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

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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

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