Your Wristwatch: Telling More Than Just The Time

I’ve written before about appropriate, tasteful, and reasonably priced wristwatches, singling out the stainless steel Rolex and the Cartier tank watch as perennial favorites of mine. Preowned models in good condition can be purchased from reputable dealers in the range of 2000 to 6000 dollars.

Not inexpensive, but not ridiculous for a lifetime investment.

As I’ve spent no small amount of time in Parisian cafes, train stations, and airports recently, I’ve had the opportunity to observe men (especially men) and their choice of watches. Shoes seem to be the weapon of choice when women want to communicate a certain degree of savoir faire to other women. Watches are the shot across the bow for men.

But just what is a man communicating when he purchases and wears a watch? Obviously, with some of the massive gold and diamond models I’ve seen straining rotator cuffs recently, wealth and the willingness to flaunt it seem to be the primary messages.

These men want to throw down the gauntlet to all other male challengers: I’ve got it or made it, and I’m willing to spend it and show it. I guess there’s a message to available and impressionable females as well: I’m a warrior and a provider, and alpha male making a splash in the dating/mating pool here in the concrete Serengeti. In my experience, guys who roll this way include professional athletes, pop icons, nightclub owners, and arms dealers.

The Patek looks like any other watch, but it’s not. 

The horological connoisseurs make a similar statement, but with a whisper: the Patek Philippe remains discreetly tucked under a bespoke French cuff half the time, and wouldn’t be recognized by most people. The appreciation of its handcrafted quality and complicated movements, the history and culture of the company, and the wheeze-inducing price tag, remain largely off the radar of the general public.

The people who know, however, know. They appreciate the price tag, but also the taste and discretion that such a purchase signals. You have access to money, but you also have exposure to a large, subtler world. You’ve moved beyond the obvious. You don’t need to advertise. Gentlemen who’ve eased into this category run the gambit professionally, but usually have more education under their belt, exposure to more sophisticated peer groups, and less of a need to impress the masses.

(Although a female friend of mine who worked for Patek Philippe in the past told me that, when she worked for the company and told men who her employer was, those who owned a Patek would instantly pull up their shirt cuff and show her their timepiece, like a gang member confirming their status with a tattoo. So maybe it’s just boys with toys showing off at a different level, to a different audience. I’m sure I’ll hear a variety of opinions on this.)

In the final category rest Old Money Guys who, in my experience, tend to be one of three types of men: the first type is the Oblivious OMG, meaning that he truly, never thinks about a watch and doesn’t give a damn about them or what they might represent to anyone else. He’ll wear a Timex or just look at his cell phone if he wants to know what time it is. If his wife gives him a watch, they’ll wear it without a second thought, to the grave, without regard for fashion or price tag. (Being a gift from an Old Money Gal, it will be in good taste, and of a certain quality.)

The stainless steel Rolex, built to last. 

The second type is the Rough OMG. He works in the oilfields or in the office, gardens, plays golf, swims, fishes, and wants a watch that can take it. He usually buys a stainless steel Rolex (or something similar in style and price) that goes equally well with the business suit or the wetsuit. He takes it off at bedtime (maybe) and puts it back on at dawn, ready to meet the new day.

The third type is the Elegant OMG. His watch reflects a professional and personal aesthetic that is slightly more refined and genteel than the Rough OMG’s. He doesn’t ride a BMW motorcycle or shoot skeet in his Cartier tank watch. If he’s going to play tennis at the club, he’ll leave the watch at home. HIs lifestyle prioritizes elegance and refinement. He may wear it with a tuxedo or a polo shirt and jeans. It’s still tasteful, clean, and low-key.

The Cartier tank watch, all elegance and style. 

His choice of a classic, though, is similar to the Rough OMG’s attitude, and that is that the watch they’ve chosen communicates enough, but not too much. Yes, I have access to money, but I also have restraint. I haven’t spent $100,00 on a watch, even though I may be capable of doing that quite comfortably. I’m leaving something to the imagination. It’s enough for me to select a timeless, iconic watch that quietly nods to other kindred spirits, rather than a timepiece that screams conspicuous consumption to those who are easily impressed.

Choose wisely, gentlemen, for your wristwatch is telling much more than the time.

  • BGT





45 thoughts on “Your Wristwatch: Telling More Than Just The Time

  1. I would agree with your assessment completely if you had written this in the days before cell phones became ubiquitous, but the fact is that nobody really needs a watch today. It therefore seems to me that the only purpose for wearing a watch these days is to show off. And showing off is not an old money value.

    1. I would respectfully disagree. Most of the time, my husband leaves the house without his cell phone, but never without his watch. I too never leave the house without my watch. One of my favorite watches is the one my grandfather received on his wedding day in 1932 — a Gruen with a leather strap. Not fancy, but a quality timepiece at nearly 90 years of age that still keeps perfect time. Our daughters ranging in age from 14 to 33 all own wrist watches. The oldest wears hers daily.

