Does the Watch Make the Man?

Author Nick Kolakowski describes how a watch can help shape the characters he writes.

In the first Kingsman movie, Colin Firth’s debonair spy tells a roomful of stereotypical English chavs that “manners maketh man.” Then he proceeds to beat the absolute crap out of them, proving that a well-placed punch (or 20) can do wonders for imparting lessons on civility. Check it out: 

 Of course, manners maketh man; a fine timepiece also helps define character. Writers, directors, costume designers and other creative types know this, which is why they often spend a bit of time deciding what kinds of watches their characters should wear.

When we sat down to design Jed Rex, the hero of SHIFTed’s serialized graphic novel, we had some decisions to make. Because Rex is a diver and a fighter, but nonetheless possesses a rather refined soul, we chose a Seamaster 300 with a black dial for his wrist. It’s the sort of timepiece that looks great amidst a dinner party, but seems sturdy enough to endure the elements (not to mention the occasional gunfight). The watch doesn’t “make” Rex, per se, but it’s a nice way to telegraph his character.

Midway through the novel, Jed also finds his father’s Hamilton pocketwatch. We wanted something that had a heirloom feel to it, elevating its importance to Jed. (Plus it has large numbers and an elegantly curved crown, which looks especially good when rendered in Prentis Rollins’ inks.)   

Timepieces can also draw out the psychological complexities of a hero or anti-hero. When writing my two noir novels, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps and the new Slaughterhouse Blues, I decided to give my main character, Bill, a Piaget Altiplano — a slim, elegant timepiece that seems almost absurdly out of place on the wrist of a small-time hustler. 

When I was passing around the first draft of Brutal Bunch for commentary, one early reader suggested that I give Bill something heavier and flashier. But that didn’t seem fitting: For all the bad that Bill does, he aspires to a more graceful life. And while it would be clunky to have him express such a sentiment out loud, a timepiece conveys it just as well; there’s character in the contradiction. 

Speaking of which, in Kingsman, Colin Firth wears a customized rose-gold timepiece by Bremont, the British watchmaking firm. Very urbane — but all business when the moment calls for it. Sort of like a British spy in the field, one imagines.   

You can Kolakowski's latest novel, Slaughterhouse Blues, here.

Nick Kolakowski
Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, North American Review, and Carrier Pigeon, among other venues. He lives in New York City.

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Timely musings on vintage watches, men's fashion, cocktails, cigars, travel, cars, racing and more . . .

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