Let’s face it, the world is not all sunshine and kittens.
We all need to find ways to escape, slow down, and connect with the world around us and with history. Reading books written hundreds or thousands of years ago, for instance, connects us to ways of living in past generations and to astonishing true stories of bravery and invention. Importantly, being connected to history allows us to reconnect with those who have accomplished great things.
Collecting watches is one good way to connect with the better parts of humanity, many of whom went on adventures to push the boundaries of human resilience while sporting iconic watches. Jens a.k.a. @a_watchguys_life is a watch collector and talented photographer who likes to explore this connection through a thoughtful, go-slow approach to watch photography that allows him to produce consistently beautiful photographs.
Let’s see how he does it.
A Spiritual Mindset
To put things simply, Jens likes watches, he’s good at capturing them in photographs, and is passionate about what he does. I wholeheartedly connect with him on the way he sees watches and I’m sure many of you do as well. To Jens, a watch completes you. You are not only wearing something that tells time but also wearing a piece of history on your wrist. Judging by the timepieces that appear on his feed, we can see that he has a passionate interest in the world of commercial diving, (Seiko SKX007), the advances in quartz technology (Seiko 7a38), and timing things with precision (Omega Speedmaster.)
In his own words, a watch is a luxury that we allow ourselves to have. We don’t need one to keep track of time, but we choose to have one, and consequently, the type of watch we choose to own says a lot about who we are. Jens can wear many hats based on how vast his collection is, although he clearly has a yearning for adventure (he owns dive and field watches and everyday watches that can do it all). Looking at his Instagram feed, we can understand who he is and start to speculate about what he does on the weekends. His photos also afford us a glimpse of his relationship with time. They are airy, evenly lit, and calm, and they often feature elements of nature.
A watch doesn’t have to be expensive in order to clearly state who we are. Jens has watches that range from a couple hundred bucks to watches worth several thousands, indicating that the monetary value of a watch matters little to him. What matters most to him is what the watch was designed to do or the kind of people for whom it was designed. He mentioned that he often wears his father’s beaten-up, scratched-up quartz pocket watch because it connects the both of them. Similarly, Jens hopes to give some of his watches to his children in order to continue the tradition, especially the watches that will help them remember the kind of life he has lived.
His Path Into Horology
Jens’ watch collecting activities started in 2018 when he purchased a vintage gold-plated Omega Geneve (see picture below). He went straight into vintage watches because he realized it would be the surest way to get a quality mechanical timepiece at a reasonable price. Before getting the Omega, Jens used to spend his hard-earned cash on guitars and musical equipment (Jens is a former musician), but the calling of watch collecting finally came after going through his teens and twenties without wearing a watch (the horror!). His goal in getting the Omega truly was just to only acquire one watch. Little did he know the terrible punishment he was imposing on his bank account by doing so.
Getting the Omega opened a door that he has never closed since then. He started doing a lot of research on mechanical watches but decided to engage in the process with slow, easy steps. As is customary for many of us, he looked into Seiko and bought several reasonably-priced watches such as the SKX007, which he bought before that model got discontinued and prices climbed proportionally higher. Diving deeper into his research and his first horological encounters, he became more and more passionate (obsessed, some others would say), zeroing in on a few brands and types of movements.
Much later, he realized that there was one particular work experience that probably propelled his enthusiasm for watch collecting more than any other. From 2006 to 2008 (10 years before buying the Omega), Jens worked as an editor for a Copenhagen-based fashion and culture magazine. The magazine ran a regular column about watches written by a number of prominent Danish watch collectors. This experience may have been more important than he thinks. He talked about it as having been a missed opportunity to get into watches earlier, and it most likely laid the foundation for his future watch collecting endeavors. Who knows? At any rate, we’re glad that Jens opened the door and opened it wide.
Each one of us can look back at “that one watch” that started it all. It could have been either the most expensive watch we have ever purchased or the most significant watch we would have purchased from an emotional or historical standpoint. For Jens, it was purchasing the Nomos Tangente (see picture below) that truly cemented his watch collecting journey. It’s the Nomos minimalist design that attracted him the most to it, not its technical qualities. Jens is more attracted to what a watch looks like rather than what beats inside. If tomorrow he was forced to reduce his collection to just one watch, he would pick the Nomos. The best part is that he got a good deal on it.
Going Slow in Photographing
I’ve been obsessed with rituals for as long as I can remember. The compelling power of ritual attracted me to Japanese culture a long time ago, and I have always been fascinated by the ways in which Japanese people treat nature with reverence (as in, for example, the careful attention they give to the arts of Ikebana and bonsais) or the ways in which they have codified many daily activities such as drinking tea. There is something unique in the rules and codes governing these rituals that make a person slow down and deeply anchor themselves in the moment. If you don’t follow the rules, you will rush through the entire process and not truly connect with it. Jens’ approach to watch photography evokes this sensibility.
