Allan a.k.a. TheWatchDude2
Allan is a gentleman. The experience of speaking to him by video a few days ago felt like having a chat with the late Sean Connery at the height of his James Bond career, or at least what I imagine Sean Connery would have sounded like, had I met him at a casino on the French Riviera and asked him to step away from the poker table to answer a few questions (this, by the way, has nothing to do with the fact that Allan and Sean Connery are both Scottish, if that is where your mind was going). The comparison stems from the fact that Allan is modest about his artistry and generous with his time like James Bond would have been in my imagination. Truth be told, I didn’t know gentlemen like Allan still existed in the watch world, but after talking with him, I can confidently say that they do indeed exist.
Sometimes, the things we do are just about the pure passion of sharing and connecting with like-minded people. It doesn’t matter which industry we are talking about, and it doesn’t matter how good or bad we are at what we do. As long as we approach what we do with authenticity, we are doing the right thing. Allan certainly does. When I excitedly pointed out the fact that he has close to 20,000 followers on Instagram, he might as well have said, “Oh, I didn’t notice. I was just busy caring for my family and taking photos.” That’s what I’m talking about here. That’s what Allan is about: passion and authenticity, the best operating principles for any successful person in any career and a perfect description of Allan’s approach.
A Small Beginning
It often seems like future watch collectors get their first timepiece before they enter the decisive teenage years, a watch that is gifted to them by a parent, grandparent, or more distant relative. Allan remembers getting a Formula 1-inspired watch around the age of 15. He described it as a stainless steel piece with two sub-registers and a dial that had a distinct race-car-inspired design. He doesn’t have this watch anymore, and I couldn’t find any picture of it online (imagine googling “Formula 1-inspired kid’s watch” and finding Richard Mille look-alikes!). It is doubtful that Allan was offered a Richard Mille as a young man, but he did wear his F1 watch a lot.
When a friend of Allan’s showed him his brand-new automatic watch a few years later, Allan got hooked. His friend’s knowledge of automatic watches was rudimentary, but Allan being Allan, he started reading up on automatic watches. To him, the internal workings of a watch were a compelling mystery, and he became fascinated with the fact that, for example, there was something called a rotor that spins inside the watch case to power the mechanical movement. As we will see, his first automatic watches would have a certain design that he would be attracted to, a certain purposefulness that would dictate how he would assemble his collections as he went along his watch collecting journey.
The Rapid Rise of Watch Collecting Fever
After many hours spent reading about automatic watches over the next couple of years, Allan made a decision that would further seal his fate as a future collector: he bought a Hamilton Khaki Field Day-Date (see picture below). This Hamilton is by all measures a tool watch. It is rugged and has a clear purpose. Allan felt an immediate affinity for the dial design and marveled at the fact that he could see the movement through the case back. As would become more clear later, Allan naturally gravitated toward tough watches that can take a beating.
As Allan explored what wearing a watch meant to him, he came to see that at first, he liked the idea of using a purpose-driven tool for telling the time that was more special and distinctive than his smartphone. Now watches signify to him a way of connecting with others, and more specifically, with his family. More than merely being a source of inspiration to define himself as a distinctive individual—which has been a recurring theme among many collectors I have interviewed—watches are to Allan the best way to build strong, long-lasting connections.
His quest for utilitarian and purposeful watches continued, taking him to the Seiko Alpinist, (reference SARB017; see picture below). It was the watch’s clear purposefulness that drew him to it, especially the fact that it was created for use by mountaineers. As his Instagram feed relates, his father was a mountaineer, and it almost seems as if mysterious, unseen forces conspired to cross his path with the Alpinist model, the perfect watch for his father, to whom he gifted the watch for his birthday. Although his dad has bought other watches since, the Alpinist remains his everyday watch (Allan insisted on the fact that his dad beat the heck out of it).
All About Sharing
Before Allan gifted the Alpinist to his dad, the latter actually didn’t see the point of watches at first. His dad used to tell him that spending money on watches was a waste, and that his hard-earned cash would better be spent elsewhere. I think it’s safe to say that we have all found ourselves in a situation where a parent or a close relative tells us what things they think are good to spend money on and which ones aren’t. The funny thing is that his dad’s opinion of watches literally did a 180 once he got his Alpinist. The watch collecting bug that Allan caught a few years before had now gotten into his father too.
But then one day, his dad upped the watch collecting ante. During a visit by Allan’s parents, his dad announced that he had bought himself a Grand Seiko, placing a Grand Seiko box on the table to show off his new piece. This was not the end of the surprise, though. His dad then reached back and produced a second Grand Seiko box. This one was for Allan as his wedding gift (the watch in question is pictured below).
A Grand Seiko is not a Rolex Explorer 2 or a Hamilton Khaki Field. It is adorned with some of the most refined polishing in the history of watchmaking, an appealing trademark of the brand that unfortunately also makes it a massive scratch magnet. Allan, who typically never babied his watches, immediately started caring for his Grand Seiko as if he had acquired a Fabergé egg. He only takes it out for special occasions and gives it special care because this watch holds special meaning to him: a gift from an appreciative and now like-minded father to his highly horologically-inclined son.
