Watches for Your Ears

Watch lovers are an intensely visual bunch: Consider the more than 2.1 million images tagged #wristshot on Instagram.

But the rising popularity of horology podcasts also indicates a growing appetite for informed yet casual conversation about timepieces — a hunger made all the sharper by Covid-19.

“Engagement is up across all our channels because a lot of people are at home right now,” said Kaz Mirza, one half of the “Two Broke Watch Snobs” podcast. “But in general, watch podcasts are flourishing for two reasons: Technology is no longer an impediment. And the demand is out there.”

That explains why, over the past four years, the number of podcasts dedicated to some aspect of watchmaking has grown at least fivefold. Some, like the Fratello Magazine podcast based in the Netherlands, focus on industry-related news and events. Others, like “Tenn & Two,” speak from a collector perspective.

Consistent across all of them — including the six podcasts profiled below — is an unapologetic devotion to horological minutiae.

Since its debut in July 2018, this New York City-based weekly podcast from the online watch resource Hodinkee has racked up more than 2.5 million downloads. That makes it the category’s undisputed heavyweight, perhaps owing to its emphasis on personalities over timepieces.

In addition to the obvious watch industry talking heads, “Hodinkee Radio” has welcomed actors like James Marsden (“X-Men,” “Westworld”) and Aldis Hodge (“Hidden Figures”); the fashion insider Scott Schuman, a.k.a. the Sartorialist; and Om Malik, the journalist, photographer and venture capitalist, among dozens of others.

“It’s a watch podcast, not a podcast about watches,” said Greyson Korhonen, the series producer. “It’s a podcast about people.”

Hosted by Stephen Pulvirent, Hodinkee’s managing editor and director of operations, the show maintained an exclusively guest-driven format until last summer.

Each episode now typically consists of three segments that include discussions such as which budget-friendly watches would qualify for a “fantasy draft”; scripted monologues by the Hodinkee editor in chief Jack Forster on, say, the enduring appeal of the Omega Speedmaster; and easygoing, current event-focused chitchat among the site’s editors.

Of all the watch podcasts, “Hodinkee Radio” is the least “inside baseball” — by design.

“The episodes we’re most happy with are the ones where the compelling nature of the guest speaks to everybody, and watches are secondary,” Mr. Korhonen said.

When James Stacey and Jason Heaton teamed up in 2016 to create “The Grey NATO,” their goal was “a loose discussion of travel, diving, driving, gear and most certainly watches,” according to the show’s introduction.

Over 104 episodes, Mr. Stacey of Toronto and Mr. Heaton of Minneapolis have built a global following by offering specific tips on watches and adventure travel gear — including the titular NATO watch straps — as well as answers to more existential questions about watch collecting.(“Whether it’s watches or boots, how do you stay content with what you have?” asked one listener from Maine in the podcast’s 101st episode. Part of Mr. Heaton’s reply: “Switch focus, start something new.”)

During the coronavirus pandemic, the show, which joined the Hodinkee podcast stable in 2018 and recently logged its 1.2 millionth download as a twice a month feature, has switched to a weekly schedule to offer some horological distraction for listeners sheltering in place.

“We’re calling these ‘The Isolation Tapes,’ and we plan to stick to topics that will help you make you make the most of this time of social distancing,” Mr. Stacey said at the opening of episode 103. “We intend to mostly ignore the virus.”

This Brooklyn-based podcast — from the same people who run, an online site focused on watches in the $2,000-or-less range — always begins with a wrist check.

“It replicates what watch nerds do in real life,” said Blake Malin, the site’s creative director and co-founder. “The first thing you’ll ask is, What do you have on your wrist?”

The weekly podcast began in March 2017, after Mr. Malin and Zach Weiss, the site’s executive editor and co-founder, realized that readers would find value in listening to their office banter. “The idea was to capture the more casual conversations, the more informal side of what we do,” Mr. Weiss said.

The segments range from mailbag sessions, where the hosts answer readers’ questions, to guest interviews with industry figures like Tim Stracke, co-chief executive of the Chrono24 site for pre-owned watches, and Joe Kirk, national training manager for Grand Seiko Corporation of America. (“Seiko and Grand Seiko are brands people go crazy for,” Mr. Malin said.) The talk, like the content of the website, centers on value-priced watches.

With downloads recently surpassing one million, the “Worn & Wound” podcast appears to have found its footing. “The watch world has definitely come around to the concept of podcasting and the value it has,” Mr. Malin said. “It reminds me of when we first went to Baselworld seven years ago: ‘You’re with a blog? What’s a blog?”

A year ago, Katarina Shoulders and Katlen Schmidt were Instagram acquaintances living parallel lives in Nashville. Now they are co-hosts of this nine-month-old weekly podcast.

Ms. Shoulders, a physical therapist known as Kat, discovered her love of watches in 2017, when she began researching timepieces to replace her broken Fitbit, while Ms. Schmidt dipped her toes in the watch world eight years ago, when she began working for a local watch retailer.

