To the camera and photo equipment industry, the rise of smartphone photography has had devastating effects. According to CIPA, a Japan-based industry group with members such as Olympus, Canon and Nikon, worldwide camera shipments dropped nearly 80 percent between 2010 and 2017. The steep decline was mainly driven by a drop-off in shipments of digital cameras with built-in lenses, the type that casual photographers used to rely on prior to the rise of smartphone photography.
Do you struggle to tell a dive watch from a driving watch? A field from a tank watch? Or even a dress watch from more casual models?
The importance and role of watches has changed. In these smartphone days, many don’t bother with a watch at all.
A watch to tell quality rather than time
However, with a little attention, a man’s watch can be an elegant indicator of success and a valuable signal of competence.
Remember, when you studied marketing? The reason that City law firms and accountants have plush offices hung with expensive art is that they are selling a service. You can’t try before you buy, therefore you rely on signals to decide whether you are buying real expertise.
We all do it, all the time. In a study a few years ago, researchers found that volunteers wearing Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste polo shirts were deemed more successful than those wearing unbranded or Slazenger tops:
In summary, the researchers found that volunteers who wore a polo shirt with a Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste logo (i.e. recognised premium brands) were rated as wealthier and of higher status than those wearing no logo or a Slazenger logo (i.e. a recognised non-luxury brand). Similarly, they were more likely to persuade passers-by to partake in surveys, more likely to be offered a job and raised more money when collecting for charity.
The sovereign professional has a unique challenge: how to fit in with the client’s team, while also signalling that you are the premium product the client is paying for.
Some big consulting firms take the view that consultants on-site should be indistinguishable from the client’s own team. That might work if you have a heavyweight consulting logo behind you, I’m not sure. But, the independent, sovereign professional needs some signals subtle enough to avoid alienating temporary team-mates.
The watch as credibility signal
An elegant, understated watch can signal credibility. However, the world of watches becomes esoteric quite quickly. Here are five useful resources:
Dezeen – The fantastic Dezeen.com used to have an online store of design-led watches. Sadly, the store is no more, but they do have a list of the (mostly small) brands that they used to stock.
Grey Fox – the Grey Fox blog (“A mature search for style.”) has regular features on watches for men.
Omologato – “The world of motorsport inspired timepieces”. This one’s a bit different. I came across the brand a few months ago and was just struck by the owner’s passion both for motorsport and for watch design.
For many sovereign professionals, your desk and your office will be where you do your greatest work. But, more than that, it’s your anchor, your lair and your retreat.
Invest the time to find the best desk for you, and to make your office the best possible environment in which to create your greatest work.
It may not be what you imagined. You need to balance form with function. I love the look of traditional, pedestal desks, but I have long legs and I hate the constriction of tucking them out of the way. In the end, leg space and a large, flat surface won out.
The desk should be the central piece of your office, both at home or external. It is there that you will write, read and – in a word – work. I like the mixture of old and new, of antique and contemporary: my desk is an English oak measuring 33 x 58 inches, over a hundred years old, that I bought at a local antique furniture shop.
If you’re a writer, you have to love proper pens and ink. It’s in the rules. Even if most of your time, and all of your product, is typed. And, these days, even my always-carry-a-notebook is more often OneNote-on-an-iPhone.
But, all of the good stuff, all of the origins, all of the creativity begins on paper. In ink. From a pen.
After years of trial and error, drawers full of pens and a cupboard of opened and abandoned ink bottles, I’ve settled on these.
Great ink is a revelation. Some inks are thin, watery and scratchy. Others are as smooth and soundless as thought.
Their standard range comes in 30 different colours. I’ve settled on three:
Eclat de Saphir (sapphire shard) for writing
Lierre Sauvage (wild ivy) for editing and annotating
Rouge Bourgogne (burgundy red) for oops-I-need-to-edit-my-edits
There is just one hitch. Herbin’s traditional bottles, as above are impossible to use, short and squat, with a long, narrow neck and a pointless “pen-rest”. The reason the bottles of blue and green are empty in the picture is because I decant them into more usable ink bottle. That said, it’s a small inconvenience for a great writing experience.
I have some every expensive fountain pens, both new and vintage, but for everyday, work-horse use, nothing beats the Lamy AL-Star.
The design is stylish, contemporary and ergonomic. They are simply great pens with user-friendly features like a window on the ink-reservoir, easy-to-change nibs and a comfortable, contoured grip.
They are remarkably cheap, too, for such a reliable and well-built pen, around £23 for the AL-Star and less than £20 for the Safari (which is the same design, but in plastic rather than aluminium).
Pens and ink. Everyday tools that deserve a little attention.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.
I needed a sleeve to provide a little extra padding for my laptop and the Teffa Bag-in-Bag from Lihit Lab is ideal. It’s constructed in tough black nylon (or orange or lime-green, if you prefer) and has a handy array of pockets on the front.
The internal dimensions are a generous A4 size (33.5 x 25 cm to the edge of the lining and about 40.5 cm across the diagonal) which easily holds my 13″ laptop. The pockets were a bonus for me but make the bag versatile enough that I’ve occasionally used it on its own as a portfolio.
And, let’s not get overly-anoraky. It cost just £10 (since increased to £11.53), including free postage from Japan. I’d have paid twice as much or maybe more to get the right solution.
Choosing the perfect bag for work is a no easy task. Unless you want to manage a fleet of bags and cases for every occasion, you need to find that elusive bag for all seasons.
Personally, I’d relied for much too long on the sheer convenience of my Timberland back-pack. It was well-padded, had pockets and places for just about everything and seemed to be indestructible. On top of that, after a few years’ constant use, it had developed its own little ecosystem of “essential stuff”: memory sticks, iPhone cables, hotel pens, painkillers, business cards, you name it.
But, it didn’t really support a professional image. It worked in the more casual, everyday setting of my mostly tech-industry clients, but in a boardroom, suit-wearing scenario, it just didn’t cut it.
I wanted a good quality, last-for-ever leather case that would develop its own patina with age. However, a highly-burnished Italian leather attache case would be overkill for less formal environments.
Also, I found that I really, really, really hated fake buckles. What is the point of putting a pointless buckle on the front and hiding a spring-clip behind it? If you don’t believe in buckles, at least have the courage of your convictions. It transpired that finding real, working buckles is a challenge. And, along the way, I learned a lot about the grading of leather and the weasel words sellers use to distract.
It’s constructed in thick, top-grain leather with sturdy, real, working buckles. It’s spacious with a good mix of versatile spaces and pockets for the vital small stuff.
Now, after 10 months’ use, it’s settled into a working routine. The front right pocket is home to my Moleskine and Lamy fountain pen, while the inside holds all the usual project papers,spare pens, iPads, recorders, water bottles and so on.
My 13″ laptop felt a bit loose inside, but I solved that with one of these fantastic sleeves from Lihit Lab, which adds a bit of extra padding, along with extra pockets.
My verdict: this is a great case to straddle from boardroom to skunk-works, with plenty of stop-offs for coffee along the way. It’s sturdy and versatile, it works well well with suit or jeans, and collects admiring comments as a bonus.
Thoughts on staying sane as an independent professional in a world of chaos and entitlement.