“Better Than Tinder:” How to Find Love Through Watches

This originally appeared in Box + Papers, GQ staffer Cam Wolf’s watch newsletter. For more stories like it, hit the link and subscribe.

For my column in the March issue of GQ, I wrote about watch clubs. They’re not new, exactly, but I’ve gotten interested in them because of the way modern watch clubs are using their fandom to get their favorite watch brands to do what they want. That type of two-way relationship—between fan and product—feels unique to the watch world. I mean, just ask any Rihanna stan how demanding new music from her has gone over the past seven years. But there’s one additional perk to joining a watch club that I didn’t have the space to mention in my story: meeting the love of your life. 

What a bunch of watch club founders told me is that a club is a great place to form connections that go beyond talking about the latest advancement in silicon movement parts. Kathleen McGivneyRedBar’s CEO, even mentioned that a couple who met at her New York chapter got married. So I called that couple up, to hear all about it. Here’s Josh and Viviana Shanks, the former a director of marketing and communications at Oris and the latter a public relations manager at IWC

Why did you both join RedBar?  

Josh: I was a watch collector before I got into watch media. Long story short, I scratched the front of a Rolex I bought on financing—I couldn’t afford it. And then I was that guy that Googles: “I scratched my Rolex.” I found the Rolex forums and I found this amazing community of all these like-minded people that collected watches. And I was like, “Oh, this is really, really fun.” I ended up buying a couple more watches through the forums,  and I ended up joining a meet-up group through the Rolex forum and that’s where I met Kathleen [McGivney, the CEO of RedBar].  

We kept in touch and I asked her, “Hey, like I’d really love to join RedBar.” And she was like, “Well, I don’t know, I have to vet you to make sure you’re not a serial killer.” So we went out for drinks and eventually one night she texted like,  “The location is here, be there after 6:00.” So I went, and I brought all my watches.

I’m 41 now. Vivi’s a little younger than me, but it’s hard to make friends in your 30s and 40s, and finding these other watch collectors was amazing and I’ve met some of my dear friends [through RedBar]. But after joining RedBar in 2013, I started an Instagram page about watches and I started sharing all my watches, friends’ watches. And then I started following this girl on there, as well, named Lindazinha—which was Vivi’s old Instagram account.

She came to New York in 2014 and I saw her at RedBar and was like, “Oh, you’re Lindazinha from Instagram.” That was the whole thing with RedBar. Oh, you’re FremStar! You’re this on Instagram. You don’t really know the person’s actual name. That’s how I met [Viviana]. I didn’t think anything of it. I was actually in a relationship at the time. 

And what about you, Vivi?

Viviana: I actually joined RedBar because, like Josh, but I started my Instagram in maybe 2011, 2012 to post photos of my watches. And because I was one of the few people posting about watches on Instagram, some people from New York RedBar were following me, like [Adam] Craniotes.

But I was living in Switzerland and having a tough time finding myself as a younger lady. I was 24 years old and I was like, I wanna go to New York, and none of my friends wanted to go because it was too far, blah, blah, blah. I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna go on a whim and I’m gonna go by myself.” And I posted I was there, and all those RedBar guys were like, “Vivi, you’re in New York, it’s Wednesday, come join us! You can meet people.” I remember meeting Josh’s now ex-girlfriend. Obviously, I was one of the only girls over there, so obviously I was somehow famous.

Josh: Wait, so they just invited you and you went, and here I had to jump through all these hoops?

Vivi: [laughs] Yeah. Everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, show me your watches.”

And how did this turn into a romance between you two? 

Josh: Flash-forward a couple years later to 2016. I was at SIHH [the watch trade show], I was starting to do some freelance writing about watches and she was working at Montblanc, and I was single then. I was in a different mindset, I guess, and we stopped for pizza with people like Watch Anish and all these now-watch luminaries.  

The Shanks in Geneva in 2016. 

And then after pizza, I walked her to her car and I was like, “Oh, that felt nice, when can I see you again?” And she’s like, “Well, I’m coming to New York in six months.” So I set my calendar for six months later. And then six months later, after a few failed Tinder dates, I was like, “Ok, well I’m just gonna text this girl. Do you want to go for a drink or dinner?” I’m really trying at this point. She’s like, “Well, I’m going to Washington, DC.” 

Being that I was newly single and going through a midlife crisis, I’d just bought a Camaro. So I was like, “Well, you’re going to DC, how are you getting there?” And she’s like, “Well, I was gonna take the train.” I said, “I’ll drive you, how about that?” And she’s like, “Okay, but no funny business.” We drove to DC, had an amazing time, and hit it off. We had so much in common—obviously we had watches in common. On the last night I took her to a restaurant and we kissed and we’ve been together ever since.

That’s so sweet.

