worn By: Smooth operators
FOUNDED in the 19th century by an American but based in Schafhausen, Switzerland, the International Watch Company makes several “families” of watches, including handsome pilot’s watches, its Aquatimer divers’ watches and the elegant group known as the Portugueisers. First produced in the 1930s following a request from a Portuguese client, the watches supposedly take inspiration from that country’s seafaring history with dials that reflect the clarity of yachting navigational tools.
“They’re marvellously understated watches,” says Richard Clement, taking the Portuguese Automatic (pictured) as a case in point. Some IWC watches use movements made by suppliers, but this one contains IWC’s own 51011 calibre, with a seven day power reserve which includes that dashing flash of red on the dial. “There’s no bezel so the dial goes right to the edge of the display, meaning it looks very light, and the proportions are just beautifully balanced.”
IWC periodically focuses its efforts on renewing different lines, and last year was declared the year of the Portuguese. This was timely – as recession-driven tastes moved away from brash, show-off watches to more unobtrusive styles, the Portuguese line was bang on the zeitgeist.
worn by: High flyers
ANY budding pilots should step this way – Breitling’s Navitimer is about the most iconic aviator watch ever made. First designed in 1952, and arguably the world’s oldest constantly-produced chronograph, it really hasn’t changed a jot in almost 60 years.
“Its crucial feature is the turning numerical bezel – essentially a slide-rule for pilots to carry out their flight-plan calculations,” says Clement. Hardly necessary these days, of course, but the mixture of scientific geekery and punchy, chronograph flare is still as alluring as ever. “It’s a true design classic because it looks so dynamic and contemporary even though it’s existed for decades,” Clement continues. “Though it’s a very sporty watch, you could easily wear this in the boardroom.”
The Navitimer’s hardly a small watch at 41.8mm across, but if you really want to make a bold statement you can pick the oversize Navitimer World, which comes in at a saucer-like 46mm, and also includes a second time zone hand on a 24-hour display.
worn by: Leaders in their field
IN 1972 Audemars Piguet gave the world a new notion – the luxury sports watch. Rugged, tough but oozing sophistication, the Royal Oak and its chunkier younger sibling, the Royal Oak Offshore (which came along in 1991), are like a compendium of things that shouldn’t work in a watch but do. The octagonal shape, full of corners and angles; the industrial sensibility, including less-than-glamorous stainless steel (for the original watches and the one pictured), and large screws on the bezel resembling rivets round a porthole; even the fact that those screws are octagonal (how do you screw an octagon into place?) – all suggest horological folly. Yet they come together for a design that’s harmonious, exciting and unmistakeable.
“It’s the attention to detail that really impresses me,” says Clement. “Factors like the way in which the design extends into the bracelet, and the fact that the line of the screws is so exact, following the contours of the bezel – nothing is left to chance.”
The Royal Oak Duel Time pictured includes a second time zone dial, a calendar, AM/PM display, power reserve and date. “The Royal Oak is the original chunky watch, but it’s not too big – the face is relatively small, but they get so much on there without it looking crowded,” says Clement.
Audemars Piquet have kept pushing the boat out, pioneering new materials (most recently with ultra-light forged carbon) and introducing a stream of limited editions in honour of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rubens Barichello, Shaquille O’Neal, Grand Prix racing and much else. That means they’re not just stunning watches, but highly collectible too.
Hublot Big Bang
worn by: Big hitters
BIG by name, big by nature and big by reputation – the Hublot brand has been everywhere in the past year, from World Cup scoreboards to Grand Prix races to Ussain Bolt’s wrist – this chronograph is the defining watch of the past decade. Launched in 2006 as the craze for large, brash timepieces reached its peak, it won every award going, was adopted by footballers, business leaders and jet setters, and turned a niche brand into a titan.
“It’s the modern classic, and certainly a statement piece,” says Clement. “It’s all about the fusion of materials, with things like carbon, steel, gold ceramic and rubber often combining in harmony, with clean, sharp edges and a really industrial feel.”
worn by: Tough cookies
ITALIAN-SWISS watch company Panerai is famous for its cushion-shaped watches that were originally designed for naval use, and worn by military divers in World War Two. There are just two basic designs: the Radiomir, the more streamlined of the two, and the Luminor, with its notable bridge-and-lever mechanism protecting the crown – an especially tough aesthetic. No wonder Sly Stallone favours them.
