Republishing Brian Ehrmantraut's "Descent Into Hell", 25 Years Later


When I started getting into watches, and realized the passion was turning into an obsession, I wanted to learn more. Not just to manage my own tendencies, but also out of deep curiosity for the phenomenon: what is it about watches that captures so much of our minds?


As I started searching for readings about watch addiction, I stumbled upon a discussion that mentioned what was described as a perfect introspection on the matter: "My Descent Into Hell - The Mind of a Watch Addict", signed under the pseudonym Ludwig, on a site called Ninanet. The post itself had originally been published on TimeZone, although I have never been able to find it on the forum.


The text is simply brilliant: deep watch madness with perfect clarity of mind and hilarious self-deprecation. To date, I would say it's my favorite ever piece of watch writing. When I become friends with a collector, or when a friend gets into the hobby, it's the first link I share. And that's the thing about it: published about 25 years ago (the author was not sure if originally 1998 or 1999), and only available on a site that seems in maintenance mode since 2007, it's probably not reaching the audience it deserves.


That's when the idea of a "reedition" came to mind. Of course, Made in Bienne is no Hodinkee or Fratello, but we have our little community, and it includes people from the watch world who themselves have a much broader audience. The idea was to republish the text, word per word, in a format that makes it easy to read and share. Sounds simple but, of course, to do it right, one thing was needed: the green light from the original author...


Following the contact email on the Ninanet post, I was able to reach the man behind the words: Brian Ehrmantraut. His answer to my request was gracious, and positive. I have to say I was a bit star-struck. I can't think of many people who wrote something I have read over and over, probably over a dozen times. He was also kind enough to tell me about his life since the publication.


Brian Ehrmantraut retired from Silicon Valley in 1999 to move to a remote island. There, he took up public service and devoted his time to raising and educating his infant daughter. He has since worked in affordable housing, environmental protection, early childhood education, community planning, and spent the past 10 years as a structural firefighter/technical rescue specialist. For the past 20 years, he has also been producing his own wine. Oh, and his then infant daughter is now completing her PhD at Cambridge University! Time flies...


Without further ado, let's join Mr Ehrmantraut in his past descent...


My Descent Into Hell - The Mind of a Watch Addict

In a few short years, I have been transformed by unspeakable, unknowable, eldritch forces from a carefree, happy fellow with not a single functioning watch to his name into a full-blown WIS, with a house awash in watch winders, watch catalogs, empty watch boxes, and Way Too Many Watches. I find myself staying up 'till all hours chatting with fellow addicts world-wide. I track the spot price of the Lange One on all major world markets, and know the well-guarded names of those daemons who sell them, for a price, to helpless hungering souls. After much study of forbidden and musty tomes, I have become fluent in obscure and forgotten currency conversions, the mysteries of finding reliable shipping firms, and, worst of all, the maddening, horrifying lore of customs duties. The sickness has a strong hold upon me.


I record the story of my voyage to destruction in these pages, in the hope that some of you may be able to escape the fate which now so clearly awaits me, lurking hideously outside my threshold. My hours are numbered, and I fear that there is no hope of salvation for me, but many of you reading this still have a chance, if only you heed my warnings...


I must now put down my pen and go to my doom - some gibbering thing is scratching for me at the door. It is hidden in the guise of a UPS delivery man, but I Know Its True Form!


The Horror...


What Was I Thinking?


Here's what was going through my mind when I made each purchase. This is presented in chronological order, and I hope that it will help you clearly identify the evil forces that will drag you down the path to WISdom...

  • Swiss Army titanium quartz - Hmmm, I think I could sure use a watch. This one looks solid. But it's so expensive. Heck, you only live once, and you can get a 10% discount if you buy today...

  • Rolex Submariner - Hey, you know that James Bond watch you've wanted since you were a kid? You could just walk down to the store down the street and buy it now... You know you wanna... Wow - this must be the best, most expensive watch on the planet. Still, you deserve it. And with some hard bargaining, you can get 10% off. Go for it.

