Enjoy a rabbit hole

When someone goes “down the rabbit hole,” it means there’s a certain topic, activity, or thing that intrigues them. Consequently, they want to explore this topic, activity, or thing further so they can learn more about it.

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Follow the path and jump in

When’s the last time that you learned something just to learn it, choosing to do so because the subject intrigued you or simply sounded like fun? Or how about a time when you were so engrossed by a new topic that it stopped you from falling asleep because you were interested to learn just one more thing that night?

These situations are constant occurrences for me, and they satisfy me every time they pop up. By carving out the time to allow them to happen and by generally being curious about new things, I’ve stumbled onto one of the key things in life that makes me tick: the process of learning and exploring.

I’m a continual learner and my mind doesn’t rest much, except maybe when I’m engaged in an outdoor activity like hiking or cycling and there’s nothing else to compete for my interest in that moment. Because of my active mind, I spend a lot of my time doing new things that often turn into hobbies. The majority of them come from going down a rabbit hole on a particular topic to discover what’s there and then branching off in all directions to learn about the things that are connected to it. I’m constantly having “I never knew that!” moments of discovery, and that’s what’s energizing about the process.

What do a watch and an airplane have in common?

Let’s go down a rabbit hole together, shall we? It will give you a great idea of what I’m referring to above…

The IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire watch shown here is one of my favorite watches. Some day maybe I’ll own one, but right now life has many other much higher priorities (like paying college bills for two kids!). So for now I’ll admire it from afar, because it’s much too rich for my blood.

IWC Pilot Chronograph Spitfire
Photo by IWC

A few years ago, I stumbled deeply into the hobby of mechanical watches and horology. I’ve always liked unique and purposeful watches, but it was only within the last few years that I started spending large amounts of time learning about their history, how they work, different types of design, and the genius that goes into creating the complications of a mechanical watch. Complications are the features on a watch face (other than telling the time) often in the form of sub-dials such as displaying the day/date, the phase of the moon, chronograph timer functionality, etc. The micro-mechanical complexity of some of the complications I’ve learned about is fascinating, and some of the most complicated watches can have over 1,000 parts inside. If you want to be amazed (trust me!) by one great example of a super-complicated watch, check out the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600. You’ll be amazed that all of its features are done mechanically.

When I picked up this hobby, it dawned on me that I’ve always been interested in watches, going all the way back to when I was a little kid. I received my first mechanical watch from my parents for my First Communion celebration, and I remember winding it up before bed that night and just listening to it tick until I fell asleep. I wondered what was happening inside of the case to make it work, and after taking up this hobby, now I know! Although the watch band is long gone, I still have the watch body and it still works.

Watches are the perfect combination and intersection of art, function, design, and ingenuity. Since I like those four things, that’s the reason why I like to learn about the models that I’m interested in and how they work. So much so that when I bought a Seiko mechanical watch two years ago that was running about 20 seconds fast per day, I learned how to open it, I used an iOS app and a microphone to measure the rate at which it was ticking, and then I adjusted it to run slower. A watch has a micro-mechanical “heart beat”, and it can be measured and regulated to correct timing errors. It’s basically the same principle as a human getting a pacemaker to help their heart beat correctly. After several days of fiddling with the Seiko watch, I was able to adjust it to be just a few seconds away from perfect per day, which is pretty darn good for an inexpensive mechanical watch. So that story shows how deep I went down the rabbit hole of watchmaking and mechanics to understand it and be able to act on it. I went up, down, left, and right with the topic and enjoyed every minute of it. Great hobby!

Returning to the Spitfire watch, I liked it and decided to read about how IWC designed and built it. Then I peeked my head into another rabbit hole by wondering “Why, specifically, did they choose to focus on this plane?” The watch is named after the plane and there’s an etching of it on the case back. I knew IWC had a long heritage of making pilot’s watches since the 1930’s, but why pay homage to this specific plane? And then I completely fell into the hole…

IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire case back
Photo by IWC

I began researching the Spitfire and discovered its significance as a game changing single-seat British fighter plane developed in the 1930’s that saw extensive use in World War II and beyond. It first became prominent for the key role it played in the Battle of Britain from July to October 1940, where the advancing German military was turned back from invading Britain after advancing across Europe in all directions. The Royal Air Force’s Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane planes ensured British success, but it was the Spitfire that captured the imagination of its pilots and the public and became a symbol to the world of resistance, freedom, and engineering superiority. It’s reputation and history as an iconic warplane that turned back the encroaching German military were proudly sealed.

But knowing the above wasn’t enough for me. I was intrigued, and began searching for some type of documentary about the Spitfire. Lo and behold, I quickly found one on Netflix called “Spitfire – The Plane That Saved the World” and immediately watched it. It’s a great profile about the plane, those who flew it, why it’s so special, and the place it earned in history. Great story!

With that history in place, the reason IWC created their Spitfire line of watches was clear. They did it to pay homage to the iconic plane in the spirit of IWC’s legacy with aviation and pilot’s watches (and let’s be honest, it’s also a great marketing framework for them). So after all that, I had my answer to the question “Why did IWC choose the Spitfire?”

The commitment of IWC to the Spitfire is significant, so much so that they sponsored a fascinating and unique flight expedition to take a beautifully restored version of the plane called the “Silver Spitfire” on a first of its type around the world flight. The entire expedition is documented on IWC’s website here and also here, as well as a dedicated website to the months-long expedition. It was interesting to see how hard the Silver Spitfire team and IWC worked to keep the memory of the Spitfire and what it means alive.

Was I done? Not yet, there was one more step! The hole went deeper because having seen the Spitfire Netflix documentary and learning about the IWC flight expedition, I then became curious to learn more about the aspects of World War II that I was not entirely familiar with. I sucked my wife into it too, and now we’re watching “World War II in Colour” on Netflix to fill in our knowledge gaps about that pivotal time in world history. Then…I’ll be done! 🙂

Find a hole of your own

All of the above resulted from a watch and some curiosity, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by enjoying a rabbit hole. I was intrigued and totally enjoyed the learning experience at each turn that it took, and I now have a lot of new knowledge that will lead me to other things (which always makes me a richer person). There was also the bonus of answering my original question about the Spitfire watch as well!

For me, the fun of these deep dives is the discovery process itself. What will I find? What will I learn? What will it lead to? Are there new hobbies there that interest me? It’s intriguing to see how many things are interconnected and how they branch out in so many ways.

Life is hard and we all need a break from time to time. Try going down a rabbit hole for yourself just for the pure enjoyment of the process. Start by picking a subject that you’re interested in but haven’t had the time to explore yet, and start digging around on it. Use the internet, go to the library, read magazines, or use whatever method of research you prefer. To better focus on and enjoy the process, maybe try it when nobody else is home to minimize distractions, or use a rainy day when you have nothing else pressing to do. Let the process carry you, enjoy the paths and sidetracks that you diverge onto.

I would bet that after you try this a few times, you’ll see that it’s not necessarily the destination, it’s the journey. Enjoy the ride!