DIARY: My First Watch
Words by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner
When interviewing others about their first watches, I’ve always felt a pure kind of joy at the continuous realization that watches are more than just objects. Certified Dimepiece Serena Kerrigan described what she’s overcome with when she looks down at her wrist: “I see so many things: I see my grandmother, I see my mother, I see my best friend, I see myself, I see my future, I see who I am.” That a watch could mean so many things to her stuck with me as validation of this project as whole. Dimepiece is about appreciating the finer things in life, of course (I’m a Taurus and any astrological reading will tell me I’m materialistic); but it’s also a celebration of strength and self-worth. I’ve always understood this in an abstract sense, but up until May of this year, I had never even owned a luxury watch. Dimepiece is a project rooted in personal research...aspiration... and here I am now: a First Dimer!
It’s funny – when I started Dimepiece, people always assumed that I had this illustrious timepiece collection. It got to the point where I debated lying about my lack thereof… I felt like kind of a poser, honestly. Peter Gallagher’s character in American Beauty, Buddy Kane (The “King” of Real Estate) lived by the philosophy that “In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.” (Is it problematic that I have that entire movie memorized? Don’t answer that.) But I’d also gotten a similar message from my grandpa, Nick Wallner (or “Gumpa” to me and my brother). He was born in 1929 to an Austrian immigrant who made his living as a janitor in Chicago. Gumpa worked hard in school and graduated from the Naval Academy, leading to a brief stint as a fighter pilot. He came into his own as a businessman after graduating with a PhD from USC, writing the literal book on leveraged buyouts. Similar to the King of Real Estate, Gumpa has a phrase: “You can’t run with the rich kids if you operate out of a shoe box!” He lived his own American dream, and knew what it was to work toward abundance from a place of scarcity. He’s an honest man, Gumpa, but he knows how to work the room. He knows that in business, you gotta sell yourself before everything.
So when it came to working on Dimepiece, I was like, okay… I love watches, but I don’t have a watch. People are even starting to take me seriously as an authority in horology! Do I white-lie my way around the fact that I’m a bit of an amateur? Do I bite the bullet and get a watch just to have one, so that when people ask “what’s a favorite watch in your collection” I have a half-assed answer? It took some soul searching (and long talks with my dad) for me to realize that not owning a watch actually gave me an edge. If I were just another collector, I’d inevitably be bringing a collector’s experience to the space. Don’t get me wrong, I love collectors; and since starting Dimepiece, I’ve met so many who’ve been generous with their time and knowledge. But for what I’m trying to do – demystify the great big world of watches to women, in particular – my outsider status strengthens my case. But I had to get a watch sooner or later, come on!
So… about the watch: it’s a small steel Cartier Tank Française. How did I decide on this particular watch?? It’s a long story… but this is my diary, so… I can get into it. It’s worth explaining how I got into watches in the first place: It was 2019 and I was working on the editorial team at Sotheby’s. I was hired because they wanted someone culturally in-touch to bring some fresh content into the mix (to ultimately get a younger consumer onto the Sotheby’s website). Because, you know, millennials may not be rich enough to buy a Hockney now, but their inheritance might kick in soon… Anyway, I was producing and writing content for them, but also learning. I was obsessed with going down to the galleries and checking out the new goodies… oh my god, all the art! The furniture! The watches… I didn’t know what I was looking at half the time, which was exciting and challenging. I even started dressing better so I could feel worthy of being around these objects. I’d also take as many walks as I could on the Upper East Side. On off days, I would stroll around Madison, indulging in slices of chocolate cake at Ralph’s. I’d sneak out during lunch and go to the Frick. My boss Hassan took me out for burgers at JG Melon and power salads at Michael’s on 55th. The rarefied air… I was breathing it in, baby!! It was a welcome escape from the East Village. Going uptown felt like a treat – an education.
