London Time: You don’t have to be an elitist to appreciate a decent watch

Alex Doak

A CERTAIN newspaper, which shall remain nameless, last weekend highlighted a continuing problem in the perception of the watch business – namely that owning a decent watch immediately puts you in an elitist club.

It featured a fashion special that included just one watch: an orange-plastic, £170 Uniform Wares creation, which is apparently appropriate for a job interview, despite the fact it obviously isn’t.

But watches aren’t the reserve of profligate billionaires; trinkets to adorn their tanned wrists as they lounge on their super-yachts. Yes, a decent watch costs a decent whack, but like the organic wholegrain spelt flour you forked out for in Whole Foods, it’s money well spent. And, in fact, you can also buy one with a clean conscience.

I’m reminded of an enlightening conversation with TAG Heuer’s designer-at-large Christoph Behling, whose Notting Hill studio designs about 95 per cent of the Swiss sports-watch brand’s output. He said the design process benefited from being based in creative London rather than the watch-blur of the Jura mountains.

He reckons that, quite apart from patronising and furthering the pursuit of age-old craftsmanship (box-tick number one!) a Swiss watch could be the most ecologically friendly luxury product on the planet (box-tick number two!).

“Swiss watches are produced with hardly any resources,” he enthused. “They’re made locally in a workshop where they recycle even their note paper. Most watches are powered by the movement of your arm or fingers rather than toxic batteries. They are high-value, but still small and easily transportable. Plus, of course, they will never be thrown away – they live as long as you do.”

It’s probably thanks to the bling-bling “style” of aforementioned superyacht owners that some people want to distance themselves from the mechanical watch business. But as soon as you realise that it doesn’t always have to be a diamond-encrusted Rolex, and that your purchase could be the most ethical, integrity-driven purchase of your life, we can all get on with enjoying watches together.

Alex Doak is a freelance luxury-lifestyle journalist, who writes on watches for FT, The Times, Wired and many more.