  • Minerva Avus II/Aviator - Looking for technical info on the prized new Rolex, and discovered TimeZone. Big Mistake. Decided to visit a high-end watch dealer, though anyone who'd pay that much for a watch must clearly be insane... Still, can't hurt to look - what's the worst that could happen? Hey, look at all the nifty watches... Hey - this one looks insanely cool, was hand-made by wee talented elves in the forests of Switzerland, and there were only a small handful ever created. (Hmmm - are you beginning to suspect that you got swindled on the Rolex? Is it really just a $3k Swatch? Oh well, live and learn.) Let's get the Minerva - it's your birthday. Now you'll have two nice watches, more than enough for any possible need...

  • Chronoswiss Opus, SS - Mmmm - doughnuts! Must have skeleton watch. Crown and bezel look great. Can't really tell the time with it, but it looks so good, who cares. Besides, you can use it to time boring meetings.

  • JlC Master Reserve de Marche, SS, silver dial - You need an elegant dress-casual watch that isn't as yuppie-scum and identifiable as the Rolex, and that fits nicely under long-sleeved shirts. Besides, this has an awesome movement, and a useful complication . This'll be the last high-end complicated watch you ever need to buy, that's for sure...

  • Ulysse Nardin Marine Chrono 1846, Rose Gold, Limited Edition - Look at the incredible enamel dial! And it has a complication to boot. And a gold case - surely you need at least one gold watch, in case you get around to buying a suit someday...

  • JlC Master Geographique, SS, silver dial - Since you're constantly calling people around the world to talk about watches, wouldn't it be handy to have a world-time watch, instead of this piece of paper taped above the phone? Plus, it looks so cool.

  • JlC Lyre #1 - You know, you don't have anything with the month and day on it. And a moonphase to boot. And the dial's enamel. And the price is great. Hmmm - it's really small, though. Get it for the wife - she'll love it!

  • Ulysse Nardin Perpetual Ludwig, Rose Gold - You know you wanna... Besides, this way you'll never have to buy any more watches, as what could top this? Yup - buying this watch will actually save you money in the long run - no more watches for you... (And indeed, this became my daily wearing watch, and I bought no other pieces, until it had to go to Switzerland for service, and I was left to fend for myself. You can guess what quickly happened...)

  • IWC GST auto chronograph, titanium - Well, except for this one. Going on a three week long, nasty road rally, need a chrono, and don't want to trash the Minerva.

  • Swatch Irony auto - World's cheapest skeleton watch. And it's the best deal on a watch you're going to find anywhere here in Caeser's Forum... It'll be an excellent souvenir of the road rally.

  • Gerrard Perregaux 250 TdF Ferrari - Well, the IWC is holding up great on the road rally, but wouldn't it be nice to have something a bit more elegant? And such a discount! Besides, it'll make an excellent souvenir of the road rally...

  • Ulysse Nardin Marine Chrono 1846, blue dial, SS, bracelet - Well, you like your gold UN 1846 a lot, but this one's in some ways better - it's steel, and on a bracelet, so you can wear it all the time, and you can use it to replace the Rolex in the "sports watch" niche. A dive watch with roman numerals has a certain retro appeal, too. And besides, it'll make an excellent souvenir of the road rally... (Hmmm - I'm going to have to come up with a more creative line for the wife when I get home).

  • JlC Lyre #2 - Your wife won't let you ever wear her Lyre. And here's one just like it, for sale on the TZ Sales Corner. What a welcome surprise this will be for her when you return from the road rally... (Note to self - take a bigger car on the rally next year - the trunk's too crowded with all these darn watch boxes...)

  • Chronoswiss Delphis, SS - Lust at first sight. The dial and case bring tears to the eye. Buy it off of RP's wrist. Wait - he won't take it off! Maybe Tony can distract him for a minute...

  • Minerva Pythagore, Aviator dial - Well, you like the IWC Mark XII, but let's get the Minerva instead. Handwound watches are very cool. This is sort of a simplified version of your Avus II, and you like military-styled watches. With this, why would you need a Mark XII anyway?