Of course I did actual work too, and part of my job was to help create content for the Watches Department. I told Hassan I didn’t know anything about watches, but he encouraged me to get into the work anyway… We would commission written pieces on the heavy-hitting watches and I could learn by editing, fact-checking, sourcing imagery, asking questions. And to have these unreal watches in the same building I was in… I mean, hello!!! That’s the best way to learn about anything: hands on. And I had YouTube – “How to Pronounce Audemars Piguet”... I found out there were other brands to know besides Rolex, I got to gaze at Paul Newman’s dreamy face, I learned who Gérald Genta was. And the more I learned about watches, the more obsessed I became. I started seeing them everywhere. At the museums, on the street, on the subway, in movies and TV shows. I was watch-pilled. It was a brand new world. Where had I been all these years??
It’s not like I’d never seen a watch before. My dad wore a Rolex in the 80s and 90s (a 36mm two-tone Datejust with a blue face, roman numeral dials, and a jubilee bracelet… if you have no idea what I just said, that’s what Dimepiece is here for). He got it as a present for graduating law school. Gumpa also has a Rolex. I think it’s a Cellini. I remember visiting him in La Jolla, and whenever he arrived home, he’d take off his watch and put it in a little ceramic dish in the kitchen. He told me he got it for $150 in the 60s. Imagine…?? My grandma wore a Datejust too, but I never got to see that in the flesh – she was battling Alzheimer’s most of my life, and all I have as proof are the stories Gumpa used to tell of their jet-set life (and old photos of her looking glamorous). They were an absolute dream. And, look, I’ve worn watches before. Like every other 90s bb I wore a Baby G watch, which was eventually swapped out for a tiny blue-faced Nixon on a wraparound leather strap that I got at a surf shop (an aspiring California girl growing up in Hoboken, NJ). I think I also had a vintage Seiko that I got from American Apparel (RIP).
But my first REAL watch? Like, luxury? Sotheby’s let me go the literal day that New York City shut down in March 2020, so I escaped to live in Naples, FL with my mom in her 2 bedroom bungalow (my adult brother and I shared a room for 3 months… can you believe??? Twin beds, too). It was actually one of the best times of my life – to feel like a kid again, untethered by any real responsibilities because literally nothing was happening. Shout out to Sotheby’s for throwing me a bone with enough severance to live off of for a few months. We rode bikes, we swam in the gulf, we took long walks, we ate dinner as a family. I got sooo tan and blonde… Anyway, May came around and my dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday (Taurus szn, baby!). I was turning 30 so I was like, oh, this has got to be good. I want a watch. He said, okay, what watch do you want? I said I’d get back to him…
Despite learning all about watches, I was still unsure about what I wanted. I didn’t understand my own personal preferences… I realized I hadn’t really acquired a personal taste for them. Looking at photos of Paul Newman in a Daytona didn’t help me understand – it made me more confused, if anything. So I started looking up “women wearing watches” on the internet. Pictures came up… Ellen Degeneres in a Nautilus, Elle Macpherson in a Daytona, Drew Barrymore with her GMT, Rihanna dripping in Chopard. But still… this wasn’t enough. I’m like, okay, these watches look GREAT on celebs but what would they look like on me?? I wanted to see more photos. More women wearing watches. Not just celebs… everyday people – influencers even felt more everyday than the a-listers that were coming up. I wanted to feel inspired!!! But the results were bleak. Contemporary watch advertising didn’t help either. To see a watch on a glossy page of a magazine in some slick ad… it just didn’t register. That’s why I started Dimepiece in the first place. To spice it up a bit! Give the girls what they want.
My search got sidetracked. George Floyd was murdered a few weeks after my birthday, and the thought of seeking out a luxury item had me feeling sick to my stomach. I felt disconnected enough as it was in Naples – so far away from the reality that was shaking up the rest of the country, unable to protest with my friends in big cities, devastated. So eventually, my dad told me my time was up. He got me something else for my bday and I was left at square one: watchless. Boo hoo, poor me. I’m glad I didn’t make a decision right then and there because – aside from feeling unwell about everything – 1) I probably would have just chosen a Rolex Datejust because that’s what everyone else does (No shade to the Datejust though... I actually just got one, but that’s another story.) and 2) I wouldn’t have been able to try anything on before buying because, remember, it was 2020. We couldn’t go anywhere. And that’s the number one rule in watch buying: TRY BEFORE YOU BUY! Even if you’re getting something online and can’t find an exact match IRL – it helps to see something similar on your wrist to get a feel for it. You may try it on and realize, eh! Not for you. Back to the drawing board. So yeah, that’s where I was. Back to the drawing board.
