We first crossed paths with the idea of Wabi Sabi in the early days of our military watch collecting. Unsurprisingly, vintage military tool watches are rarely (if ever) in flawless condition. Evidence of a life lived usefully are worn openly. To collect these watches one must learn to love and appreciate the narrative, known or lost to time, stored within those marks, scuffs, and aging. Otherwise, you are likely on the other extreme and a NOS (New Old Stock) collector. Almost without exception vintage collectors seem to fall into these two camps; NOS collectors who value the pristine, museum showpiece representing what would have initially left the factory, and the Wabi collector who sees beauty in the discoloration, scars, and visible usefulness it provided. At Mk II we are the Wabi type.
As a result of the Iemoto System in Japan an unfiltered understanding of the concept of Wabi Sabi is for all extents and purposes unobtainable. Our understanding is based on, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren and our own time as collectors of military timepieces. In short, the idea of Wabi Sabi is the acceptance and appreciation that everything exists impermanently. As such, you see the value in something that is imperfectly perfect. Historically tied to the Japanese tea ceremony, neither Juniper nor Koren specifically links the concept to watches in their works. We believe that the first to do so was William Gibson, the famed science fiction writer and also a military watch collector.
Western Culture seems to struggle with impermanence; valuing imperviousness and seeking that which will appear unaffected by time, forever new, indestructible. One sees this in the application of surface hardening techniques, ceramics, and liquid metal in watchmaking even though all of these solutions are imperfect or vulnerable in their own way. Pursuing this ideal requires not only constant effort, but ignores the reality of all things being truly temporary. Applied in the extreme, you’re left being owned by your things, versus owning them. Not ideal in our estimation.
At Mk II, we appreciate Wabi Sabi personally and it’s core to our ethos and design process. It drives component selection, finishing choices, and the selection of production methods. Our Homage article goes into more depth on this, but in short we build our watches to be an evolution of the inspiring pieces and to be used in the spirit of those originals. When used as tool watches are intended they age, patina occurs, and Wabi Sabi is developed. We want our watches to be ready for Wabi, ready to age, and ultimately become your watch and an integral part of your story. This is why we’ve avoided using materials such as ceramic and reluctantly embrace sapphire glass. Quality and design are our focus. Clean and simple. Done properly these designs look as relevant today as in 10, 20, or 50 years with graceful aging to match. To us, this perspective is true to real life, and allows for joy in ownership versus the stress of preservation of the pristine.
Maybe in the face of today’s day and age, with changes in methods and components technology, a watch built to tell the story of your experiences and adventures seems quaint or unnecessary. But, in our opinion, just because the options change, doesn’t mean the rules do and only experience can see past the noise to clearly see the long view. Ask yourself a question….”Would your grandfather’s or uncle’s watch be worth more to you if he had never worn it? or would it mean more to you knowing how it was worn?”
Quality for Mk II is to strive for perfection, but being Wabi ready. To be ready to put up a good fight, but age well as aging is inevitable. Ultimately we figure by delivering you a product we’ve strived to perfect is like handing you off a blank canvas. It will perform and serve you well, and in doing so you’ll have made it your own and will become treasured. A lofty goal for sure, but it’s what we strive for.