  • IWC Mark XII, SS, strap - Oh well, face it, might as well get the Mark XII too - besides, you don't have an automatic military-style watch, so it won't be a duplication of the Pythagore...

  • Fortis Pilot's 24-hour - The 24 hour dial is just the thing to mess with people's minds at work. Plus, it's a nice, cheap, military style watch, and it's big. And the price is excellent. (I later sold this watch)

  • Fortis Pilot's Auto, cockpit dial - It's big, and even cheaper. (I later sold this watch)

  • Ikepod Seaslug - You've got a pool party this afternoon to celebrate the successful completion of a 1.5 year long project. You need something distinctive to be wearing when you get thrown into the pool - the Ludwig just won't do... And your watch pusher has been trying to con you into buying this hideous orange thing for months. Good price, too. Though you're certain that if you'd held out another month, he would have paid you even more to take it off his premises... What the heck, you can also wear it to the upcoming TZ dinner, as long as you won't sit too close to Walt... (Walt slapped me silly)

  • Omega Speedmaster, '60s vintage - The astronauts wore them to the moon! The moon's full today! Besides, it's hand-wound, and feels great to wind.

  • Tutima Flieger/GMT - Hey look, another military-style watch - and GMT too!

  • Seiko military auto - Still another military watch - and cheap.

  • Minerva Pythagore, rose dial - Your wife won't ever let you wear your Pythagore - why don't you buy this one for her?

  • Panerai Luminor Marina, lefty - Wow. Must have. You'll wear this everyday! (And indeed, this became, and still is, one of my favourite everyday watches.)

  • Eberhard Traversetolo Vitre - The Panerai is cool, and this has essentially the same movement, but you can see it. It's huge, but somewhat flat, so you can use it as a stealth huge watch. Time to start a huge watch collection anyway.

  • Minerva 140 Anniversary - It's huge. You'll kick yourself later if you don't get it. Besides, you can use it like a poor man's Portugueser. It'll take you years to find a Portugueser, if ever, so go for it.

  • Sinn EZM -1 - Simple, easy to read and use, indestructible. And anti-magnetic, so you can use it in the lab. Perfect. Or so an evil TZ friend assures you... (Turns out he was completely right.)

  • IWC Jubilee Portugueser, rose gold - Is that what you think it is, sitting back there in that tray of watches? This is your lucky day...

  • Dubey & Schaldenbrand Aerodyne Duo, SS - Need a better GMT watch for business travel, as the JlC doesn't really work well for this, and the Tutima and Ikepod just aren't quite appropriate for every customer visit...

  • IWC Mark XII Lady, SS, bracelet - The wife keeps stealing the MarkXII, this'll fix that... (And it did - she wears it everyday, and hasn't swiped anything since.)

  • Hamilton Yankee - What an excellent Christmas present from your daughter!

  • Dubey & Schaldenbrand Venus, SS - The dial, the movement - wow! Must have. A jolt to the pleasure centers of the brain.

  • Alain Silberstein Bolido, SS - If you ever wake up and find yourself hungover in Tijuana, with odd tattoos in personal places, in clothing not your own, and there's a donkey in the bed with you, just tell yourself - it could be worse... (I love this watch, but they made me sit at the kid's table at the TZ lunch.)

  • JLC Master Perpetual, Rose Gold - You've achieved a major personal milestone that you've been working towards for 10 years. And, well, your Ludwig doesn't have a moonphase. You can use a moonphase perpetual to set all of your other moonphases from - that way you won't have to bother going outside to look. Gonna be a bother picking which one to wear on New Year's Eve, though...

  • Minerva Pythagore, TimeZone Limited Edition - Can't have too many Pythagores. Besides, this one is orange and black, your school colors. Go for it.

  • Minerva Heritage, SS - Never, ever, pass up a Minerva. And this has the best-feeling chronograph movement you've ever encountered. Maybe there's something to this column-wheel stuff after all...

  • Minerva stopwatch - Ummm, road rallies, that's it. You'll use it on road rallies... If the wrist chronograph, rally clock, GPS unit, and car computer/clock all fail, you'll have a backup.

