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.