The timepiece is the aesthete’s accessory of choice. Like an automobile or a pair of shoes, a writing implement or a lady’s handbag, the watch is a status symbol as much as it is the final stroke of styling. It also happens to be big business, with the likes of seven-figure horologes being snatched off the market practically as soon as they enter.
This month, as the watch-buying season comes to an apex on the 14th, the options will be their most plentiful. What advice is better than that of the industry’s leaders? Olivier Bernheim is President and CEO of Raymond Weil, an emblem of independence since its founder began the eponymous company in 1976. Bernheim has led his family’s brand development since 1982, keeping a keen eye on the artistry and melody of the lifestyles that gravitate to it. He advises, perhaps somewhat partially, “One needs to consider the lifestyle or fashion choices of the person who will be wearing the watch. If they are sporty, they would perhaps prefer a chronograph such as [Raymond Weil’s] Freelancer Urban Black. If someone is looking for a high fashion and very feminine watch, Jasmine may be the choice for them. If they are more of a traditionalist, then perhaps the signature Parsifal is a watch for them.”
Brandon Little, Senior Creative Director of Fossil Portfolio Luxury Brands agrees, “What does he or she portray? Look at their shoes, their magazines, their jewelry, their eyeglasses or their home and try to put that image into the type of watch that you think reminds you of them. If you can do this, then it becomes more than a gift, it’s your story of how you see that person.” Little has been at Fossil for six years, although the company started in the early 80s as a single-lined manufacturer. Today, Fossil is a multi-line company, working with brands like Burberry, DKNY, Armani, Michael Kors and Michele to develop licensed pieces. His role as creative director gives Little a unique purview of industry trends and consumer demands.
But how to settle on the weapon of choice? The pinnacle of mechanisms has always been technically precise as well as fashionable, but now they are also brand conscious. The Rolex man is a lot different than the Tag Heuer fellow, for instance. And s/he who goes for the latest piece from a favored designer, as opposed to a classic watchmaker, is a different buyer still. In addition to trying to keep up with trends within their own industry, creators of quality watches are also charged with keeping up with trends in the fashion industry. As their brands evolve to meet changing styles, their timepieces must also resonate. Yet, a quality watch is an emblem of tradition—tradition of the maker as well as the clientele it attracts.
“They are a mixture of both fashion and technology, and have become true storytellers,” Little says. “It’s this total 360-degree miniature sculpture that tells time. It has a point of view and expresses the individual wearing it and the statement s/he wants to make.”
Thus the mystique of the chronometer. The watch is the ultimate men’s accessory because it is a mark of distinction. But is there also something about control? Is there a feeling that donning a watch is a means for controlling fate? Or is it the tinkering factor? Men of all stripes have their toys of choice—cars, motorcycles, aircraft… A timepiece that functions based on the movements of gears and springs and screws may also be a totem for a man’s inner geek. He may not want to take it apart (he probably does deep down), but the ticking and mechanisms are comforting. And then there’s the flexing of the wallet, as well as the mood or personality. “In most cases, it’s the only piece of jewelry a man wears (other than a wedding ring),” Bernheim points out. “A watch makes a statement whether the man is more sporty, conservative, adventurous or traditional.”
Women yen for pieces that reflect individuality too, but are careful to make selections that do not compete with other accessory points. One recent, somewhat curious trend is women’s growing interest in men’s watches. Like the boyfriend jeans or the classic white shirt, women are wearing their men’s watches. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of a larger piece on a slender wrist that makes a bold statement or the attempt to be different, but women are both buying men’s watches for themselves or “borrowing” from the men in their lives. A compelling, unusual move would be for a gentleman to gift his lady a classic, well-designed, oversized men’s timepiece (or perhaps a slender, small-faced men’s antique piece on a lariat or long chain). Best be sure about that one first, though. Failing any evidence of her inner tomboy, an appropriate ladies’ piece is the safer bet.
There are some debates that will continue, however. We begged to know: For once and for all, leather strap or bracelet? “Some people like to have color, so they choose a strap,” offered Bernheim. “Others like the look of an all metal bracelet. In most cases steel is the best choice for bracelet because of its durability, but gold is another good choice as well.” “Leather,” counters Little. “It adds such an interesting context and emotional element to a timepiece. It wears in, gets old and changes with time. It conveys the passion that its wearer conveyed for the watch.”
President and CEO of Raymond Weil
Signature Style: The Freelancer. Automatic chronograph with day and date function, both stylish and contemporary.
“Go-to” watch: Parsifal Watch, the signature look of the brand.
Formal favorites: Maestro and Parsifal
Senior Creative Director of Fossil Portfolio Luxury Brands
Signature style: Relatively classic and simple, but I like the little details.
“Go-to” watch: The soon-to-be-released Fossil brand Swiss made timepiece. It’s the chronograph version, modern with a nod to vintage Americana.
Formal: Burberry Britain three-hand automatic with a dark brown alligator leather strap.