The dried grating of his wife’s eyerolls was deafening. As her better half would enthusiastically show me a picture of the watch on his phone, she finally verbalized her point of grief. “Watches again? Could you please not bring up these useless things while I am seated at the same table with you?” Sheepish and muted in his response, he placed his phone on the table screen-side down turned his gaze towards the subjectless horizon.
Chances are that if you are reading this article, you are a watch enthusiast. It is an editorial looking at a facet of the hobby and industry and not a watch review. To others, watch enthusiasts look like they are being wasteful with their time and their resources. This is mainly due to wristwatches no longer being essential for most of the population. Matters get even worse when one realizes that watches designed for and named after certain professions are rarely used in their intended settings.
In decades past, certain professions demanded specific tools. Some of these tools were highly specialized timepieces. Doctors required a pulsometer to better gauge a patient’s heart rate, and a watch to make their reports precise. Pilots required a highly legible watch with an indicator at 12 to help orient their vision while flying.
Engineers needed watches with greater magnetic resistance due to the equipment they were exposed to. Scuba divers needed a running seconds hand to see whether the watch was still operational, and an elapsed timing bezel to know how long they had been underwater. These days, however, if one visits the workplace of any of these professions, they would either observe either no watch being worn by the professional in question, or the professional wearing a smart watch or some other type of watch not necessarily related to their profession.
Today, we shall sit down with three doctors and a pilot to discuss how watches are used in their professional settings, and I will cover the matter of dive environments and watches therein.
Furthermore, each person is a watch collector with a vast body of knowledge with regards to history and how timepieces were used in their professions in the past.
The professionals who contributed to this article are Vik, @vikdalal, an airline pilot residing in Toronto. Our first doctor is someone with whom readers of this site may already be familiar, and that is KC, @the.watchdoc. He is a doctor residing in Malaysia who is currently on the front lines of an emergency room fighting off repeated surges of COVID-19. Our second doctor is a cardiologist Mark, @docmakmak, who practices in Detroit and Cleveland. Lastly, we have Brian, @drwatcherman, also a cardiologist practicing in Massachusetts.
Why Professional Watches Appeal to Us
When asked what attracts them to timepieces related to their respective fields, a pattern started emerging. The technological advances in all of these fields had essentially made obsolete these professional watches that once were essential. Our sole pilot mentioned that in advanced digital cockpits, aviator watches have become obsolete.
But, he did “use my wristwatch, a Citizen Skyhawk… to its full extent for timekeeping during my navigational flights as part of my training since the smaller general-aviation aircraft were not equipped with GPS, and had to rely on ground-based radio and/or dead reckoning navigation.” Vik further explained that he likes “the aesthetic of pilot watches as they appeal to the nostalgia of pioneering aviation, and their accomplishments.” The doctors chimed in with similar sentiments. “Doctor’s watches provide a link to that history,” said Brian. “I dig pulsometers purely for the fact that there is a historical connection with medicine. Otherwise, they are kind of useless,” said Mark.
The one opinion that veered from the group was KC’s. “To be entirely honest, the existing idea of ‘doctors’ watches’ does not appeal to me in the least. This is because the general design for every doctor’s watch I’ve seen seems to have a singular purpose in mind: a method of measuring the rate of either the pulse or respiration.”
Furthermore, the lack of water resistance and durability in these traditional doctors’ watches is a pressing concern. “Given modern emphasis on infection control (not to mention the times we live in), these watches would not stand up to the rigours of daily hand-washing and decontamination protocols. This essentially makes them trinkets designed for doctors of a bygone era who sat in large offices and never washed their hands.” KC said, “… I do see myself purchasing a doctor’s watch someday, since I am both a watch enthusiast and a medical professional. But ironically it would almost definitely never be worn to serve its actual purpose.”
Actual Uses of Professional Watches in Professional Environments
Time was measured differently on these shores in that it was not measured at all. Time was now and again at infrequent rates merely acknowledged. Occasional passing glances at their smartphones only indicated how far off their dinner reservation was. As license plates, accents, and dialects from various corners of the Earth filled the air, the overwhelming sense of leisure could not penetrate the underlying severity of the hour-long period. Based on the genders, overall fitness, and environmental conditions, as a diver on shore I stalked the DSMB (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy) as it slowly moved in front of me, hundreds of feet away.
Catching glances of inexperienced snorkelers, swimmers, and wind surfers attempting to get out of the water, I would note their relative difficulties as they stumbled into inevitably having to nurse a gash on their shins. Often glancing down at my wrist and the dive bezel which marked when the divers entered the water, I would have to contend with curious onlookers asking questions about what I was doing. Carrying a first aid kit filled with tools for treating dive-related injuries I stood out like a sore thumb.
When the DSMB would suddenly turn for the shore well before the halfway mark for the dive, I knew something was wrong and would head to one of the triage areas and place the MedKit down before meeting the divers and helping them out of the water. Thankfully, on these shores, I never had to greet my group of divers and have to apply first aid. I did not have to use my watch to measure how long I was giving CPR. I did not have to take note and write down specific times on an accident slate for incoming first responders.
After greeting everyone back on land, it was only when my bezel was reset that I would relax and join everyone else relaxing and enjoying the beautiful day.
