Guest article by Tobi L Sigona, Avi & Co.
A Man and His Watch tells the stories of coveted watches from around the world. Author Matt Hranek conducts interviews about historic and never-before-told watch stories, ranging from Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and Omega Moonwatches to Sylvester Stallone’s Rolex Submariner and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s gold Tiffany watch. It’s a passion project that the author describes as more storybook than watch book. Next to writing, Matt is also a photographer, food and drink enthusiast, husband, father, an editor, and, of course, an avid watch collector.
“I have my father’s watch,” the book begins. Matt’s father passed away when he was just eighteen years old. “It’s a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust, stainless steel with a black dial. I remember the day my father came home with it on his wrist. He was so proud, and I was so happy for him, because I knew the watch was more than just a new timepiece; that Rolex marked his first successful year in business for himself.”
As someone who has spent a lot of time on 47th Street thanks to his obsession with watches, it’s almost serendipitous that our paths have crossed. As I sat down to chat with Matt (me in New York and him in Greece sipping a glass of white wine), he recounts his father’s influence on his ideas of fashion, watches, and the finer things in life. “I remember if there was somebody that my dad really admired, or their style, he would say, ‘Look at that! That suit is made by such and such, and he’s wearing those shoes, and that watch is an “X”.’ It was always part of the style aesthetic breakdown, like what kind of watch someone was wearing, so I always paid attention to that.” Being a kid of the 80s, Matt grew up with a fascination for Rolex and Pulsar watches due to his father, and that interest in observing life’s intricacies has remained to this day.
Before writing his heartfelt book filled with beautifully photographed timepieces, Mr. Hranek started out in the photography world as an assistant in New York City. A lot of men who reach a successful life event aspire to invest in their first watch as a symbol of status and accomplishment. That moment for Matt was in 1997, when he began his photography career. He didn’t know what to look out for in the vintage market; only that he really wanted to celebrate with a Rolex Submariner like James Bond, “I was a big James Bond fan, so I had to own a Submariner.” He finally decided on a 5513 Rolex Submariner for only $1,700 on eBay. “This watch has gone super brown and tropical since I’ve owned it,” he laughs. “Out of the dozen watches that I have, I’m never getting rid of my dad’s Datejust, and I’m never getting rid of that Submariner.”
“Cheers to all the people working on their dreams,
not working ‘for’ the weekend.” -James Bond
While many men enjoy watches to mark specific occasions, show status or style, and most importantly to tell the time, Matt enjoys watches for the stories they tell, the conversations they start, and simply because he likes them. “I was always buying things that I thought were cool or had a reference point that I liked. Unfortunately, I should have been buying for investment back then. I should have just bought 100 Submariners. But I always wanted to have things in my life that I really loved, not just that I was holding onto.” I think someone who collects watches for the pure love of it is a refreshing take on watch collecting.
Matt has never bought watches or anything luxurious as an investment, but rather for its romantic story and sheer love for it. I asked whether this was the mentality that led him to his career. “Yeah, I mean it sounds really cliché, if not completely sappy,” he says reluctantly. “I do think that if you really follow these goals that are about what you deeply care for, chances are you’ll find the thing you want to run into – the people that help catapult you through that part of your career. And hopefully you find success, or at least you’re happy.”
After being involved in the photography world, the magazine world came knocking on the soon-to-be author’s door. He got a job covering the watch market as an editor at Condé Nast, a global media company that’s home to iconic brands to entertain and empower. “It was kind of accidental. My wife was the creative director at Condé Nast Traveler, and my friend was the editor-in-chief. They needed somebody to handle the watch market, and they knew I was reasonably obsessed.” Some of his articles were about watches and travel, including the watch-of-the-week feature and where he was wearing said watch. Even in his shorter pieces, his writing is clear and concise, and his passion radiates off the screen.
“As I started covering the watch market editorially, I was coming back with all of these great stories of people that I had met, brands that I engaged with, and my wife was like, ‘This is the book that Artisan [Books Publishing Company] has been asking you to write!’” And she was correct – it was the perfect idea for a men’s lifestyle book; though, Artisan didn’t feel that way… at first.