    2. Well, a watch is an accessory. Like a chic classic bracelet or a scarf, it is not always necessary but adds to an outfit. A style piece. Especially if it was a gift or handed down, I think it belongs. Anyway, hang on to them, because when the cell phones are imbedded in our brains, we may need them again! Cue Byron’s 😉

  2. My opinion is if you’re one that needs to be on time, or monitor time, a wristwatch is a staple hard to do without, however, if you’re tied to the Pocket PC (not just a cell phone), a wristwatch is a novelty item.


    1. Very true, K. Lee. Thanks. There are circumstances–hopefully more of them as our culture evolves–in which people will want to leave their phones at home or in the car…and still know what time it is. The ultimate status symbol for the 2020’s will be not being required to carry a mobile phone. You read it here first. – BGT

      1. I agree. I love my analog watch. I tried an Apple Watch and found it to be too much in terms of connectivity and sold it within nine months. I am exhausted by smart phones and really only use it now to keep tabs on our teenagers’ walk to and from school or when they need a ride home from extracurricular activities. I would ideally prefer flip phones for all of us. Maybe now that our current plan is up, we will just revert.

  3. My grandfather’s pocket watch never leaves the safe; his wrist watch now and then. I find reading about watches more interesting than wearing them.

    There was a time when clocks — and mechanics in general — weren’t about projecting taste or wealth, but cultural superiority. Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest in the China missions, intentionally traveled with and gifted clocks, barometers and maps to impress the Chinese with the high level of European civilisation.

    But no matter how much I appreciate Cartier and Patek, I can’t see how one could make a cultural statement with those today, since they’re also worn by actors and pop stars. I’d rather invest in an antique silver pocket sundial, marine chronometer or small table clock; things with a story, that create a unique atmosphere at home.

      1. How snooty (wink, nod) Other topic: what about (fountain) pens and correspondence cards, Byron? Any preferences? Kind regards,

      2. Hi JL. I’m going to go with S.T. Dupont for pens (Waterman and Montblanc as well) and Crane for paper. Would welcome other comments on these as well. – BGT

  4. Just chillin’ over here with my Timex and my Blackberry. I like the look and functionality of both. I do like the look of a real watch on a man; anything except the bulky, giant ones.

  5. I wanted very much to buy an expensive watch, because I’ve always loved them and their story. A watch is one of the few pieces of “jewelry” open to an old fashioned man and one of the few ways that you can express you taste in all situations. Still, spending thousands of dollars on a watch just seems a bit gauche, but I am very open to being convinced otherwise.

    1. Thank you, GPB. I think it’s a combination of circumstances that leads one to justifiably spend $$$$ on a watch, summarizing comments from others here…First, do you have the money? Not just in your pocket, but in your portfolio. Second, do you have someone you can hand the watch down to? So it’s not just for you. It’s a legacy you pass on. Third, have you given an equal or greater amount to charity? If you’ve clicked all those boxes, and there’s a brand or model that really resonates with you, then consider it. – BGT

  6. I like my Timex Marlin that my Father wore in the 1960’s. Same reason I like my 15 year old Volvo that was a hand me down from my wife or my 25 year old Filofax. They just work, and by taking care of your things they look better as they get older. A Patek or Rolex would be fine if I inherited it, but I would never buy a new one.

    1. I took a look at the timex website and there a numerous understated tasteful options. If I needed a new watch I would go with something like a Mariln reissue. Then I would move the remaining budget money from my personal spending bucket to my charity bucket. I recently saw a photo of babies who are coming from Central American that are using railroad ties as pillows. For me to spend six figures on a watch would be in poor taste. If you have the means where you are giving 6 to 7 figures to Charity then by all means enjoy your discreet high end watch purchase.

    2. Thanks, Bob. I’ve heard that comment often: I’d be happy to inherit one, but I’m not going to spend that kind of money on a new one. I think it’s a in the OMG DNA. – BGT

  7. I can only speak for myself, but I bought a Rolex Submariner for a few reasons: I had recently finished being a US Navy submariner myself, (note: we say sub-mar-INE-er, not sub-MAR-iner). I had just begun my own sort of WASP phase (Windfall Acquired: Spent Profligately). And I like that it is understated & widely imitated, so no one who doesn’t know what it is pays it any attention. But it’s occasionally noticed by interesting people.

    I went on to check off most of the OMB do-not-do list. But twenty six years later I still have the watch. And one day one of my sons will. Until that day I’ll enjoy wearing it because it’s nice owning a beautifully machined instrument. Because in my mind a nice watch and a wedding ring is the full extent of jewelry appropriate for a man. (cufflinks notwithstanding). And for my purposes I prefer several solid devices that do one thing well, (a watch, a real camera, a telephone, a desktop computer, etc), to one short-lived gadget, (“smart” phone), that does many tasks poorly.

    My grandfather used to make a strong and pragmatic argument in favor of a Timex over any “snooty European watch”. But he would change the subject when I asked why he had silver flatware in the sideboard when there was perfectly good stainless in the kitchen drawer.

