Interview Series: Benjamin Clymer

Illustration by Myrtle Quillamor

There is just nothing as lasting, as personal, or as complex as a great watch. These things are truly multi-generational, which almost nothing else is. Not a car, not a piece of clothing.

When did you become interested in mechanical watches?

I was organically interested in mechanical things, specifically those with gauges. My dad was a photographer and I remember seeing his light meters as a child – I was fascinated by them. Then, as I got older, I got really into the hiking and climbing. I used to go on week-long trips through the Rockies, Adirondacks, etc. and a compass was always with me, as was an analog watch. They were the purest types of tools, and I just loved them. Then, my grandfather, with whom I was very close, gave me his personal Omega Speedmaster. It was just the most perfect thing I had ever seen and it is still one of my prized possessions. It is that watch that set me off on this path.

What led you to create your now globally recognized and highly reputable online publication, HODINKEE?

To be totally honest, I was bored at work. Work back then was totally different than it is now for me. I was sitting in a cubicle working for a giant, completely soulless bank. I was there in 2008 when finance hit a brick wall so I had a lot of free time. My boss told me I had to come in each day but since there was literally nothing being done operationally at the time, he said I could do whatever I like as long as I was there. I liked watches, I liked to write, I liked the web and thus, HODINKEE was born…out of total boredom. I never expected it to be a full-time job and I certainly never expected it to get this far.

Why do you think mechanical watches are still greatly admired and appreciated today?

There is just nothing as lasting, as personal, or as complex as a great watch. These things are truly multi-generational, which almost nothing else is. Not a car, not a piece of clothing. And yet, they are machines. There are screws and levers, and without much fuss, they can be with you every single day of your life. They are such emotional objects that I think they really tend to pull on the heart strings of men and women. And to some, they are literal works of art. So much goes into the design, engineering, and finishing (decoration) – it’s remarkable. I believe within five years many of the world’s elite art collectors will also turn to mechanical watches. The market is there.

Out of the many watches you’ve come across over the years, which one would you consider to be your favorite and why?

My favorite is the watch my grandfather gave me. It’s nothing special technically, but it means everything to me. From there, when my sister had her first child - my first nephew - I bought him a Rolex Daytona. Brand new, with his name on the papers and his initials engraved into the case back. I told my sister to wear it every day and by the time he’s old enough to wear it, it’ll look fantastic. That’s another favorite watch of mine because they both mean something to me.

If there were any watch you could own, what would it be?

Emotional attachment aside, vintage patek philippe chronographs are my favorite. In particular, a platinum perpetual calendar chronograph, once owned by Eric Clapton, is probably the most beautiful watch I have ever seen. It sold for about $3.65m at Christie’s a few years back and we produced a video on it. It was truly perfect from an aesthetic and technical point of view.

Having such a strong interest in mechanical watches, have you ever considered creating your own?

I’ve thought about it. It’s something I might do in act two (I’m still deep in the middle of act one) but I also respect tradition so much that It would be hard for me to come out and be proud of anything we did that’s brand new. 

You’re often traveling the world to visit watch factories and attend high-end auctions – is there one particular destination that you have yet but want to explore?

There is still so much to discover in Italy. The Italians are the true thought-leaders in collectible watches and while I know many of the finest collectors and dealers in the world, there is a lot left to explore. That, coupled with amazing way of life near Milan, in particular, is something I would really like to spend more time around.

When you’re not traveling or reading and writing about watches, what can you be found doing?

I love old cars, and keep an old coupe in the city. When I can, I try to take that out to the backroads north of the city. There is no radio, and it barely fits one other person. So I can just drive it, and be alone with my thoughts. It’s very cathartic.

You’ve met and gave advice to many interesting people since founding HODINKEE – what is your most memorable moment thus far?

It’s always amazing to me when people I respect so much turn out to be fans, and feel compelled to reach out to tell us. Musicians, rappers, entrepreneurs, artists. My relationship with John Mayer is one of the most surprising things that have come out of this site…I consider him a good friend and he’s talked me through some difficult times and I have him. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and incredibly humble.

If someone were purchasing his/her first mechanical watch, what sort of advice would you offer? 

Take your time, and do your research. Just because someone tells you to trust them or acts like they know what they’re doing, doesn’t mean they are legit. This world of watch is full of crooks, so do your due diligence, and also buy for yourself, no one else. Only buy what makes you happy, not what someone else tells you to buy, or what you think will be worth money down the road.