“Watches tell the world a bit about who you are,
and they can, if you’re lucky, connect you to the
people in your life who matter most.” – Matt Hranek, A Man and His Watch
When Matt approached them about doing a watch book, the publishing company immediately said no. However, when Matt made it clear that it would be more storybook than watch book, their ears perked up. He wanted the story to be about men and the watches in their lives. It would be an array of watches from million-dollar Richard Milles all the way down to a $23 Casio. As someone with an extensive background in photography, he even knew exactly how he wanted the watches photographed. Eventually, the publishing company said yes.
The book opens with Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, which is considered one of the most iconic watches of all time. One of the most magical experiences for the watch buff was when Paul’s daughter loaned him the Daytona to photograph. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out more about his captivating encounter with the memorable timepiece. However, what I will note about the book is just how generous everyone was in lending a story or two to the project. “From Cartier, getting into their archives was so insane, to meeting people like Mario Andretti who I admired so much with car racing. I think that Sylvester Stallone put his gold Submariner in a FedEx box and sent it to the studio through a casual introduction, and when that watch showed up, I was like – wait, he just put it in a box?” I’ve heard nice things about the actor, but that’s next-level legendary! “I was so anxious about that so… just the complete generosity and openness that so many people showed was incredible.”
Not only has Matt written a fan favorite book about watches, but he also published A Man and His Car in the same vein as A Man and His Watch, and two cocktail books titled The Martini and The Negroni, which include everything we need to know about the iconic cocktails. “I think they’re all passion points,” he says insightfully when I ask how his published works represent him. “They all come from a very personal place. And I think that is often very helpful in the face of critique. I’m not an expert. I’m just someone who cares deeply about the topic.” I’m about halfway through talking with Matt, and I’m already convinced that I want a watch!
Mr. Hranek’s next quest drove him back to the magazine world. He wanted an umbrella magazine filled with all the subjects he most cared about: style, cars, food, watches, and travel. It was a dream he’d had as far back as he could remember. And thus, WM Brown Magazine, a boutique menswear and lifestyle magazine, was born. When it comes to fashion, Matt describes himself as a kid who grew up east coast preppy, a sort of smart-casual style. He styles his watches with lacrosse and polo shirts, khakis, boat shoes, and Italian Bespoke suits. “The classics for me have more longevity,” he says positively. Spoken like a true watch collector! “I mean, watches are part of my dressing, for sure. Ralph Lauren talks about that in the book as well, like how you choose a watch and the way you choose what you want to wear, and I normally would do that.”
At the end of the day, whether Matt is writing a catchy introduction or sipping a Negroni, he looks back on his career thus far with three rewarding highlights: firstly, working with big photographers as a young assistant allowed him to travel and be surrounded by incredible creatives. Secondly, his expanding career in the photography world enabled him to meet his wife and best friends. And thirdly, “I think now with the books and the magazine it’s this next elevated level where I’m at in my life, and I’m really happy. I’m doing stuff that I love, and I’m working with people that I care about who are super talented.” All in all, it’s about the people Matt has met along the way.
“It’s sort of like when you fall in love with somebody.
Your heart beats faster. Your eyes dilate.” – Matt Hranek
And if you still have any doubt in your mind about Matt’s fascination with watches, this is the advice he gives to any new watch collector looking to shop for a luxury timepiece for the first time. “Well, I think it’s two things,” he says passionately, taking a quick sip of his wine. “First of all, let’s be realistic. You should come in with a budget. It’s really like buying a car. I would love to be able to go spend way more money than I do, but you have to be realistic about what’s going to be in your wheelhouse of money, what’s not going to put you in debt, what are you not going to feel guilty about, what is not going to take away from your children’s education.” (Luxury watches do not trump children’s education – got it!) “And then, it’s sort of like when you fall in love with somebody. Your heart beats faster. Your eyes dilate. You should think about what that passion point for you is in terms of brand.”
Matt’s calm personality and passionate sense of style makes speaking with him an absolute pleasure. Be sure to check out A Man and His Watch and follow him on Instagram @wmbrownproject to keep up-to-date on his latest cookbook, due for release in 2023!