When it came to wearing watches that served a purpose for their respective fields, it all came down to the nuances of their environments. Brian spends a significant amount of time around MRIs, so wearing and collecting antimagnetic watches became a focus. Vik prefers a GMT function to keep track of time at home, or having a UTC time indicator on the bezel since that time zone is used for reference in the field of aviation.
KC mentioned three criteria for a watch in his work environment. These were the aforementioned water resistance and sturdy gaskets, the need for good legibility for easily measuring the seconds and minutes in high-pressure situations, and an elapsed timing complication such as a dive bezel. Dive bezels in particular are useful for when administering adrenaline doses every 3-5 minutes. Mark also mentioned using the dive bezel to time instances such as administering epinephrine. Brian uses dive watches as well at work, and mentioned his Tudor Pelagos getting the call to duty more often than not. Mark also mentioned a watch with good luminescent material applied to the hands to be helpful when on a very long shift. These shifts could be as long as 26 hours, and often doctors take their breaks in dim rooms where they catch up on sleep and rest.
As a diver I use the running seconds hand when measuring my ascent rate in seconds per foot. These changes based on factors such as the depth of the dive and those which preceded it, and environmental factors and stressors such as the temperature, which can adversely impact the human body’s off-gassing capabilities. I use the bezel to measure multiple elapsed timing events, such as marking when entering an overhead environment such as a shipwreck and knowing when to turn around.
As a rescue diver on shore duty, knowing when others had started their dive also came in handy. Lastly, I use the bezel to measure my surface interval, which is the time since my last dive. In this situation I use it to mark the hour hand and measure with an accuracy of rounding up or down to five-minute intervals. One can usually hear a recreational diver asking two questions when back on the surface. One being what time it is, and the other being what their surface interval was. This is due to their dive computer either being turned off or that they do not have the time selected as one of the data fields on their computer. Though it is possible to dive without a dive watch, it is rare to see a dive professional in the field without a watch of some sort when they are in charge of the safety of others. For reference, the most common dive watches in use by professionals today are solar powered Seikos and Citizens.
What are the time-telling devices that professionals actually rely on, and which one’s wear a mechanical luxury watch to work?
Spending time in hospitals advocating for loved ones as patients, the sterile and unpredictable bursts of activity in the various hospital departments resulted in out-of-body experiences where I would suddenly be brought back into my own shell breathing the same still air, I left however long ago.
Dazed and looking for environmental clues for grounding, the vintage clocks silently marching forward in all the rooms were in stark contrast to the OLED smartwatches worn by the nurses who gently floated by with the air of confidence that their vast knowledge and capabilities afforded them. These same nurses rushed past as a colored codes were announced over a nearby speaker. The wrists of young doctors too glowed whenever they sprung into activity, or when a notification desperately competed for their already strained attention.
This observation of smartwatches, especially Apple Watches, and Garmins taking over professional settings was echoed by our doctors and pilot here. KC mentioned that in Malaysia, Casios and G-Shocks are still the most common watch seen in the hospital. Mark mentioned that these smartwatches are worn by bright people who simply want to live longer. He went on to say, “It is a mistake to ask most doctors about their watches. Most of them bought it because it is a luxury item.”
Mark’s wife is a surgeon and doesn’t wear a watch. This is because procedure-oriented doctors “have to take off our watches and wedding rings when we perform procedures/surgeries because we have to be sterile. Wearing a watch is another step/thing to do when preparing to do a case.” It is easy to understand after listening to these individuals that regardless of what a brand tells you, a nice watch is not only unessential in most cases, but it can also be an obstacle.
Those who do wear a mechanical watch in the medical and aviation fields either appreciate the beauty of the timepiece or they wish to let others know about their status and seniority, though some in the aviation field tend to wear their Citizens, some of the senior staff eventually gravitate towards Breitlings and GMT Rolexes. In my experience, the people who have worn luxury mechanical dive watches the most are wealthy boat captains who take out divers in their spare time on the weekends.
As collectors and enthusiasts, we end up collecting what we like, whether the watch is related to our fields or not, and we often end up wearing what is most useful. Some of us wear only a Garmin or an Apple Watch if the situation calls for it. It is difficult for us to communicate to others our passion about our watches because of their diminished place in the world. It is this exact reason that makes these timepieces even more of a marvel.
The development of these watches did not stop when they stopped being used by the majority of the population, let alone the professionals for whom they are supposedly designed. Most recently we have seen the Omega Speedmaster receive its first major technical upgrade in decades, and outside of billionaires wearing one to space, they are not the personal timepiece of choice for astronauts going up for an extended call of duty aboard the International Space Station.
Looking at our respective collections, those interviewed and I seem to gravitate towards what is mostly useful in our daily lives and in our fields. KC, Mark, Brian, and I gravitate towards dive watches for the simple reason that they are rugged and that the bezel is useful. Our resident pilot, who probably has one of the largest collections here, may be the outlier, but that is simply because his collection is so large that it is a dizzying task to decipher any pattern in his decisions over the years. If we were not watch enthusiasts we too might only wear a G-Shock or smartwatch to work.
So, if you are looking to buy a watch marketed as a professional’s tool, get what appeals to you outside of the marketing materials.
Check out more of Furry Wrist Abroad’s articles on watches here