Watches to wear in the great outdoors

Timothy Barber
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Fashion labels’ influence in watches has led to a boom in safari style, says Timothy Barber.

THE response from watch aficionados to timepieces from fashion labels normally ranges from weary sighs to snorts of derision – and you wouldn’t expect anything less from the fashionistas if Patek Philippe put on a catwalk show. Someone who’s been trying harder than most to do watches well, however, is Ralph Lauren, a collector of vintage timepieces himself and a man who can tell high-grade wristwear from a branded trinket at 30 paces. When he launched his first watches a few years ago, Lauren even collaborated on the movements with some of the most senior Swiss houses, including Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin. But while the quality was unquestionable, the styles were acquired tastes and the prices high.

This year, Lauren has cracked it, with a range of watches that are more affordably priced and stylistically accessible, without losing the sense of horological legitimacy the brand has worked hard to establish. What’s more – less surprising, given Lauren’s style supremo status – he’s hit a developing trend head on. Lauren’s theme this year, as it has been in many of his past fashion collections, is safari. Old school safari, that is. The mixture of rugged, dusty adventure with old-fashioned glamour – watches to wear with a pith helmet as you stare out on the plains from the comfort of a huge canvas tent (well, perhaps). The crucial element, besides a dose of sturdy militarism in the design, is the strap: rather than leather, this is about green or khaki textile, the kind of stuff that’s used in military webbing. It’s masculine, a bit old fashioned, informal but undoubtedly rather suave – and comfortable too.

There are plenty of other watch companies buying into this aesthetic, as it happens, with timepieces that seem made for exploring the wilderness. Spring’s here, and a world of boots, rucksacks, hip flasks and fresh air beckons.

Chronofigheter Oversize
K2 Mountain
Graham has expanded its brawny Chronofighter range to include more refined, classical pieces, but tough-as-old-boots styles like this are what it’s known for. There are militaristic olive green and khaki versions too this year, but we’ll pick this grey number.

Ralph Lauren
RL67 Chronometre
Easily the most affordable watch yet from Lauren is also the most handsome. Its military bearing is enhanced by the aged, gunmetal steel case, while the dial is a deliciously characterful piece of vintage styling. Perfect for a stroll on the South Downs or exploring the African savannah.

Khaki Mechanical Officer
This is an old school army watch both in style and size – it’s only 38mm across, which is small by today’s standards, though watch designs are shrinking back down at the moment. Crucially, it’s about as affordable a handwound watch as can be found. Winding this thing up is a special old-fashioned joy.

Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar
IWC’s original aviation watches from the 1930s and 1940s are arguably the classic military timepieces. Last year it took the modern range back in a specifically military direction with the Top Gun Miramar chronograph, with khaki dial tones and an olive canvas strap.

From Barber’s watch box:
With summer coming, a chap may be looking for the perfect, refined wrist-statement to match up with his linen suit or blazer ’n’ chinos. I’d recommend taking the dress watch look – formal and classy, but sufficiently understated to go with laid-back summer days and popping champagne corks. Audemars Piguet is best known for its chunky Royal Oak watches, but this new extra-thin number from its round Jules Audemars range has really caught my eye. Refined, sophisticated, and packed with all the technical quality you’d expect from one of the grandest maisons, it’s perfect for an afternoon at the polo or a black tie do under the stars.

Jules Audemars; price on application;