“For a long time, it was just a job,” Ms. Schmidt said. “Then it became an addiction.”

The women met at a Nashville Watch Club meeting last June, and bonded when they realized they had grown up only two blocks away from each other and attended the same middle school in Antioch, a Nashville suburb, in the late 1990s.

“We met for coffee and I told her my evil plan to start a podcast,” Ms. Shoulders recalled. “She was up for it.”

Their first episode, on July 30, kicked off with a wrist check: a Rolex Explorer II with a white dial for Ms. Shoulders, and a steel Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean for Ms. Schmidt. Apparent from the get-go was what Ms. Shoulders described as “the level of nerdery between us.”

Although they are serious watch lovers, the women make clear that they do not take themselves too seriously. “At the end of the day, you can tell we’re two friends who’ve been hanging out for six hours and happened to record an hour of it,” Ms. Schmidt said.

Over the course of the 60 episodes since the debut of “Tenn & Two,” the women have also fostered a strong, if virtual, friendship with the Glasgow-based hosts of the “Scottish Watches” podcast, who routinely mention “the two Kats” on their own show. (Ms. Schmidt and Rikki Daman, one of the Scottish hosts, “met” in a Facebook group.) Now, “they’re like our brothers,” Ms. Shoulders said.

As for being women in the traditionally male-dominated field of watch collecting, the “Tenn & Two” hosts do not see themselves as any different from most enthusiasts. “We’re not really talking about ladies’ watches at the end of the day,” Ms. Schmidt said, “because, let’s face it — there’s not a lot worth talking about.”

Mr. Daman, a self-employed media, marketing and design consultant in Glasgow, took to watch collecting rather suddenly. In January 2017, he went shopping for what he called a “proper watch” because he wanted to add “another ‘tick’ on the checklist of life achievements,” Mr. Daman wrote in an email.

He bought a 1999 Rolex GMT Master. Within three months, Mr. Daman had purchased two more luxury watches and was on his way to Baselworld, the watch industry’s largest trade fair.

“I did some research and got caught up with a couple web forums where all these enthusiasts were talking about a heartbeat, hundreds of years of history, artisanship,” Mr. Daman said. “I found this appreciation I never realized I had before.”

In September 2018, Mr. Daman attended a watch event at a Glasgow retailer; a local resident named Rick was presiding over the gathering. The two hit it off instantly. (Rick declined to share his surname, a decision that, Mr. Daman said, stems from an online shaming episode in the past.)

“We are chalk and cheese,” Mr. Daman said. “Rick has a family business, a wife, two children; he’s in the church band. I D.J.; I’ve got a motorcycle. I’m young, free and single. We sat down and talked, and it was yin and yang. I said, ‘We should do a podcast.’”

They recorded their first episode in December that year, in preparation for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie trade show in Geneva, and have been going full tilt ever since, drawing 15,000 to 20,000 listeners per week. The content ranges from the hosts riffing on the latest watch news, guest interviews (often featuring industry personalities like Tim Mosso of the online sale site WatchBox) and product reviews infused with a bit of trash-talking.

“If we didn’t like a watch that we got in for a review, we would share our honest opinion,” Mr. Daman said.

If his raw remarks threaten to “overstep the boundaries of decency and taste,” Mr. Daman said he occasionally runs them past Ms. Shoulders and Ms. Schmidt of the “Tenn & Two” team before going live. So close is their friendship that the four podcasters are planning a real-life meet-up in early 2021.

“As long as things perk up, Kat and Katlen will be coming to Scotland for a week,” Mr. Daman said, adding that they planned visits to Edinburgh Castle and the Highlands, “the usual touristy stuff, and we’ll spend a day in Geneva.”

When Mr. Mirza of Orlando, Fla., and Michael Penate of Seattle began their podcast in September 2016, theirs was one of the few shows pitched to watch enthusiasts. Now, “Two Broke Watch Snobs” averages 35,000 plays per weekly episode.

The hosts met in the Miami area in 2014, when Mr. Mirza hired Mr. Penate for a job in digital marketing. He knew Mr. Penate was into watches, and quickly realized that they “were on the same page personality-wise and taste-wise,” Mr. Mirza said.

In short, the hosts share a penchant for lowbrow, self-deprecating humor and profanity-laced rants about the watches they love or think would waste your money. “The show is supposed to feel like you and your friends are at a bar after work and busting each other’s chops,” Mr. Mirza said.

So the men have confronted everything from fashion watches (“Why All the Hate?”) to social media (“Horology Instagram Trends That Need to Die”). Mr. Mirza said the show appealed to a wide range of watch lovers, though a vast majority of its fans are men.

“Our listeners are either people brand-new to watch collecting and have a lot of watch questions,” he said, “or they’re people who’ve been into watches longer than I’m alive — I’m 33 years old — but they are really receptive to watch podcasts that don’t pull any punches.”

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