A few weeks ago I wrote a story about Fratello’s managing editor, Nacho Condé Garzon. It was unnerving to write about a professional writer with whom I share a major obsession (horology), but here I am again writing about another watch professional, Zach Weiss, co-founder of the esteemed Worn & Wound online watch magazine.
Of all the watch enthusiasts I’ve interviewed, I find that interviewing those who have turned their passion in horology into a full-time career to be particularly interesting. I wonder how they transitioned from an unrelated job to one that pays them to write about watches or even run one of the most successful magazines in the world.
Spoiler alert: it takes guts and patience.
We hear the encouraging statement “Do what you love” thrown around so casually these days. Yes, it’s great to do what you love, and although many make it sound easy, it actually isn’t. There’s something unique about doing what we love that puts our confidence in jeopardy: the potential for failure. On the other hand, when one of us makes it, it’s dynamite. So let’s take a look at Zach’s path into horology and see how he came to co-found Worn & Wound.
Horology Runs in the Family
It is no longer a secret—if you have read Mainspring before—that there is a deep connection between our early horological experiences and our adult lives as watch collectors, watchmakers, or watch journalists. I did find that the longer you have worn watches, the further you take your passion for watches. For example, Zach has always had a watch strapped to his wrist. For many years, he looked into and bought all sorts of watches at the under-$500 price point. Like a photographer who tries his hand at still life images, portraits, and travel photography in order to find his groove, Zach tried out different kinds of watches to find out what attracts him.
In the early stages of his watch collecting, he got his hands on Nixons, Uniform Wares, and Swatch timepieces, among others. Naturally, he went through a Seiko phase too, especially the brand’s divers. As he himself described it, he went down a deep rabbit hole, but surprisingly, the first watch he spent more than $500 on (his first “serious” purchase) was in fact an homage piece: the Helson Skin Diver. His eclectic collection, then, shows that Zach was not discriminating against any brand and that he was driven by something unique: the design of a watch and how it resonates with him. Not the brand name, not the specifications, but the design.
This is a unique trait of Zach’s that determined what kind of watch journalist he became, as we will see later.
So, what’s with his dad then? Growing up in Manhattan, Zach and his dad used to pay frequent visits to watch retailers, especially Tourneau’s TimeMachine flagship store south of Central Park in Manhattan. The two would spend hours looking at all sorts of watches made by prominent Swiss and Japanese brands. These unique visits made up part of his horological education alongside his exploration of the first online watch forums, through which he educated himself about watches (you know, before online watch magazines were a thing and print magazines were still all the rage). His friend Blake Malin (future co-founder of Worn & Wound) had saved up a few hundred dollars to buy a nice watch, and they wanted to find out what he should get.
We don’t often think about how crucial our early teen years are in defining what kind of person we become (I actually have been thinking about this a lot lately in a personal quest of understanding who I am). Our early experiences are to us adults what food is to our body. If we grow up eating loads of vegetables and steering clear of sugar, we will grow up as healthy adults who never had the unfortunate experience of tasting sugar at a young age. In his own way, Zach has been around loads of watches and his taste grew to be eclectic as a consequence of it.
I haven’t turned 40 yet, but I feel that I already repeat myself a lot in saying that the longer we have been around watches, the more grounded we are as human beings (or at least as the type that collects watches). In the aforementioned article about Nacho, I mentioned how shocked I was by how calm and approachable Nacho was, given his position at Fratello. I had the exact same thought talking to Zach. He is by far one of the most chill watch persons I’ve spoken to, I mean his background on our video call was that of a spaceship cockpit! Pretty neat, if you ask me.
So watches have been part of his world for a long time. How did he become the co-founder of Worn & Wound, then?
Creating Worn & Wound
Before we get into Zach’s career before Worn & Wound, let’s take a look at how he found his way with words and writing about watches. As we know, Zach got into watch forums as part of his horological education. Back then, forums were harder to navigate, and finding what he was looking for was akin searching for a needle in a haystack (or more appropriately, looking for a working watch in a box filled with thousands of watch parts). He observed that most people—blogs and magazines, that is—focused on luxury brands. There weren’t many journalists looking into affordable watches, nor were their many independent brands making affordable watches at the time. Now of course, we live in a world where hundreds of brands battle for making the best $500 watch, but Zach came into writing about watches at a very different time.
Back when Hodinkee was a mere blog on Tumblr, Zach and Blake thought it would be cool if a brand could send them a watch to review. That’s basically how he got started, and although it may not have looked like much at the beginning, I’d argue that this was the moment when Worn & Wound was born, even though they hadn’t yet thought of the name. As a journalist, I am definitely loyal to certain writers because they have a certain way with words. As we will see later, Zach chooses which watch to write about based on certain criteria (design being one of them), and I choose which writer to follow based on their uniqueness and skill as wordsmiths.
Zach received formal education in writing through intense courses in high school and college. He didn’t care much for writing until he got into creative writing and realized he had a certain way of stringing words together, just like you may realize you have a certain way of putting ingredients together or a particular way of seeing someone when you go behind a camera lens. Later in his college years he wrote tons of essays, which helped him fine-tune his writing skills. Then, real life knocked at the door, and Zach got into a career that was light years away from horology in some ways and very close to it in other ways.