  8. Cartier tank all the way. I received one when I finished college. I gifted my husband with a gold tank when he started working for the DOD after his retirement from the AF. Our son will receive one when he graduates college as well. Cartier tanks are timeless beautiful watches.

    1. Good choice. Being here in Paris, I shouldn’t be surprised by all the classic Cartier watches I see on men and women, but the understated quality of the brand is still captivating. – BGT

  9. To me what is more interesting than what a watch says about a person is the history of the actual timepiece itself. Whether one owns a very high-end Patek or a less expensive Timex, Casio or Swatch, most have a story to tell, and many of those stories are very personal. A gift from a late grandparent, a treasured first-salary purchase or some obscure event in one’s life, they all have a first day of ownership, and sometimes a last.

    I am not a technical geek with a great knowledge of the minuscule differences between this movement reference, and that one. I am more interested in whether a watch appeals to me aesthetically, and the history behind it. Does it have a story to tell (?)

    If I may I’d like to recommend a fascinating book called ‘ A Man And His Watch ‘ by Matthew Hranek. In short paragraphs/stories, and with accompanying photographs, the history behind each piece is told. It might even cause you to reflect on the timepieces you have owned, what their story is, and even where they might be now.

  10. It had been years of running around without a watch – essentially ever since I bought the first smartphone, ca. 2011. But your post on the cotton watch band a while back convinced me to get the Timex with red/blue/white strap.

    It has quickly become one of my favorites! Whenever I put it on, I marvel at the colors. Many thanks for that!

  11. Yes they aren’t required anymore but I find myself checking my wrist instinctively for the time even when I’m not wearing a watch. I have an old gold IWC from the late 40s which has an awesome patina and looks great with anything. It says enough without saying too much.


    1. Hi, A. Personally, I have a collection of Allen Edmonds. Brown Strand lace-ups and black monk straps for dress. A pair of winter boots. And a pair of all-weather Strandmonks with rubber soles for rain. Pretty standard line-up for the OMG style. Penny loafers for business casual or weekends. AE is a solid mid-range brand that you can review, then go from there. Traditional styling, durable construction, versatile use. That’s what you’re aiming for. Thanks. BGT

  12. I enjoy wearing the watch my grandfather gave me (however I don’t rather enjoy the repair bills of vintage watches) but it’s silver and black, subtle, and goes with all of the things I do much like the Rough OMG profile described above. And while it is a rather good watch and a rare treat for a collector I’ve only ever had one person comment on it which is almost too many for me.

  13. I like Rolex watches (and Pateks as well as a few other brands) but Rolex has been a solid watchmaker for a long time with accurate mechanical watches that need little servicing. Pateks and some of the other more expensive brands are fussy with long waits for their incredibly expensive servicing. I also am particularly fond of the Omega Speedmaster Professional (I wear mine on a brown alligator strap). I rotate watches every week or two (I’m currently wearing my GMT II (stainless, of course).

    In my former business (financial management from the late 70’s into the early 90’s), a Rolex was a practically tool of the trade like a BB 3/2 suit and Bally loafers. In those days, I wore a gold and steel Datejust (which I still wear on occasion today).

    But I’m a middle class guy so what do I know? ;o)

  14. I am saving up for a stainless steel Rolex Datejust and a an LC tank. The two should run me 20k. I might go with the Rolex then wait several years for the Cartier. I have been contemplating this purchase for at least two years now. True to Old Money form.

  15. My father left me a lovely Universal Geneva 18k gold wristwatch that had been a gift from my mother.Unfortunately it was not waterproof and the face became slightly corroded.So I sold it and treated myself to an 18k gold Tiffany wristwatch.Very classic and elegant.

  16. You were talking about ‘shoes as the weapon of choice’ for women. Mine isn’t shoes, but bags. And NOT Louis Vuitton. I also find myself making purchase choices based on ‘who will want this when I die?’ I like nice things that can be passed down to daughter and daughter in law. So, I also feel the Rolex is an investment piece for the son.

  17. Like many execs that I engage with, I rarely wear my high end watches anymore. Sometimes I’ll wear my IWC with a colorful NATO strap for fun. The idea of being the caretaker of a watch for the next generation is a myth (“you merely take care of it for the next generation”) as evidenced by my daughter who does not want a Rolex for graduation. The Apple Watch has become the great equalizer on the wrist.

    1. Thank you for the insight, Maurice. “You merely take care of it for the next 10 minutes” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Hold on to that IWC. – BGT

  18. What, if any, sort of watch would the Elegant OMGuy wear when the situation wasn’t appropriate for the Cartier Tank? Would he make do with the clock on his smartphone, or wear some sort of mid-range watch? Or does the question not obtain — there’s no situation for the OMG when a Cartier Tank isn’t appropriate? Thanks!

    1. Hi Terry, my apologies for the slow reply. You could just go with a stainless steel Rolex. It’s a better option for more physical activities, obviously, and just as discreet. The Cartier tank is probably best with a dress shirt. I’ve seen guys wear them with the short sleeve polos, and it seems to be a little much. It’s a dress watch, I think. – BGT

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