TIME TO SPEND
Watches have become the jewellery of choice for men, with many willing to spend thousands and in the process become amateur collectors, writes MARK O’CONNELL
The so-called “watchmaker analogy” argument for the existence of God has been a philosophical staple since Cicero. The analogy, which uses the watch as a symbol for a well-ordered universe, runs as follows: if you were walking along a beach and you found a watch lying in the sand, you wouldn’t think that it had just appeared there, fullyformed, out of thin air. You would conclude that someone hadmade it – in six days, presumably, having set aside the seventh to wind it and fiddle with the strap.
This argument has always been of more benefit to horologists, one suspects, than to the philosophers who employ it, but it does demonstrate one truth quite accurately: we are intrigued by watches.
With their intricate systems of tiny cogs, coils and wheels, there is something agreeably mystifying about them. Also, watches are as much gadgets as they are pieces of jewellery, which perhaps explains why men are so attracted to them.
On the scale of consumer products it is more or less acceptable for a man to get excited about – watches are located somewhere just below cars and above shoes. And as with cars, it’s often not so much the burnished surface, as the machinery beneath which arouses the interest of the male.
There are numerous websites and blogs created by and aimed at watch enthusiasts, some of which communicate exclusively through an almost obsessively terse language of specifications and measurements (“Self-winding movement, exclusive PP1100 calibre, based on 2892-A2 COSC chronometer certified” is one blogger’s pithy observation of the Atelier 1100 Skeleton by Paul Picot). James Gurney, editor of luxury watch magazine QP (www.qpmagazine.com), says that for the true aficionado, it’s all about what he calls “the joy of the machine”.
At the higher end of the market – and the market does get very high indeed – the current trend is for very small watchmakers who produce timepieces where, as he puts it: “The emphasis is on the individuality of the mechanics rather than what the watch actually looks like. Jacob and Co, for instance, are a NewYork brand principally famous for making hid- eous, diamond-studded watches with lots of dials. But they went off on a complete tangent and got this watch called the Quenttin made for them.
“As a brand they didn’t have the expertise to do it themselves, but they went along to one of the emerging design houses that specialise in different and strange watch movement. It’s a very unusual watch that instead of having hands has little cylinders that move round and show the indications.”
To my admittedly uncultured eye, the Quenttin looks pretty ugly – more like a minuscule slot machine with its works exposed than a watch – but Gurney assures me that it’s aimed squarely at connoisseurs.
“It’s really one for the enthusiasts – and at $360,000 (¤266,312) a pop, you would have to be fairly enthusiastic,” he says.
There is, however, a sizeable market for this kind of innovative (and innovatively-priced) timepiece. “There’s a lot of activity in this area where the focus and the creativity is on the movement, rather than on the surface. It’s much more Victorian, in a
way. The watch industry has always had this slightly Bauhaus ethic, whereby form must follow function, meaning very simple, very restrained watches.
“Over the past few years, this has gone slightly by the wayside. There’s a guiding principle these days that the movement should be shown and expressed as something cool in itself, rather than what it actually does. For a watch enthusiast, it’s about a glorifying of the mechanism,” he claims.
One such enthusiast is Mark Cagney, presenter of TV3’s Ireland AM morning show. Something like a Patek Philippe or a Breguet is, he says, for him a real work of art. Although he is at pains to point out that he’s not even close to spending Quenttin levels of cash on watches, he does admit to owning several.
“I have quite a few watches that I would rotate, depending on what I’m wearing. I like clean lines and elegance. It’s a pretty silly thing, really – it’s far too much attention to detail for a straight man. If you spoke to my father, or anyone from his generation, they’d consider it absolute and utter foppery.”
As Cagney points out, however, watches are almost the only kind of jewellery that it is universally acceptable for men to wear (and, indeed, be slightly obsessed with). Dublin jeweller and watch specialist Paul Sheeran says that “what diamonds are for women, watches are for men”.
Whereas in the past most men would only ever own one watch, he claims, many men are now turning into amateur collectors. And apparently they are spending indecent amounts of cash in the process. Paying upwards of ¤40,000 for a watch, Sheeran insists, is not at all uncommon. “A lot of guys nowadays, when they’ve just closed a business deal or got a new job or whatever, will treat themselves. We find that men will have a watch for every occasion and every outfit they wear.”
Sheeran feels that Ireland’s rich have now become so comfortable with their money that they no longer need to exhibit it with diamond-encrusted Rolexes. “It’s the instruments themselves that people are interested in now. Take a Breguet watch, one of the finest in the world. The dials on a Breguet are 18 carat gold, but you wouldn’t realise it from looking, because they’re silver-coated on top. No one knows but the wearer.”
Now that is real class, is it not? Like wearing Versace underneath a tracksuit. Conspicuous understatement, it seems, is the new ostentation; restraint is the new bling.
Sheeran agrees that, at the very highest reaches of the watch market, complicated mechanisms have replaced diamonds and other precious stones as the real locus of superiority. Franck Muller, one of the world’s top makers of timepieces, is currently selling a watch that eschews diamonds and all other forms of aesthetic extravagance in favour of a very simple design with a very complex mechanism.
The watch retails, says Sheeran, at ¤2.5 million. It would have to be one hell of a mechanism to justify that kind of price. In fact, even if God himself had spent six days crafting it, it would still seem a little steep.
Keep taking those walks, though, and you never know – perhaps you’ll find one in the sand.
Breguet Tradition, 18 carat gold, skeleton case, glass back; ¤20,100
Above left: Franck Muller Long Island, diamond set case and dial, 18 carat white gold; ¤27,530. Above right: The Quenttin by Jacob and Co; approximately ¤266,000
Left: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Squadra Hometime, 18 carat rose gold; ¤11,700. Above: IWC Portuguese, seven-day power reserve, stainless steel; ¤8,950
Above: Zenith Defy Xtreme Open, black titanium case, automatic movement; ¤19,200
Above: Breitling Bentley ‘Flying B’ automatic steel with jumping hour mechanism: ¤12,880