Benjamin Clymer of Hodinkee: Smartwatches versus haute horlogerie

Updated on December 7 2014

“Nobody needs watches at all.” A surprising statement from somebody who literally lives and breathes watches on a day-to-day basis. Purely out of boredom, former UBS project manager, Benjamin Clymer, started a blog on Tumblr from which the cult online watch site Hodinkee was born. Five years later, Hodinkee is now arguably the hottest and most influential watch publication worldwide for both young and veteran mechanical-watch lovers and Clymer attributes his success to not taking the exclusive world of fine watchmaking too seriously.

“If you talk to the average person on the street and tell them you’re wearing a USD$10,000 watch, they’ll tell you you’re an idiot,” ranted Clymer. “And it is ridiculous. But if you fully embrace the fact that it’s ridiculous and have fun with it then you can build more of a community around it.”

“Hodinkee doesn’t buy into all the pretence that surrounds the industry. At the end of the day the [watch] industry doesn’t really matter. It’s fun, it’s beautiful and there’s something worth preserving for sure, but it’s being logical and reasonable in regards to watch buying that sets us apart.”

Benjamin Clymer on the DFS Masters panel at the DFS Masters of Time 2014 gala event in Macau.

In Macau as a guest of DFS to talk about the future of the watch world and celebrate the launch of the new DFS Masters of Time collection, Clymer was particularly impressed with the way DFS has been able to bring so many exclusive watch brands together in one space. “In the United States it’s very seldom you see brands so close together so it’s a great sort of middle ground that allows you to compare one piece from one brand to another before making an investment. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of negotiation that was done to make this happen.”

Clymer might be a purist at heart (in regards to his love for retro-chic timepieces), but he fully accepts and believes that Apple will be the biggest watch company in the world next year. “The adaptation of technology and entrepreneurship in the watch space is vital for it to continue to grow and be relevant,” he said. As opposed to the likes of Angelina Jolie or George Clooney, “the biggest and most important celebrities are the entrepreneurs.”

The highly-anticipated Apple Watch is set for a 2015 launch.

“It’s about people like the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Kevin Rose, who is a partner at Google Ventures. These are the types of guys who are inspiring consumers in America and are going to drive sales for the next 50 years.”

Having just found out two weeks ago from Tony Fadell (one of the fathers of the iPod) that he had first ran the idea for a crazy portable music player by the Swatch group before Apple, Clymer sees this as a perfect example of a missed opportunity. “Could you imagine what could have been if Swatch had decided to get involved?” he exclaimed. Indeed, the iPhone, as we know it, might have never come into fruition.

Related: Like a boss: The watches that CEOs are wearing

“I love the idea of the limited availability [of watches] and really keeping the frequency of selling down but the Swiss watch brands really need to start embracing change,” said Clymer. “I want watches to always be exclusive, fun and special and I don’t want a watch that everybody on the street is going to be wearing. But I think there’s just a way of doing it that embraces today.”

Wearable technology might not be quite there yet but Clymer foresees that the younger generation will increasingly lose interest in mechanical watches unless somebody starts doing something to change that.

Watches from Bulgari, Jaquet Droz and Vacheron Constantin are just a few of the highlights from the DFS Masters of Time collection.

When it comes to him personally, Clymer actually almost never buys modern watches though he does own a Laurent Ferrier. “It’s a perfect example of a brand that uses cutting edge technology but in a very traditional case with the most impeccable finishing and it’s not so expensive that it’s insane.” He tells us he will in fact be buying an Apple smartwatch but not at the expense of his Vacheron.

So what’s in the cards for Benjamin Clymer and Hodinkee in the near future? “Honestly”, he replied, “there is no business plan.” While a number of major media groups, Google Ventures and even some of his friends (including regular Hodinkee columnist, John Mayer) have expressed interested in investing into the site, Hodinkee will continue to be under Clymer’s sole ownership until he finds the right partner.

This year’s DFS Masters of Time retail exhibition features over 400 luxury timepieces and jewellery masterpieces from 40 prestigious brands. The curated collection will be available for sale from now until 28 February 2015 at the T Galleria Macau by DFS located within the Shoppes at Four Seasons

Yi Li is your typical half-Brit half-Chinese hybrid with a serious case of wanderlust. When not writing, she's either on the hunt for the best new cocktails, on a hike or enjoying a sinful bowl of truffle fries (and working them off at XYZ). Follow her @yilidawson on Instagram or Twitter.