  • Illinois 60-hr Bunn Special - Every boy needs a pocket watch. And the movement puts most of the wristwatches you own to shame.

  • JLC Reverso Duo - SS/strap - And every cultured fellow needs a Reverso - the Duo in SS has been haunting your dreams for years - understated, simple, yet with one of the most lovely dials of any watch you've ever encountered. With the two faces, it's really like getting two watches for the price of one, so it's in some sense a great bargain. Now, if only you had some polo shirts to go with it...

  • Blancpain 2100 Military, SS - Wow. Now there's a watch you could wear every day to work, rain or shine! Excellent strap, and the 100-hour movement is killer. Stealth. (This has since become one of my favourite everyday watches.)

  • RGM TZ LE - Looks great. If only you hadn't bought the BP 2100 the day before you saw this. Oh well, you'll kick yourself if you don't get it.

  • Ulysse Nardin GMT+ - Big Date, SS, strap - At last, the ultimate travel watch. (I have recently upgraded this with the SS bracelet, and it makes it into a much nicer watch.)

  • Lange & Sohne 1815 up/down, white gold, blue dial - Absolute perfection. And an awesome blue dial. What more could you want? This'll be your last watch for certain...

  • Eterna KonTiki 1958, blue dial - Well, except for another blue-dialed watch, to wear while waiting for the Lange to show up in the mail, and for a good knocking around watch. Besides, Thor Heyerdal was a cool dude. (Read his book, if you haven't already done so!)

  • Omega Speedmaster, 1957 replica - Well, you'll also need another Speedmaster for this year's road rally, so as not to ding up your vintage Speedy. The IWC GST isn't handwound, so you'll never know when it's wound, and when it isn't. Can't have a critical piece of gear conk out on the rally, nope...(Note - the GST performed above and beyond my expectations the previous year's trip, so this excuse was only a lame rationalization at best... Further note - after living with this version of the Speedy for a while, now I know why NASA had the style of the hands changed...)

  • Seiko Sports 50, SS - Hey, this is sure nice for the price. (And it is.)

  • Tutima 1941 chronograph, SS - You need another handwound military-style chronograph, on a bracelet. Don't you? Besides, it's heavy - like chainmail.

  • Eterna KonTiki 1958, white dial - You actually "won" an EB*y auction with a low-ball bid? It must be fate.

  • Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer, mounted on gimbals in original case - At last, a decent time reference source for the house. And, it'll be perfect for the yacht. Well, if you had a yacht. Hmmmm - now there's an idea...

  • Breguet Aeronavale Type XX, SS/strap - You really need a flyback chrono, and it's this or the Blancpain. And you've already got a Blancpain, so let's try something different. The bracelet model is way too shiny, and the titanium one doesn't appeal, but the strap version is just right. This'll fill the "Rolex Daytona" niche quite handily :-)

  • Revue Thommen Cricket, silver - You know, you don't have a single alarm watch, you're about to go travelling, and you hate having to leave wakeup calls. Besides, the President of the United States used to use one of these!

  • Royal Oak Offshore Chrono, SS/bracelet. You hate this watch. You love this watch. Hey look, there's one in the window of your local dealer. I'll bet he'd sell it for a song - nobody in his right mind would wear one of these. Let's try it on, just as a joke. Wow - my Panerai feels like a Swatch in comparison! My well-loved Tutima now seems like something a little schoolgirl would wear. This thing would crush a Rolex sub like an empty beercan. This could be The Ultimate Sports Watch. (And indeed, I haven't bought any other watches since this one, though my wife stranded me on an isolated desert island for 6 weeks, far from any watch stores, and forbid me to read the Sales Corner...).

Conclusions?

  • I don't need any more watches.

  • I need to trim down my collection to reduce clutter. I'll just sell some on the Sales Corner. Any day now. You watch.

  • I don't need any more watches, really.

  • I can stop anytime I want.

  • Hey - that Silberstein over there would sure look nice with my straightjacket...

  • Anyone know where I can get a Ulysse Nardin Trilogy of Time, cheap?