Jumping back to the human need to slow down and connect to history, the biggest takeaway from the conversation I had with Jens for this article was his way of seeing and going through the act of photographing watches. To him, it’s a special moment during which he connects with the world around him and his watches. He has a dedicated desk in his walk-in closet where he sits down with a cup of coffee and pauses to look at his watches and think of the type of shot he wants to take. While he does so, he keeps an eye on the changing light and waits for the right moment in the day to photograph.
It seems like his technical process is simple. He mostly uses natural light and keeps the image in the frame uncluttered. He does so because he doesn’t see himself as a professional photographer (he admires other Instagram figures such as @TheWatchDude2 and @BowlofSalmon) who would have a complicated setup. He shoots by a large window in his home that is ingeniously equipped with a sheer white curtain that naturally diffuses light. He keeps props and backgrounds distractions to a minimum so that the watch can be the star of the show (I personally love how consistent his photos are and that he adorns each photo with a white frame).
Another element that makes his photography so good is linked to his environment. It seems that Nordic countries are endowed with the best kind of light for photographing watches: constantly overcast skies and early sunsets provide unique opportunities to enjoy a natural soft light. Since I spend so much time on Instagram, I come across hundreds of watch photos each day. Many Instagramers whose photos I deeply admire all seem to have something in common: they live in Northern Europe—Scotland, Norway, Finland, Sweden (I may be able to convince my spouse to move to either one of these countries for professional reasons).
It is often said that the way we live is influenced by where we grow up. If we grow up in a bustling city like New York, we develop a natural tendency to speed through life, hurrying through each task or rushing from one place to another (I lived in New York City and that’s how it felt). If we grow up in the countryside, we move more slowly and have a natural tendency to develop a deeper connection to nature than city dwellers do. Jens lived in Copenhagen, no sleepy country village by any measure, but it’s also not a busy metropolis. It is often said that Northern Europeans have a higher quality of life. I can’t attest to it personally, but if it is true, then this would explain much of Jens’ approach to watch photography.
All that to say that there is a true correlation between environment and lifestyle, and Jens not only lives in a part of the world that has awesome natural light and a healthier work-life balance but embodies this slower pace of life so evident in his watch photography. I can easily imagine him sitting at his desk, a freshly brewed cup of coffee near at hand, his watch box sitting open, and him looking at his collection and wondering what will happen next. I just love this image and love his process. His unique approach results in shots that are light, airy, and consistent. It feels as if we are seeing nature and life slowly and surely passing through his window.
Instagram is not a source of revenue for Jens, and he has never seen it that way. To him, Instagram is the best way to share his love for horology with like-minded people, as if he had instant access to thousands of watch enthusiasts and the largest watch showroom in the world. He finds inspiration looking at other people’s feeds (he and I admire the same photographers), and he in turns inspires others. It’s interesting how Instagram—despite its egocentrism and ever-changing algorithm—has always been the best catalyst for sharing. If something like it existed in real life, then we could meet up and talk watches with watch collectors at any time and anywhere around a good cup of coffee.
One part of Jens creative process I have not yet mentioned (and for good reason) is the actual photographing of the watches. As you now know, Jens takes his time, gets in the mood, observes his watches, and waits for the right light. He can sometimes spend one hour shooting one watch, taking hundreds of photos that differ ever so slightly from one another, if at all. What you see on Instagram—the final product—is the best shot from that photo shoot, his most refined work. Now I understand why I like his stuff so much: you can see time passing on each shot, as if it was a complex, ever-moving composition. It feels as if we are there with him (in a non-creepy way) discussing watches and photographing together.
The only concern Jens has for Instagram is the grid. He plans ahead of time to post several photos from the same shoot, which shows why his grid is so well-balanced and its quality consistent. I for one tend to rush through the shooting and the editing processes just to get it out there, and Jens’ approach has inspired me to try to model my work after his.
We’ll see what comes out of it.
See? Jens proves once again that we each get better by sharing our passion for horology and genuinely engaging with each other on Instagram. One day, my wife commented with great sorrow that she wishes the general photography community would be like that of watch geeks: we don’t compete with each other, and quite to the contrary, we lift each other up.
Being in the moment is something that we as human beings pretty much suck at. Doing something that is or used to be in our nature is difficult. We always want to rush to our next destination, check that next task off our to-do list, speed-walk, cut corners, rapidly browse through social media without really paying attention to anything. I don’t know how Jens is at work (he is a communication guru for a renewable energy company), but judging from his process and the way he carried himself during our interview, I would bet Jens is rather good at taking things slow and being in the moment.
I’m not sure what you get from reading these articles, but I get a lot out of interviewing my watch collecting heroes and writing about their life and path into watch collecting. I hope that this story will inspire you one way or another to engage in the social media process the way Jens prepares when he’s about to photograph watches: methodically and enthusiastically.
Thanks for reading.