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Bruce Shawkey, member since 1988
Congratulations to Bruce! He earned The Gibbs Literary Award at the 2014 National Convention in Milwaukee. Since 1997 Bruce has been contributing the “Wristwatches” column to the Watch & Clock Bulletin. He is the originator of two significant wristwatch periodicals that provide a wealth of information on vintage wristwatches. His “Vintage Wrist Watch Report” provides education and market information about vintage wristwatches for collectors, dealers, and retail jewelers. “Wristwatch News,” the quarterly newsletter of NAWCC Chapter 181, was produced with Bruce at the lead starting in 2002. This newsletter offers many excellent photographs and catalog images of watches along with articles by Bruce and other contributors. In 2010 Bruce released Gruen Wristwatches: A Collectors Guide. This 200-page book was a revised and improved version of Roy Erhardt’s 1993 book. Bruce has provided hundreds of pages about vintage wristwatches to expand knowledge and educate others.
Bruce Shawkey expresses himself by what he chooses to wear. He does not dress in fancy clothes, though, and he does not adorn himself with jewelry. To express his individuality, Shawkey prefers a wristwatch—one from his collection of approximately 160—each piece vivid and unique when clasped around his wrist.
Shawkey, who currently makes his living as a dealer of vintage wristwatches, began collecting as an amateur in 1985. An inexpensive Waltham Premier from the 1940s was first in the collection that would come to define both his vocation and passionate avocation.
“The salesman gave me the ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’ talk,” Shawkey said, describing his experience buying his first watch. “That fueled my passion because I knew it was not only something I could collect but it was something that would last.” The early stages of his collection also coincided with Shawkey joining the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors.
From that moment on, Shawkey’s collection expanded in quantity and style. Slowly, over time, Shawkey’s hobby grew into a part-time business. At first, he sold duplicates and extras from his personal collection, finding this was an excellent method to finance his burgeoning hobby.
In 1991 he became a full-time vintage watch dealer. He used classified advertisements and circulated portfolios of his merchandise to reach his customers. Integrity, fair market prices, and knowledge of his product earned Shawkey the reputation as a premier dealer. Now, taking advantage of the Internet and his longevity in the business, he sells approximately 50 watches a month. Shawkey also performs light cosmetic work on the watches he sells, but he does not consider himself a practitioner of watch repair.
“When it comes to wristwatches, I like the underdog.” Shawkey said. This sentiment applies to both the watches he sells and the ones he collects. He avoids anything high end, a threshold that for him begins at a thousand dollars. Favorite watches for Shawkey are ones that embody the values of beauty and practicality. Preferred brands include Gruen, Hamilton, Tissot, Mido, and Doxa; he hopes the latter three will become more prominent in coming years.
While a watch’s technical qualities may attract Shawkey, he, like any other adorer of beauty, falls for a piece based on the way it makes him feel. He collects what moves him; as a result his collection is eclectic. He does, however, identify the aesthetics of art deco as a personal favorite.
“A watch is obsolete,” Shawkey acknowledged, citing that an iPhone can just as easily relay the time of day. “But a watch is a piece of art that is also functional.” Great beauty can be inscribed or etched into the face, and the deft precision required in its assembly also speaks of artistic craftsmanship. “You can collect a beautiful piece of art, but other than hang on the wall it doesn’t do anything. You can wear a watch wherever you go.”
Shawkey also believes that a watch is a reflection of the wearer—at least in his case it is. “A watch is the only expression of my individuality I wear.” He said. “I choose my watch in the morning based on how I feel. I’m glad there is such a variety.”
Writing about the watches that fascinate him is another one of Shawkey’s passions. He frequently contributes the Wristwatches column to the Watch & Clock Bulletin.
“Most of the writing done about watches is promotional and skewed.” Shawkey said. “There is not a lot of distinction between advertisements and editorials in most publications. I don’t think that is a service to the hobby.” In contrast, his articles are research-based and factual though written in a conversational style meant to convey the context of a watch or company in a comfortable manner.
“Writing is enjoyable, and through research, I learn more about watches.” Shawkey said. “It helps me with the business as I know more and can make better buying decisions.”
Since joining the NAWCC more than 25 years ago, Shawkey has found it to be a valuable resource as both a collector and dealer. Membership expands his knowledge base and connects him to other enthusiasts. “There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction,” he said. “I like to get out there and listen to lectures and talk to people.”
It also is an asset for his business. “The more I learn, the more knowledge I can impart to the customer. I include history on nearly every watch I sell. I wouldn’t have that if it wasn’t for the NAWCC.”
Watches define Shawkey. They are his livelihood, his greatest passion, and a sincere form of personal expression. Ultimately, he knows that his love of watches will always be there. “I have done this longer than I have done anything else,” he said. “The well will never run dry.”.