Viviana: We actually went to another collector’s meeting that weekend. We went to RedBar Baltimore. All the guys were like, “You’re not together? Are you sure?” I’m like, “Yeah, we’re not together. We get along, no big deal.” Obviously the more time we spent together, the more we realized we did have a lot in common. We made each other laugh—and I know my jokes, they’re not great. I actually felt comfortable around him and he hadn’t tried to kill me yet, so I guess it’s good. I was like, “It’s better than Tinder and Instagram at the end of the day, those collector groups.” Fast forward to today, we are almost five years married, so I would say that it worked out. 

I would say it definitely worked out. Do you guys share watches, or split pieces or come to a joint decision on watches you both want?

Josh: Yeah, literally I was just texting Vivi, “Can I get this watch?” We share everything. Vivi wears a lot of men’s watches so she wears every watch that I own and vice versa. So that’s been nice. And all of our purchases are mutual decisions. We collect everything from Rolex to AP to Jaeger to Oris and IWC. We got Omega. We have quite a few watches in the collection.

The young couple at RedBar in 2016.

Viviana: We have watches from 1942 to today. It’s somehow easier to justify spending when you both like watches. It’s easier to consider spending $5,000 on this or that and you’re like, “Yeah, sure, why not?!” You’re counting your money and you’re like, “Maybe we should not, but, yeah, we’re doing it.”

You both were pretty fresh to RedBar when you met. Outside of meeting each other, what did you think of it?

Viviana: I was so surprised to see people who were friendly talking about watches. Because when I would talk about watches to my friends in Switzerland, it was super weird because everyone was like, “Oh, I don’t see the point in having watches. I have an iPhone.” Literally every single one of my friends. So I was a little bit lonely trying to talk about movements. Let me tell you about how the smallest movement in the world is actually on Queen Elizabeth’s wrist. I could not say those things, every time I would say this everyone was like, “You’re so geeky, like, what the hell?”

At RedBar, literally everyone was talking about all those little details. They were talking about polished lugs and things that I didn’t even know mattered. Eventually I was like, this is my kind of people, these are the people that I could actually talk to without looking like I’m a geek or I’m trying to be fancy. It really felt very welcoming, actually.

Josh: Same. For me it was really about the community. The watches almost came second to the community. But that’s where I discovered all the brands. That’s where I discovered Vacheron [Constantin], Jaeger, and Oris. I literally got my current job because I met V.J. Geronimo, the CEO of Oris, at RedBar 10 years ago. And I just pestered him for 10 years until he finally hired me. I had Oris Bear at my wedding. I had RedBar members at our wedding. We wouldn’t be together, I wouldn’t have my job. I have to thank RedBar for everything that they’ve done for me personally and professionally. Not bad for a Wednesday night drinking activity.  

The wedding bells were replaced by a chiming minute repeater (joking!). 

Is there a reason that you think watches work well as a connection point, or the foundation of a relationship like yours?  

Viviana: Because watches are so intricate and complicated, it’s a way to get people together that are passionate about it. The fact that you both share a passion, especially one as intricate as watches, is a good start to a relationship. Then again, there are other things that you definitely need to have for a good relationship. So Josh and I do love watches—but we also love food, we love traveling.

Josh: You have something that binds you that not everyone else has. I think it’s really hard nowadays in a modern relationship to have something that’s unique to that relationship, right? And for us, [watches] is the thing. We have so many friends that aren’t watch people and they don’t get it. But for us, it’s our thing, it’s everything.

We went to Dubai last year for her birthday and we spent the entire time with watch collectors. It’s our full-time jobs but we spent the entire time around a bunch of watch collectors because we met them through RedBar or the Dubai Watch Club. So we’re into movies, we’re into our dog, we’re into travel, but it’s crazy that normally you get in and out of hobbies and you get bored with them. [Watches] are just the one thing that remains.  

When I talked to Kathleen, she had mentioned that other couples have gotten started through RedBar now too. Do they come to you to hear from the OG Red Bar couple?  

Josh: I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but I will tell you that we’re the longest-tenured couple and not all of them have lasted. And I think that you have to have fundamentals there and love is fleeting.

I love that the Oris Bear was at your wedding—did watches play any other role in the ceremony?

Viviana: We had members of RedBar in attendance. VJ was there from Oris—he is the one who surprised us with the Oris Bear. On the watch side, we did wear something special, which was our first nice watches.

If you were advising someone who was starting to go to Red Bar and they’re looking for romance, which watch would you recommend that they wear?  

Viviana: I would say wear the watch that can start a conversation, the watch that has the most history behind it. You don’t wanna be like, “Oh, I bought this Rolex because everyone loves Rolex right now.”

The Shanks together at Watches & Wonders 2022. 

That’s definitely not the move at RedBar.  

Josh: I mean, I would say wear an Oris. But no, finding something quirky and unique and just being authentically yourself, that’s what I’ve always loved about RedBar. It’s not about luxury, it’s not about champagne and caviar. It’s literally a bunch of people getting together and whether you’re wearing a G-Shock or a Greubel Forsey you’re appreciated and respected. The quirkier and more fun watches are what’s going to start a conversation with your potential next significant other.

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