Not Just a Pretty Face

When it comes to timepieces Gary Cotterell is an authority to watch

Photographs: Karl Rogers

After working as an architect in London, Gary Cotterell moved back to South Africa where he focused on product design and manufacturing. As the founding editor of Business Day's Wanted magazine, Gary established strong relationships in the luxury sector, affording him invaluable knowledge and insights of the brands and trends at the top end of the market. Today the published author writes a weekly watch column for the title he launched, and as a founding board member of the Southern Guild Design Foundation, central to Gary's love of watches and collection of classic cars is a passion for good design. Which is why we reached out to the maven to talk timepieces with The Way of Us.

gary cotterell

My first watch was a Rotary that belonged to my grandfather, which was issued to British servicemen during WW2. A classic trench watch that was quite robust but unfortunately went 'AWOL'. I didn't wear a watch for a long time after that, until I bought a simple all-black Swatch that I wore for years. Through Wanted and working in the industry, meeting the manufactures in Switzerland, going to the trade shows, educating myself on watches… I fell in love with timepieces. But I think it was my first love of classic cars, seeing the similarities in the machinery, albeit in miniature, which was almost more fascinating especially the human interaction required to keep them ticking whether through winding, setting or wearing, that really resonated with me.

My everyday watch is a vintage Tudor Prince Oysterdate, which I discovered by chance after purchase was manufactured in my birth year. I'd been looking for a watch for the longest time and a friend in Joburg Colin David @EmporiumOfCuriosity who trades in vintage furniture phoned me up about five years ago to say that he had found just the watch for me. It has the original Tudor 'Rose' emblem instead of the brand's new shield, and is from the period when they still used many Rolex parts. It's small, 34mm, discreet and as long as it's on my arm, very reliable. I feel naked without it.

The watch I've just ordered from Japan is a Seiko SKX007. A classic, robust dive watch with an automatic movement manufactured since the 70s. It's practical and you can buy one for under five grand. Any watch person will tell you that it's the best value-for-money watch on the planet.

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What you choose to wear says something about you, regardless of what it cost. It doesn't need to be an expensive luxury brand to be a symbol of your attitude or status. In terms of status symbols, wherever there's an emerging market or an emerging middle class, people will naturally want to 'show off', but there's also a movement where the world's turned against things that are big, brash, loud and obnoxious.

A watch can be an investment that you enjoy. Depending on what you buy, it will hold value and potentially increase in value later on. Which shouldn't be the reason you buy it unless you are a trader. You should buy a watch because you like it and it appeals to you, or reflects your personality or your style.

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Reflecting on time is something more people should do, because it's important. Time is the ultimate luxury, of which we have very little in our crazy lives. For people who prefer to be more engaged with the world around them than their mobile devices, having a watch on your wrist makes total sense. If you have an accurate watch, and I'm not going into quartz versus automatic here because I'm not that much of a snob, but to be able to glance at your wrist and see the time is such a wonderful feeling. Your phone is a distraction, a watch is a thing of beauty.

If you're lucky enough to have a collection you can wear a watch that goes with every occasion. But there are many watches that can go with just about anything. There is a big trend to useful 'tool watches' with classic diver's watches leading the way. From beach to boardroom, these sporty watches can be dressed up or down by swapping out metal bracelets with straps –Nato or rubber. Look at agent Bond, who is the perfect example. It depends on what you prefer. Anyway, these days you should make your own rules.

I've been privileged enough to visit the ateliers of Cartier, Tag Heuer, Zenith, Jaeger-LeCoultre to name a few and the most remarkable thing about the people in this industry, besides the fact that they are exceptionally dedicated artisans, is that they're all so lovely and humble. On the retail side, when you go into stores locally the experience is so average. Internationally, they're knowledgable, passionate and confident in what they do. They look beyond the flashy side of things and focus on the craft, which is the important thing and what we should be conveying to consumers. They're not selling a watch just because it says Rolex on it, but because it's an exquisitely crafted timepiece.

Innovation drives the watch industry. There's huge innovation and some interesting new technology out there. HYT make hybrid watch movements that display time with fluids. Ressence manufacture watches with no traditional hands, just elegant flat rotating discs that lie in one co-planar surface to form a dial. In our modern world of mass communication devices, a watch to many might seem like a totally unnecessary or foolish purchase. I've given up trying to convince those people otherwise.

The fashion industry has spinoffs, sunglasses and fragrances and watches are a part of that. Spotting the early growth of interest in mechanical watches of high quality in particular, many of the luxury brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton have bought manufactures in Switzerland so that they can also say 'Swiss Made'. They're giving some of the more established Swiss brands some stiff competition as they are growing much faster, along with their huge social media presence. social

I don't think anyone should buy fakes. If you are so desperate to look like you own a Rolex then there's something wrong with you. And particularly Rolex, knowing what the company stands for. Rolex is rather unique in the world of luxury in that the company is a registered charity and channels its profit (after expenses) into environmental research, sports and the promotion of the arts. Every watch sold contributes in some way to a very good cause. When you visit the factories and see how watches are being assembled by hand, you appreciate it all that much more. Those people don't get to where they are overnight. It takes them many years. It's a fine art.

A big trend to watch is vintage and vintage-inspired because the secondary market is a big booming industry now much like classic cars, which have seen the biggest ROI above any other categories such as art, gold…. The brands have released new models to feed the interest, which are inspired by their older models or celebrate landmarks in the history of each brand. The secondary market started out as a great entry point for younger collectors to acquire premium brands but we are now seeing prices of many previously accessible items being pushed out of reach. However, the value for me is not in the ticket price or label but finding something that resonates with you. But to illustrate the point, I bought my Tudor for R6.5k five years ago and it's now worth twice that. As a 'collector', I appreciate the special feeling you get when you realise you made a good investment in something pretty and that you love.

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