John Mayer brought him backstage after a Jones Beach concert last summer to talk about Mr. Mayer’s latest acquisition (a Tiffany-inscribed Paul Newman-model Rolex Daytona).
Since founding the site as a hobby in 2008, Benjamin Clymer, a former UBS project manager, has emerged as a high priest to a growing cult of young mechanical-watch lovers that includes whiskered heritage-brand devotees, fashion-forward Wall Street analysts and more than a few celebrities.
Celebrities even make up its list of contributors. Mr. Mayer is a regular columnist for the site; J. J. Redick, the Los Angeles Clippers guard, has appeared in a video; and Fred Durst, the Limp Bizkit frontman, is a frequent commenter on its Instagram feed.
Together, this disparate crowd of micro-gear-heads shares a taste for retro-chic wrist candy built the same way as fine timepieces a century ago — the type of intricately crafted, silicon-free gizmos that were thought to be obsolete in the era when most people check the time on their smartphones.
“That’s the kind of guy we’re looking for: guys who are in it for the right reasons, that know that a great watch isn’t about bling,” said Mr. Clymer, 31.
By generally ignoring the whims of fashion (the hubcap-size designer watches that play big in South Beach nightclubs, as well as the son-of-“Tron” digital offerings with sci-fi graphics that play well in the tech scene), Mr. Clymer has become an unlikely style influencer. He is a consultant to Gilt Groupe and Club Monaco, is a regular contributor to GQ.com and Surface magazine, and is a member in good standing of the men’s blogging fraternity that includes A Continuous Lean and Gear Patrol.
Judged by the success of Hodinkee, this secret society of Generation Y watch lovers appears to be swelling. The site (which features news, reviews and original articles) attracts some 470,000 unique visitors a month, he said. In October, Mr. Clymer gave a standing-room-only talk at the Apple Store in SoHo.
In the view of Mr. Mayer, the site can attribute its success to a connoisseur impulse that is on the rise among young urban professionals. Like knowing whether to order the Barolo or the Côtes du Rhône with pheasant, flashing a timepiece with an impeccable pedigree is a way to announce that you have taste, not just money.
“It’s really all about the depth of your knowledge more than the depth of your wallet,” Mr. Mayer said. “There’s a new kind of consumer out there, where a vintage Ford Bronco worth $35,000 beats any Ferrari on the road, because it demonstrates a certain reach and individuality in their taste.”
In the same way, he added, “the best $8,000 watch beats the worst $300,000 one.”
It was not always so. When the site started five years ago, it seemed like a stretch to imagine legions of young tastemakers reduced to heavy breathing over a “Goldfinger”-era Rolex Submariner 6538/A. For years, the news media had been filled with dire pronouncements that the wristwatch was destined to follow the typewriter and the cassette tape into obsolescence, particularly for people who came of age in the cellphone era.
Mr. Clymer did not buy the premise. He had grown intrigued by mechanical watches as a teenager, when his grandfather handed him an old Omega Speedmaster, and he figured there had to be other young guys like himself who liked to while away the hours searching eBay for the perfect Bulova Accutron Spaceview from the 1960s.
“I’ve always said most guys are watch guys,” Mr. Clymer said. “They just haven’t really found the right piece yet.” And, to be sure, the Hodinkee world is mostly men. According to internal surveys, the site’s demographic is more than 90 percent male; the average reader is 37 and owns 11 watches.
Still, he was anything but an expert when he introduced Hodinkee — the name is a bastardization of the Czech word for wristwatch, which he discovered through a Google search. To learn the codes of the subculture, Mr. Clymer started interviewing collectors, watching auctions online and studying auction catalog footnotes.
The site he ended up with was an unabashed fan site for regular guys, as opposed to the traditional, cataloglike watch-enthusiast publications, which feel more like oak-paneled clubhouses for silver-haired aristocrat collectors. Mr. Clymer lured in younger readers with stunts, like the time he road-tested a putatively indestructible Reactor Trident military watch by running it over with a two-and-a-half-ton Bentley.
Young watch lovers “speak of Ben as a spiritual leader of the vintage and modern wristwatch movement,” said John Reardon, the senior vice president in charge of the watch division of Christie’s in New York, who writes occasionally for Hodinkee. “In the past, if I mentioned Hodinkee, people would say, ‘What’s that?’ Now, say the word Hodinkee, you’re an insider.”
As advertising took off on his site, Mr. Clymer was able to ditch his Wall Street job. He detoured through Columbia, where he earned a master’s degree in journalism, then hired two full-time associates and hit the road.
He often spends 20 days a month traveling, jetting off to Geneva or Tokyo to tour watch factories or to report on high-end auctions. Along the way, he has amassed a personal collection of 20 pieces, including a rarely seen double Swiss underline Rolex Daytona valued at more than $50,000.
The site’s brand recognition is now such that Mr. Clymer recently diversified into accessories, including Hodinkee-label sunglasses, cordovan-leather straps and silk ties woven by Drake’s of London.
The industry has taken notice. This year, Mr. Clymer became the first digital journalist to be selected to the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Oscars of watchmaking.
Despite his rising profile, however, Mr. Clymer said he would never want to be considered part of the establishment.
“I don’t want to be an industry insider,” he said. “I’m a fan of this stuff. Tonight I’m going to go home and look at watches on eBay, I promise you. That’s what I do all day.”