Before going full-time with Worn & Wound, Zach was the director of packaging and graphics for a firm in New York City. Zach’s job responsibilities required him to find the right words to communicate his ideas to colleagues and to express feedback in ways that would be constructive (i.e., finding a better word for “awful”). His writing experience came in handy as he strove to find the right words to express himself and properly communicate with those he worked with. This dedication to proper wordsmithing is clear when you read any of his articles or watch his new “A Week in Watches” series on YouTube.
While Zach was working as a director, he and Blake started writing about watches with no real intention of making it into the popular and respected magazine that W&W has now become. Their first articles were nevertheless well received, which was encouraging since we know that at the time, there weren’t many online blogs talking about affordable watches. Less than a year later, Zach met James Helms, who was running his own blog. The three decided to join forces and officially become Worn & Wound.
Early on during their partnership, the trio decided that they wanted to get into the strap manufacturing business. They realized that most straps were made by the same factories under different names (same with watch manufacturing). They were inspired by the resurgence of American ruggedness in art and fashion, and they wanted to bring a breath of fresh air to this part of the watch industry. They went to the Garment District in New York City, and after dealing with a few obstacles, they were able to start selling their own straps.
At this time, Zach was still working as director of packaging and graphics, but he was nonetheless dead set on making horology a full-time career. Although Worn & Wound has existed since 2011, Zach only made it into a full-time career in 2014.
A Personal Note About Zach
Since I started writing about watches in 2020, I quickly realized that horology is not immune to the bullshit, snobbism, and elitism that come with all sorts of industries (the first one I worked in was museums). I naively believed that people who are into watches are just chill and passionate human beings, but that’s not always the case. The world of horology also comes with cliques, idiots, and its hierarchical pecking order. I stay clear from all of this as much as I possibly can, so when I come across someone like Zach who is successful and down to earth, I relish the idea of writing about him.
I’ve got a confession to make. Zach is the absolute opposite of the attention-seeking individuals that do exist in the world of horology. I had another unexpectedly positive experience of this sort in July 2021 when I attended the Windup Pop-up Shop in Lower Manhattan. There I saw two guys just hanging out behind the exhibition cases, striking up conversations with those who entered the boutique, whether they were knowledgeable about watches or not. Both of these guys looked just like you (or maybe not) and me.
Zach and Blake Buettner (another great watch journalist) were standing there like a couple of regular fellas. No suit, no tie, no blingy watch protruding from their cuffs. I thought Zach was just an employee facilitating the day’s activities. In a complimentary manner, I would say he did not come across as the boss, and I liked that a lot about him. He looked like many of you out there—just a guy—and the way he looks at watches and which brand he chooses to write about, as we will see below, says a lot about him.
His Journalist Method
As we know, Zach was exposed to all sorts of watches at an early age, and when he started buying watches, he looked at many brands that had watches for under $500. Working in the art field, Zach has a natural affinity for design, and it is the way a watch looks (among other things) that determines whether or not Zach will write about it. As you can imagine (as I certainly can), he receives dozens of emails each day from brands, young and old, big and small, requesting that he write about their watches. He can’t write about every single watch he comes across and he came to realize that he needed to come up with a system.
First, he dismisses any brand that does not send a professional email with photos and background history. He shouldn’t have to work extra to find out what the watches look like and what the brand is about. Luckily, this rarely happens, but if you are a young brand looking to get featured by the best, then avoid making the aforementioned mistake (first impressions really do matter a lot). More importantly, Zach inspects the watch design in great detail and with even greater attention. He stays clear of any watch that looks too much like something else.
Get-rich-quick schemes are easy to spot for someone with Zach’s experience. In the “About” section, brands sometimes use words such as “luxury” or “destroying the industry” that are telltale signs of brands lacking genuine intentions. When looking at a new brand, Zach looks at its history, who’s behind it, and why they got into making watches. The brand must have an honest story to tell and not pretend to be something they are not. In some cases, it may be what the brand stands for and not the watch itself that is the most interesting feature.
Lastly, in good Mainspring fashion, I asked Zach what watches mean to him.
Unsurprisingly now, watches to him constitute the perfect intersection of design, engineering, and fashion. These are the most key aspects of the hobby that got Zach into watches. As an artist, he relishes studying the design details of watches, such as the typeface used for Arabic numerals in which the lines of text on the dial are printed. He is also attracted by the marvels of mechanical movements, so much so that he sometimes buys a watch because of the caliber that powers the timepiece (he recently bought, for instance, the original Porsche Orfina Top Gun with the Lemania 5100 caliber).
The world of horology is in a good place because magazines such as Worn & Wound exist. Not only does Zach put his money where his mouth is by buying and writing about independent brands, but the company as a whole has been supporting independent brands in a way never seen before. From my perspective, it is common for watch magazines to write about Rolex, Omega, and Grand Seiko as W&W does, but the team Zach assembled also does a great job covering other segments of the watch market.
While Switzerland still hosts a yearly watch fair for luxury brands (one that only industry professionals can attend), Worn & Wound organizes multiple fairs open to the public that are geared toward the independent watch market. This shows that Zach and his colleagues do something special and unique for our community. They truly support brands, especially independent ones, and help everyone to become more knowledgeable about our cherished passion that is horology.
Thanks for reading.