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A watch for life

Searching for a wrist-mate as the days tick by

by Michael Karam

A watch has become a necessity but not necessarily for telling the time,” explains Mhir Atamian, whose family business is one of Lebanon’s leading watch importers. “For men, it is one of the few pieces that they can wear, but for both male and female consumers, it has become as important as what clothes they wear or the car they drive. Among their peers, it is important to be seen to have the ‘right’ watch.”

So which is the right watch? It’s not just a case of what you like in terms of design or functionality or price; what Atamian might have been alluding to was that, in modern Lebanon, or anywhere else for that matter, is that you may often be judged — in terms of status, taste and even credibility — by the watch on your wrist.

To many people, a watch is a watch. It tells the time. You could be wearing a $250,000 Patek Phillipe chronograph and many people would not be the wiser; but to the trained eye your watch can say a lot about you. Are you an arch-vulgarian, an aficionado, or simply someone who wants to wear a decent piece of engineering success on the wrist?

It is fun to match watches to certain jobs. The photographer, designer or creative director might demand a watch that is both functional and a design classic. He or she will want us to know that form is appreciated just as well as function. Where others see cliché, they see an icon.

So what are we talking about? Omega’s Speedmaster Professional that was designed for astronauts, together with Breitling’s Navitimer, a pilot’s watch, and the Rolex Explorer (the white face “polar” edition in particular) all fit the bill. They are proven designs that have hardly changed over the years. While fads come and go, the classics still remain.

But remember, while these watches are not cheap — the Speedmaster is the most affordable at around $3,000 — they do not belong to the true elite of the watch world. This brings us to the banker or the businessman: which is the right watch for the man or woman who lives in life’s first class lounge? For the person who takes life at a calculated, more measured pace and who, whenever they shoot a cuff, want the world to see understated elegance? 

For those who have plowed their professional furrow and are looking to reap a rich harvest, there are four of five watch houses from which to draw horological inspiration. Patek Philippe – naturally – A. Lange Sohne, Vacheron Constantin, Girard Perregaux and perhaps a Jaeger LeCoultre constitute   grown-up watches and, in many cases, potential family heirlooms. 

Which leaves us with the man who simply wants to reward himself and send a signal to the world that he has ditched that Swatch; a man that has between $5,000 and $10,000 to blow on a watch that will be a friend for life but which won’t let him down at the beach, the club or the boardroom. IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre, Omega and of course Rolex are my top picks. Women can have all these too and they can mine Cartier’s rich deposits of classic designs.

In fact, women consumers can often have more fun. With the fad for oversized watches, they can really make a statement. Cartier’s oversized Ballon Bleu in particular is a current favorite as is the 42mm IWC Portuguese, steel on a black strap.

You will have noticed some brands (perhaps unfairly) have not made the cut. Tag Heuer, Longines and Baume and Mercier are all fantastic watches and, in the case of Longines and Tag in particular, have an enviable heritage, but, and this is just my opinion, they just fall outside the “watch for life” segment. They are perfect “step-up” or “second” watches.

Also absent are Panerai — too big and brash (even if many of us secretly want one) — and Tudor, which needs more time to win over a new generation of fans, although the new Black Bay Diver and the Chrono Heritage are both destined for cult status.

Finally, if you are reading this and are thinking that this is all a load of elitist tosh and you are very happy with your trusty Seiko, take comfort from knowing you wear one of the best made and most reliable watches on the planet. Fact.

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Michael Karam

Michael Karam is the author of Wines of Lebanon.

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