Steve McQueen wearing his TAG Heuer
What you really, really need is a dual function pusher and tourbillon cage rotating at high angular velocity. Probably with a black ceramic and carbon nano-fibre baseplate. The answer to the old question “what time is it?” may be merely hours and minutes, but the question “What’s that watch?” demands a more complex response. Involved in the answer are all the subtleties of our relationship with technology and culture.
Apart from sunglasses, there is no mood-altering equipment more effective than a wristwatch. Apart from a supercar, there is no clearer indication of wealth, psychological disorder and social ambition, the latter mainly misplaced. For men who disdain necklaces and piercings, the watch is a permissible form of jewellery.
There are three ways to go. Each is expressive of a spiritual state. To Argos for a £9.99 Casio F-91W, the very basic quartz digital which has been on sale since 1991. This was, in a gesture which seemed calculated to denounce the crass materialism of his fellow gold-plated Saudis, a model favoured by Osama bin Laden and has, accordingly, acquired a grisly cult status.
By way of contrast, you could visit a Parisian boutique called Chronopassion at 271 rue Saint-Honoré in the swish first arrondissement. Here, in what is possibly the world’s most extreme watch shop, they will be pleased to sell you a Hublot Minute Repeater—and you must note its very high titanium content—for €292,400. Chronopassion’s proprietor says, “Each object in the boutique window must captivate, entertain, drive people crazy, even if it appears to be totally useless.” John Ruskin, where are you today?
But there is a middle path, the one favoured by so many of us. This is to choose a classic steel wristwatch of upper-moderate cost, the category Hans Wilsdorf created when he established Montres Rolex SA in Bienne in 1920. A German watchmaker who had become a London entrepreneur, Wilsdorf cleverly anticipated the emerging global luxury market. The name “Rolex” was chosen because it was pronouncable in all territories… except, perhaps, Japan and China.
Like Omega, Breitling, TAG Heuer and latterly Panerai, Rolex makes a very specific appeal to the professions, often of a rather butch kind. You may have no intention of travelling underwater, but a Rolex Submariner nicely suggests a state of masculine preparedeness for any adventure. Omega goes…