This deep connection to loved ones through watches hasn’t stopped with this gift from his father. Allan’s latest acquisition, a Rolex Submariner (reference 124060), is destined to appear some day on the wrist of his son when he comes of age sufficient for wearing a watch of this caliber. Allan and his family like to capture the moments they spend together by way of photography, and each time they do so, Allan likes to wear a watch. Sometimes, the watch he wears while being photographed with his son is the Submariner. When his son inherits this iconic diving watch, he will be able to see what kind of life the watch has already had before becoming his. If this does not exemplify the deep connection some of us have with our loved ones through watches, I don’t know what does.
This latest installment in Allan’s collecting journey brings us to the following question: what is the artistic process he undertakes to produce such high-quality photos that will lay out for his son the journey each watch had made in earlier years?
His Artistic Process
For one thing, Allan likes to keep things simple when it comes to taking and editing photos. Before talking to Allan, I honestly had a hard time imagining what his process would look like. I thought it would be more involved than it actually is. In a nutshell, he uses natural light whenever it’s nice, sometimes uses a reflector to highlight a specific part of the watch, and shoots. I should mention, however, that Allan has been taking photos probably since before he got his first watch, which means he’s very familiar with the technical aspect of photography.
Ninety-nine percent of his photos are naturally lit and spontaneous. He rarely plans his photoshoots but instead uses his regular activities as potential opportunities for an impromptu photo shoot. He made a habit of always having a camera with him (initially a Fuji X-Pro 2, and now a Leica Q2 since he started photographing watches) so that when the light was right, he could capture a specific moment in time of his watch wearing life. For the obvious shots he cannot take himself—when it’s taken from a few feet away—he generally asks his wife to take the photo once he has set up the shot and the camera settings (I’m frequently guilty of doing the same several times, but my wife takes much better photos than me).
When I first came across his Instagram feed, I thought Allan was a professional documentary photographer who had seen battlefronts and climbed all the sought-after summits in the world. As mentioned before, he has been photographing for a long time, and it shows. He follows Instagram accounts of documentary and landscape photographers and finds inspiration in their work. Allan’s photos always have nice contrasts, even natural lighting, and a certain gravitas rarely seen in watch photography.
The last step in his artistic process is editing. Although taking the photo seems easy—but I must say that it wouldn’t be that easy for everyone who just started taking photos of watches—the editing part plays an integral part in producing great content. Allan keeps this simple as well. He edits his photos in Lightroom and over the years has created a unique set of presets that he names after a watch or an event. When it comes time to edit a new photo, then, he already knows which preset to use to get the right editing, but if not, he already has pictured in his head what the edited photo should look like, and he uses this mind’s-eye vision to create a new preset. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Successful, But So What?
At the time of writing this article, Allan has close to 20,000 followers on Instagram, a number many influencers would dream of. Believe it or not, though, this doesn’t phase him. He’s in the game to take good photos and share his passion for watches and photography with fellow watch and photography enthusiasts online and in person. His favorite part of running his Instagram feed is the community that supports him and that he supports back. He loves talking about watches and makes a point to reply to every comment followers leave on his posts. He cherishes the knowledge that people feel inspired by his work and that they have learned something about watch photography or just the watches themselves.
At the very beginning of his online adventures, Allan did keep track of how many followers he had. Being director of content and marketing manager for a business in Glasgow, he knew all too well the ins and outs of growing a social media following and playing the numbers game. Despite his superb product photography of a vast array of watches, he didn’t want to transfer that professionalization of watch photography into his personal account since he already does this for a living. He likes to keep the two separate, which is highly respectable and understandable. Of course, his Instagram watch photography is certainly quite impressive in terms of quality and originality, but what he produces for his job is much more involved and time-consuming.
When anyone has more than 1,000 followers on Instagram, they often start promoting products in exchange for freebies or money. Watch brands are always looking for popular Instagram figures to be their unofficial ambassadors and often give them watches or exclusive first looks at their new collections. Naturally, I wanted to know if Allan earns money from this successful Instagram account and the answer is no. He was never offered money, nor did he ever think of asking for money to photograph a watch or accessories for his Instagram account. He does get offered watches and straps, but he only agrees to photograph them if they are products he would have paid for himself. In other words, he’s selective and makes sure he can stand behind what he photographs.
I know that some ill-intentioned minds would see getting free stuff as being the same as earning income from social media. It’s not. Getting free stuff is common practice in any industry and is in and of itself a testimony to Allan’s quality content.
The Reason for His Success
Success can be defined in many ways: becoming a celebrated person in mass media channels, earning a lot of money, having important titles, winning a Nobel prize, or being elected president. The most sensible definition of success I’ve come across thus far comes from the late Earl Nightingale, who said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” Since he started his Instagram account, Allan’s goal was to contribute to the community and make meaningful connections with like-minded people. By all measures, he has been successful at progressively working toward (and exceeding) this goal.
Simply put, Allan is successful thanks to his motivation to do what he does on an otherwise egotistical and narcissistic platform such as Instagram, a noble act by anyone’s standards. If you were to speak to him, you will realize that there are great people out there in this hobby world (or the contagious enterprise involving the never-ending collection of mechanical jewelry) who genuinely care about making positive contributions to the community. These people help make watch collecting fun and interesting, and that is the reason why Allan is close to getting 20,000 followers.
If I may take the liberty to speak on behalf of Allan, I would say this: use your camera for a noble purpose. Don’t do it if your goal is to become famous, rich, or an influencer. Just like Tom (BowlOfSalmon) does not see himself as an influencer, I am quite certain Allan doesn’t either.
Thanks for reading.
Note: All photos in this article were taken by Allan @thewatchdude2