Orange Crush: James' DOXA
You may not know the name James Lamdin, but I’ll bet you’ve heard of the company he founded: analog/shift. Chances are you’re one of the almost 60K followers of @analogshift on Instagram. Their eclectic mix of fresh-to-market watches offer something for everyone: From off-the-beaten-path, funky 70s chronographs and bygone-era dress timepieces to always-popular Speedys and grail Rolex Sport models. And if someone calls dibs on a watch before you, there's always their handcrafted, American-made leather straps to hold you over until you’re inevitably tempted again (and you will be...)
On a recent escape to the Big Apple, I met with James at analog/shift’s headquarters. He opened-up about where his passion for watches came from and also shared his prized DOXA diver’s watch – the watch that made him take the plunge into collecting.
My first encounter with a DOXA watch was seeing one on Matthew McConaughey’s wrist in the movie Sahara - based on the book by best-selling, action-adventure author, Clive Cussler. The first time James discovered a DOXA watch was on the actual pages of Cussler’s novels – being worn by his protagonist and fabled hero, Dirk Pitt. Ever-present throughout Cussler’s series, is Dirk Pitt’s attachment to his “orange-faced DOXA diver’s watch.”
Dirk Pitt glancing at his DOXA’s luminescent dial and hands is a reoccurring scene that seared an image in James’ mind of the bright orange dial and large cushion case. Unaware at the time, a plot was developing in James’ life that would lead him to watch collecting and a subsequent career. But before that, James only had a superficial relationship with watches: He recognized watches by brand and appearance, but knew little else about them to distinguish one from another.
Not until the passing of his Grandfather did James start to look at watches in a new light. He remembers his grandfather as a “man of taste” and someone who had a reason for everything: Like wearing a watch on the inside of his wrist – a holdover from his days in the Army, so the crystal's glare wouldn’t tip-off the enemy. James studied the watches he inherited as a way to explore his grandfather’s life - often wondering to himself: "Why THAT watch?" By piecing together stories that answered this question, he was able to better-understand his grandfather and, in turn, became inspired to take watches more seriously.
Energized with a new appreciation for people's relationship with their watches, James decided to start collecting. The first on his "hit list" was a watch he had the strongest relationship with: That orange dial DOXA diver’s watch he read about Dirk Pitt wearing on his aquatic escapades.
One day he dropped by a local watch repair shop and asked if they had any DOXA watches. He remembers the woman behind the counter calling back to the watchmaker “John…” Turned out John knew quite a bit about DOXA, but the best he could do for young James was cobble one together: It had a Rolex crown, a sapphire crystal, and a refinished dial. This just wouldn't do - he craved the genuine article...
But finding a vintage DOXA Sub 300T - in decent shape - turned out to be harder than finding a shipwreck. You see, DOXA Subs were real tool watches. They were tested and approved by the godfather of diving: Jacques Cousteau. His company, U.S. Divers, distributed them exclusively to dive shops. Production was low, as was their survival rate.
Their elusiveness made James all the more obsessed with catching one. On his quest, he devoured any and all information he could get his hands on about DOXA. One interesting tidbit he learned was that a prototype DOXA Sub existed - dubbed the "Black Lung" by the collector community - because the U.S. Divers “aqua-lung” logo on the dial was filled in with black paint. The story goes: During testing, readability under water proved difficult whenever the black hands overlapped the black logo. For the sake of legibility, the opaque emblem design was immediately deep-sixed. However, a dozen or so "Black Lung" dials did drift into the marketplace...
As analog/shift was establishing itself as a go-to source for watches, James’ ship started to come in: Several blogs featured his commentary on collecting. When he did have the podium, he never missed a chance to sing the praises of his favorite – underdog - diver's watch. Even Christie’s sought his testimony about DOXA. But - despite his knowledge on the subject - he was still searching for a quality example.
It was James’ name in various Internet articles about DOXA that led a retiree to contact him in the spring of 2013. He was looking for information about a DOXA watch that surfaced from a desk drawer when he was packing up his worldly possessions readying for a move. In an effort to downsize his life, he needed to make decisions about what items to keep and what items to donate. Before just dropping-off his DOXA at a Goodwill, he thought it wiser to check with James and find out if it had any legitimate value...
After gathering the facts on the watch’s provenance and scrutinizing a very-grainy photograph of an orange dial with what seemed to be a black splotch in the lower-left quadrant, James was “optimistic” that this was the real McCoy: An uber-rare DOXA Sub 300 prototype - in other words - a "Black Lung." The gentlemen agreed to send the watch and its accompanying paperwork to New York for James to evaluate. For a watch produced in 1967 and tasked with handling extreme conditions, the watch - in person - was better than salvageable – it was practically a timecapsule piece. James' long-lost treasure had finally washed ashore.
The only thing left for James to do was answer the gentleman's next question: "So, do you want to buy it?”
Right now, analog/shift has the wind at their back, and James seems to have found his calling. But he doesn’t sail alone…
First off, they have a seasoned photographer on staff: Atom Moore - Instagram @atommoore. His headshots of analog/shift’s cast of watches are like department store window displays: thoughtfully composed with backgrounds and props that capture the spirit of the watch and make you fall head-over-heels in love.
And since analog/shift is not your run-of-the-mill watch dealer, you get more than a serial number and a condition report for a description. David Shapiro - Instagram @dshap - pens a write-up for each watch that's downright poetic: Colorfully capsuling the history of the brand and model, as well as highlighting the particulars of the timepiece.
Last but certainly not least is Jacob Sotak. He wears just about every hat at analog/shift: From authenticating watches to negotiating with strap suppliers. Basically, business would come to a screeching halt without him.
James’ retrospection of his grandfather’s watches taught him everything he needs to know about the emotional side of wearing watches and collecting them. And after spending nearly ten years hunting down his DOXA Sub, he knows how important it is to find the right watch and how good it feels when you do.
We all wish we could hop in a time machine and buy today's vintage watches when they were new. Since that's not happening any time soon, the next-best thing we can do is follow and visit analog/shift for the closest experience.