Random Lessons Learned On The Journey

  • Buy one watch that you really like, then never, ever read TimeZone, or any watch publications, again. This will save you a fortune. Especially to be avoided are the watch review, brand forum, and chatroom areas of TimeZone - the WIS contagion spreads from here... If you learn only one thing from my tale of woe, learn this! Turn back while you can.Just buy that Lange (or Patek, or Rolex, or Vacheron, or whatever your personal Grand Ultimate Fetish Object is) first, and save yourself some agony and expense. Once you've gotten The Best, you may be able to resist a lot of impulse purchases, and avoid cluttering up your house with watchwinders, cases, and so on.

  • Never buy a watch "instead" of the one you really want. You'll eventually end up getting the object of your desire anyway, and then you'll be stuck with an extra watch (or four).

  • Never buy a watch just because the price seems insanely good. If you don't end up ever wearing it, you'd have saved even more money if you hadn't bought the darn thing in the first place. Corollary - never buy a low-end watch just because "that's darn good value for the money" if you already have, or desire, higher-end versions of the same sort of watch - you'll end up never wearing the cheapie, and it'll clutter up the place. Buying a low-end watch as a beater is fine, but be careful with this rationalization - how many beaters do you really need?

  • Furthermore, how many chronographs do you really need? One for dress, one for cooking/BBQing, and one for abuse. Anything more, and some will just rot in your watch-case.

  • If you decide that you like a certain style of watch, say "military-style", it is not necessary to own every single example of the style. Take your time, and pick one or two good ones - you can only wear one at a time anyways (except at TZ lunches).

  • Whenever you find yourself thinking "Hey, I've got a t-shirt that'd look really good with that watch over there...", hand your checkbook and wallet to someone trusted, and run, do not walk, for the door, and head for the Imelda Marcos Impulse Shopping Treatment Center. You need help. Corollary - it is far cheaper to buy a new belt that matches a watch you already own, than the other way around...

  • If you find yourself making up bogus milestones as excuses to purchase a new watch, you also need help. "Hey, it's St. Vincent's Day in Swaziland! Let's celebrate!" is not a sufficient reason to buy that repeater you've always wanted...

  • If you need a fix, think vintage. There are a lot of inexpensive vintage watches out there in great shape with really cool movements, and nifty features. With the money you'd waste on only a few mistaken purchases of NIB timepieces, you could assemble a killer vintage collection. And you'll find that often the design and craftsmanship are superior to, and unobtainable in, modern watches... (Mind you, I've never managed to follow this advice, but it sounds good...)

  • Another solution when you hunger for a new watch - treat one of your current watches to a new strap. Often, a watch that has not been getting much time on your wrist is just begging for a new strap in a different style. It's just like getting a new watch, but somewhat cheaper.

  • You don't need to keep everything on a watch winder, or wind all of your handwound watches every day. This way lies madness (and watch winders strewn about your house). Get a winder or two for your current commonly-worn rotation, and don't worry. Your changing tastes/needs from month to month will likely insure that your watches get worn often enough to not get gummed up. If not, consider selling the unworn, lonely pieces languishing in your collection to some other poor soul. Watches should be worn, and not sit in vaults, sadly spinning away on winders.

  • If offered a choice, always buy the watch with the bracelet. You can always find a nice strap later if you change your mind, but it tends to be expensive, and a bother, to find a proper bracelet after the fact.

  • Avoid developing an addiction to pocket-watches. You won't ever carry one with you, no matter how good your intentions, except maybe to the opera. Get one really nice one, and pat yourself on the back. This makes an excellent and economical way to get the urge for a minute repeater out of your system too...

  • Hold out for a 35% discount, minimum. Don't be in a rush to buy. If you look around, and bide your time, you can find almost any watch at a decent price, even the ever-elusive Portugueser...

  • Credit cards are not your friend. Pay cash, so you feel the pain right away. This method often kills the impulse purchase dead in its tracks.

  • Diamonds are not a watch's best friend... Especially on a Breitling Emergency...