What is it about watches that drive people to distraction? Why can something whose function is purely to tell us the time be the object of such obsession and devotion? Maybe it’s because we wear it everyday. Maybe because, to some of us, a watch is more a companion than a timepiece and one of the few ways a man can express himself. Or maybe it’s simply because they are, in many cases, just so damn beautiful.
My first teenage crush was the Rolex but then my brother-in-law had to spoil it by giving me his eminently more sensible steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust. We are still together. It is over 40 years old and still keeps immaculate time, but I still hanker for a watch — or watches if the truth be told — that will send the pulse racing.
It is a good time to be on the look out for a new watch. While the rest of the $3 billion global luxury watch market has taken a bath in recent years, the GCC, especially KSA and the UAE, are still going strong. They are in the top 15 national importers of Swiss watches (Dubai imported 700,000 units last year) with demand increasing by roughly 15% annually.
36mm used to be enough
The fadmeisters tell us that today’s watch should be BIG. In a previous life, a 36mm diameter watch was more than enough for a man. Today if you’re wearing anything under 40mm, apparently you just aren’t cutting it. The trend was set by über-brand Officine Panerai (most models are 44mm and with a chunky winder protector), whose Italian navy heritage and distinctive lines have helped the brand carve out an intriguing niche in the global watch market. Still, purists believe Officine Panerai to be arriviste among the aristocrats of the luxury watch constellation.
So you have just got your annual bonus and you think, well, you’ve worked hard, the school fees are paid and the mortgage is in good shape and the wife isn’t badgering you to get the apartment painted and you have a decent car and you can afford an annual holiday and your credit card is paid off and … well, basically everything is squared away. (Because let’s face it, throwing down anywhere between $2,000 — entry level for a luxury watch — and $30,000 — in reality the sky’s the limit — on something that tells you the time and is in all likeliness less accurate than a Casio, is something you really gotta justify.)
Now as I said, if you want pinpoint accuracy get a Casio or a Swatch or any other quartz powered watch. Don’t get me wrong, some can cost thousands, but these — sports and diving watches excluded — must be considered jewelry before anything else. If you are going to buy a watch that reflects how you see yourself (and, if we are being honest, how you want other people to see you), it really should be mechanical and by that I mean either automatic (powered by wrist movement) or manually wound (yes, they still make them). A friend recently announced that his next watch must be manual, as he wanted to feel he had a connection with his watch by having to wind it every day. It is this level of deep satisfaction that for many people justifies owning an expensive watch from a historic manufacturer.
Today’s great models
One decent watch should be enough, so here is my selection for what it’s worth. I have chosen what I believe are watches that have proved themselves in terms of brand equity, design build and quality and performance. Many are held up as performance classics — Rolex Submariner, Omega Speedmaster, Breitling Navitimer — design icons — Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, Longines Lindbergh, Jeager-LeCoultre Reverso, Tag Heuer Monaco — or simply just stunningly elegant and timeless — Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine. I have also earmarked the IWC Da Vinci and the Patek Phillipe Gondolo Calendario for future greatness.
Patek Phillipe, arguably the most prestigious name in watch making, captured the essence of owning a great watch with its “father and son” ad-campaign that suggested a watch was something one handed down the generations. Slightly more tricky to sell is the idea that you can pass along your Swatch or Seiko. Then again, I might just be a very shallow man with too much time on his hands!
Michael Karam is Managing Editor of Executive.