Florida got unbearably hot, so I went back to NYC in July, where I relished any chance to try on watches – didn’t matter what they were. If a friend was wearing a Rolex Submariner, I would ask to try it on. I’d stroll into boutiques and ADs, cosplaying as a wealthy socialite… I eventually went back to Naples the next spring and walked into Tourneau. The sales person was very skeptical of me… why was this girl with the dirty hair and a tennis dress trying to get in here? But he welcomed me and I warmed him up with my watch knowledge. I tried on some Cartiers for the first time in my life and it was then that I discovered I had a rabid taste for small watches, which you can read all about in Harper’s Bazaar!! (Are you gagging? How did I go from knowing nothing about watches to becoming the monthly watch columnist at Harper’s Bazaar?) Anyway, that same trip to Naples, my mom’s friend, Courtney, was visiting. She was wearing a small steel Cartier Tank Française, and the way she was wearing it had me looking at it in a completely new light. Her tan arms, her stack of bracelets… she wore her Cartier to the beach! In the water, even!! Which I would not recommend to anyone, but… she’s been wearing this watch for years and years and it felt like a second skin to her. In my mind, the Française went from formal (stuffy) to casual (cool). It was a departure from the leather-strapped Tank I was so used to seeing. The steel felt sexy. Courtney let me try it on, and it was then that I decided that this would be my first watch. I don’t care if it’s quartz! I’d be a Cartier girl.
So… here I was, May 2021… it only took a full year to decide what I wanted. And damn does it feel good to know what you want! At this point, I’d been working very hard on freelance projects and Dimepiece – growing the community online and launching the website. Plus, I couldn’t be the watch girl without a watch. And I was turning 31... it all felt so right. I was finally ready. And then my friend Liana at Vogue hit me up… she said let’s go watch shopping!!! So one thing led to another, and we were at the Cartier Mansion on 57th, eating macarons and trying on watches. It was the day before my birthday and I put on my mom’s double-breasted Chanel jacket (she worked at the Chanel store in Waikiki in the 80s). To have your first watch purchase covered in Vogue… you know I had to break out the Chanel!! What a dream. We took stupid photos and, in Liana’s words, probably scared the sales person with our giddy middle school energy. I left Cartier with the iconic red bag concealed within a nondescript white bag (to stave off muggers, I presume). I was walking on a cloud – a lil light in my vintage Ferragamo loafers I’d gotten at a Naples consignment shop. To celebrate, I treated myself to a frappuccino and Liana got a hot dog from the Nathan’s cart outside Central Park. Just two carefree gals. But, no, I was also terrified, like, oh god, what if I do get mugged and this $3400 object is taken out of my life as easy as it came? Although it was not easy to swipe my credit card, I’ll tell you that much. But what else was I saving money for??
The next day, I checked into a suite at the Bowery. Yes, I’m a grown woman and I like to spoil myself on my birthday... yes, I’m wearing the same exact outfit I wore the day before for the Vogue shoot. My friend Cobey took these photos of me in the watch on the bed, along with the red Cartier box and a mini bottle of Cartier champagne (I’m a sober queen, though...just cake for me please!). It all felt very extra, and you know what? Wearing a watch by default is kind of extra. But watches aren’t just flexes. They're tangible items that can represent resilience, family history, confidence – like how Serena Morris wears her Rolex Lady-Datejust as a reminder of the values her grandma instilled in her from a young age. And even if there's no real significant meaning... shouldn't women be able to wear something gorgeous that will last her for generations?? There are so many stories to be told and I'm here to make space for that. For me, this watch felt like a proper way to commemorate the hard work I’ve put into this project, and the 10 years I’ve put into a career that randomly led me here. And one day I hope to pass it down to my future daughter (or son!! I think it’d look fab on anyone regardless of gender identity). To recount this story, to document this purchase and have some cute photos taken – how special it is to formally preserve a memory! Take a picture, baby, it’ll last longer…