Nothing, it seems, says as much about a man’s station in life than the timepiece he keeps on his wrist. “Watches are a fashionable symbol, a status symbol,” says Tim Keane of Michel Jewellers in Cork. “They’re style. It’s like cavemen putting bones in their hair.”
Few accessories rival them. A sports car, for example, might be cool to have but it spends most its time parked outside. A watch is with a man always. It’s also the only piece of jewellery — unlike, say, the gold chains Italian men persist in wearing— that a man can get away with hanging from his body without being scoffed at in some quarters.
The watch appeals to the inner nerd in (almost) every man — the micro engineering, the endless, groovy (often useless) functionality, and information like providing the date of Easter or a thermometer. And because most major brands deliver a new model once a year, watches are all the time becoming snazzier.
“The technology has advanced,” says Keane. “They’ve got slimmer, smarter. They’re more reasonable. If you wanted a Quartz watch 20 years ago, you’d have paid more because they were more rare and harder to make. Now they make the same watch which is a third of its thickness yet it has more features on it. A couple of years ago, for example, if you wanted a proper diver’s watch it was like having a packet of cigarettes on your wrist, it was so big; today they’re super slim.”
Watches will also get you out of a jam. Presents can often be hard to get for the men in your life, like Father’s Day, for instance, but a watch has almost universal appeal.
“If you were buying a gift for your dad around an anniversary, Christmas, or Father’s Day, you’d say, ‘I’ll get him a nice watch because it’s unlikely he will wear earrings or jewellery,’” says Paul Broughan, Weir & Sons Jewellers in Dublin.
“The closest thing to a personal gift you can give most men is a watch. If it was a male colleague, you wouldn’t want to give him the usual stuff or money. A lot of time the gift would be a watch. If it was only about telling time, everywhere you go time is in front of you somewhere, but guys like them as timepieces.”
Perhaps the most striking thing about watches is their cost. They can be ridiculously expensive, like the diamond-set Patek Philippe Grand Complication Celestial, which sold in Keane’s Jewellers in Cork this year for €349,000. Weir & Sons sold a Patek Philippe to a collector for €385,000. Then look at tennis star Rafael Nadal’s RM 27-02, by luxury watchmaker Richard Mille. It has been specially designed to cope with his crashing serve and backhand. He’s worn them for years and had one stolen by a maid at a Toronto hotel.
“If you were looking for the Patek Philippe Celestial, we’d have to submit your name to Patek,” says Broughan. “They would see you’re a collector and that you’ve purchased some pieces. When the watch was made and finished, they’d advise us, ‘That watch is now ready for Customer X.’ The wait could be anything from six months to — in an extreme case — five years.”
Such pricey watches hold their value, and are popular as heirlooms. Eric Clapton, for example, sold a Patek Philippe for £2.3m. As the saying goes, you never own a Patek Philippe, you just mind it for the next generation.