It’s stimulating, it’s erotic, it’s sometimes indiscreet—and yet we can’t look away.
It’s watch pornography.
What exactly defines watch porn? As Justice Potter Stewart famously said about traditional pornography, “I know it when I see it.” And so do we.
Like pornography, watch porn titillates the senses and fills us with desire. It’s also been known to cause stupefaction and drooling. Watch porn often involves a prohibitively expensive watch but it doesn’t have to be. A good photographer can turn any watch into a porn star.
Peter Chong, a professional watch (porn) photographer who publishes his own blog, agrees: “There is an angle, a lighting condition, or a prop which can highlight the beauty of any watch.” He loves to exaggerate the volume of the movement and the height of various parts within. He says, “I aim to make the viewer feel as if he is immersed within the landscape of the watch movement.” Thus, he refers to his photos as Watchscapes.
You might say a photographer has his own propensities, as we all do when it comes to watch porn. Chong is a movement man. He’s attracted to well-finished watches such as the Lange & Sohne Tourbograph and Parmigiani Pershing Open work Tourbillon. A good subject’s personality is, “always seductive. Alluring. Beckoning and tempting,” he says. “Showing only her curves when the lighting is exactly right.”
Professor Harry Tan, a horolographer and top watch porn purveyor, attempts to stay objective when dealing with his subjects. “As a photographer, I consciously force myself never to see beauty from one particular perception,” he says. “I try to find the characteristic that stands out as intended by the designer and watchmaker.”
He points out two key personality characteristics that attract him. A watch must have a distinctiveness of design and not be overly “complex or fussy.” If a connoisseur can identify the watch across the room, then it passes the test.
Tan isn’t swayed just by beauty. Strength of character counts as well. He says, “There are too many similar designs (or followed designs), but the ones that are classic today are those designs that have an independence that may not be altogether beautiful, but have enough independent distinctiveness.” Examples include the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo, Breguet La Tradition, Patek Nautilus, and the simple IWC Portuguese Jubilee.
Ian Skellern, a self-proclaimed amateur watch porn photographer, mostly shoots watches that are unusual and less classic in design. “Many of my subjects are quite flamboyant, either overtly and/or technically,” he says. “But that’s not necessarily the type of watch I’d wear on a daily basis.”
Sometimes a watch can fall into disrepute with its audience due to a design or mechanical flaw. Even after a brand addresses the concerns, prior problems might linger in the community, causing the watch to be ostracized. In this case, it needs a reputation re-haul.
Posing for the right camera lens can go a long way towards restoring a watch’s standing and status. Chong agrees, explaining that the aim of his photography is “to provoke emotion, so the viewer is absorbed into the beauty of the piece, and hopefully will encourage him/her to seek out the watch with a view to buy.”
Professional photographers have an advantage and can show their subjects in (literally) the best light, but don’t dismiss the skills of an amateur in whipping up some excitement with his or her photos. Ian Skellern, a self-proclaimed amateur photographer, acknowledges that the right photos can significantly help in creating a good reputation. Watch porn in the raw has its advantages and can be extremely influential.
“There are many brands that underestimate the power of the non-professional photos and wrist shots in helping potential buyers make a decision,” he says. “It is often difficult to imagine how a watch might look and feel from highly processed press photos.”
Good watch porn can help bolster a reputation, but obviously can’t work magic. “If the fallen reputation is based on fact, no photograph can turn the truth around,” Tan adds. “So if a watch was reputed to have been delivered with an unfinished movement when it was expected to be a finished and priced as a luxury watch – no photograph can change that truth.”
Being a watch porn photographer might seem like a glamorous occupation hanging out with all the watch luminaries. But it’s not all peaches and cream. A subject can prove problematic.
Tan says, “Watches with convex or curved crystals and highly reflective black dialed watches are the most challenging due to how these reflect light.” Skellern chimes in, recounting that one of his toughest subjects was URWERK’s Zeit Device because it is black with an extremely large, domed crystal.
While it’s not impossible to photograph these temperamental subjects, it can be quite a chore. Chong recalls that the Parmigiani Bugatti Super Sport was difficult because of the curved glazed surfaces. “I had to resort to combining a number of shots, each with the lighting at a different position to make an image which I felt is acceptable,” he recounts. “Even then, I am not totally satisfied at presenting this beautiful piece. I would like another chance to try to shoot this watch again.”
A watch porn photographer relies on his equipment and each tailors gear to suit his needs. Chong uses two camera systems, a medium format digital system by Hasselblad, which can stand almost unlimited print magnification, and also a micro four-thirds system based around the Panasonic GH-2 with the Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens. To illuminate the scene, Chong employs two monoblock lights from Profoto.
Tan, meanwhile, shoots with a 35mm Digital, specifically a Canon EO S5D mark 2 and its now-famed 100mm f2.8 macro lens. The lighting source comes from a very large selection of lighting equipment from portable strobes to studio strobes and constant hot lights. The light modifiers vary even more with many commercial, as well as homemade, modifiers to deal with each challenge.
Skellern takes a more relaxed approach. He tends not to spend too much time on his photos, shooting while he’s out and about rather than in the more controlled environment of a studio. “If my photos turn out well, that’s great,” he says. “But if not, I’ll just try and do better next time.” He has a Canon 5D MKII and usually shoots watches with a Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro lens. If time permits, he brings out Canon TS-E 90mm tilt/shift lens with an extension tube, which gets excellent results.
In a watch porn photographer’s career, there’s always the elusive subject, the one that proves difficult to get in front of the camera lens. For Tan, the high watermark is legendary watchmaker George Daniels, whose watches are hard to locate. “He made so few of them, but they are important watches and I hope one day I will have the opportunity to photograph one of them,” he says.
Chong is lucky enough to get access to most new watches. It’s the vintage examples that prove the hardest to track down. One in particular he’d like to get his lens on is a Patek Philippe Tourbillon, adjusted by Albert Pellaton.
Though you might not own top-notch equipment, don’t despair. It’s not a requirement to become a watch porn photographer. Skellern notes, “I’ve seen absolutely stunning photos taken with small point and shoot cameras that often make me question what I’m doing.”
So what are the ingredients most required in coming up with professional results? All the best watch porn photographers possess an appreciation and understanding of their subjects. Chong sums it up best when he says, “I bring emotion and love to the shoot.”
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