heart — get ready for a crash course on how to build a watch from the ground up using traditional tools and techniques. But this book goes beyond the making of a basic, time-only watch, describing the plans for complications like a tourbillon and more. Though it may sound like a dry read, Daniels breathes life into the manual with charming insights and bits of horological history.
The Magic of Watches: A Smart Introduction to Fine Watchmaking
Consider all the questions you never thought to ask about watches answered. Louis Nardin addresses them all here in four parts: buying a watch, caring for a watch, learning the greatest horological masterpieces, and understanding the anatomy of a timepiece. This book uncovers each and every aspect of watches from the most basic to the most intricate. Whether you need a quick refresher or want to dive deep into a specific facet of your timepieces, it’s all here. Get ready to become a student of horology — there’s even a section for notes in the back.
American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design
When you think of historically significant countries in watchmaking, Switzerland or Germany might immediately come to mind. However, the United States has its own storied watchmaking heritage that at one time rivaled that of the Swiss. With American watchmakers on the rise in the modern era, it’s only fitting to explore the country’s horological past. Here, you’ll find a chronicle of 50 years of American watchmaking, from innovations to influential figures. In addition to placing American watchmaking in historical context, you can marvel at over 600 color photographs that illustrate the evolution of the American wristwatch.
Wristwatches: The Models That Made an Age
It’s hard to imagine a world without the wristwatch. However, as wild as it may seem, the wristwatch is a relatively modern development in the history of horology. Largely born out of function during WWI, the wristwatch quickly became a necessary device in the twentieth century and has grown in popularity ever since. In this book, you’ll discover a more in-depth account of just how the wristwatch came to be. Following this complete history, De Vecchi and Uglietti dive into the evolution or wristwatches produced by 55 top brands. At the end of the book, you’ll find a quick reference glossary of watch terminology.
The Impossible Collection of Watches (2nd Edition)
This one's for the collectors — of books as well as watches. The publisher Assouline's Ultimate line comprises hand-bound books made with traditional techniques and high-end materials. This is all of that, as well as an insightful read packed with beautiful images (on "art-quality paper") featuring a collection, of sorts, of 100 of the most legendary watches of all times — and the stories behind them written by veteran journalist Nicholas Foulkes. Updated for 2022, it even features new watches such as the Tiffany x Patek Nautilus and Richard Mille's record-breakingly thin watch. Like those watches, the book also doesn't come cheap.