“It’s a very simple and sturdy look, which comes from its background as a military watch,” says Clement. “But it has a lot of character and verve as well. The design really suits a larger watch, and indeed Panerai is one of the brands most associated with pushing the size of watches up.”
Panerai also pioneered watch luminosity – the names derive from glow-in-the-dark radium and luminor chemicals. The famous “sandwich” face involves putting the dial face over a slab of luminous material, with the numerals and markers cut out to glow through.
While Panerai watches share aesthetic uniformity, there are many versions and editions of each, and an increasing number contain in-house movements (such as the 1950 8 Days GMT pictured). But don’t expect to run into someone wearing the same Panerai as you very often – generally each version is limited to a few hundred, individually numbered pieces.
worn by: Technical wizards
WHAT’S inside a high-grade watch is just as important as the exterior, and some would argue more so. Zenith certainly has some handsome watches in its El Primero line, but it’s the movement that is especially crucial. Developed between 1962 and 1969, the El Primero was the first automatic – ie self-winding – chronograph movement, and one of the most accurate.
Chronographs – essentially watches with a stopwatch function – remain the most popular watch complication. They’re dynamic, easy to use and look smart, and are fashionable right now. The El Primero pretty much sets the benchmark for chronograph movements, and has been used in TAG Heuer, Panerai and Rolex watches among others.
After a wayward few years on the design front, the Zenith brand was re-booted last year with a new version of the El Primero leading the pack – the Striking 10th. This beauty oscillates 10 times per second, which can be seen in the movement of the second hand. “Most movements are eight beats per second at best,” says Clement. “This isn’t just more accurate though, the sweep of the chronograph hand round the dial in 10 seconds is mesmerising.”
HOW SHOULD YOU APPROACH BUYING YOUR FIRST LUXURY WATCH?
THE first thing to consider is how the watch is going to fit in with your lifestyle, says Richard Clement. When do you want to wear it? You may love a loud, funky brand, but if you’re going to be wearing it to board meetings or functions when a bit of subtlety is required, you may want to think again. Likewise, you need to make sure it’s something you’ll like for a long time, rather than the first thing to grab your attention.
That means being prepared to look a little deeper, seeing what other brands speak to you. Do your research, and in a boutique talk frankly to the sales expert – don’t worry about not being an expert yourself. It’s our job to fit you with the most appropriate watch, not one that just happens to be fashionable or expensive, and for that we need to get to know you.
For a man a watch is one of the few ways of expressing yourself, so look for a brand you feel an affinity for. There are stories and associations behind every watch, and that’s all part of why people make their decisions.
Size is important, since many watches are very big these days – if you’ve got slim wrists, you may need to adjust your decision. After all, some of these watches were originally designed to be worn over jackets or wetsuits, like the Panerais. If you wear a double cuff it’s going to stand proud of that. As a rule of thumb, if the lugs hang over the side of your wrist, it’s too big.
There are brands, like IWC, that aren’t so obvious, but people who know watches notice. It means you’ve researched this, know your brands, but aren’t looking to scream about it – a connoisseur choice.
Stick to your price point. Like buying a car, it’s easy to be seduced by the next model up, and suddenly you’re way over budget. Stay true to the original idea of why you’re buying the watch, and don’t get sidetracked.
Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB
THE VINTAGE OPTION
ENJOYING buying the odd classy watch when you have the readies to hand is one thing. But obsessing over the tiniest variances between editions, scouring internet forums for the rarest vintage pieces and shelling out tens of thousands of pounds for a watch you’ve been waiting years to find, is quite another. Welcome to the strange, potentially lucrative world of vintage watch collecting.
In his tiny shop Watchclub (www.watchclub.com) in Mayfair’s Royal Arcade, these are the people Danny Pizzigoni deals with. Wealthy collectors who drop everything when they hear a £50,000 1967 “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona – with block markers on the dial, fancy! – has materialised onto the marketplace, or a particularly unusual Patek Philippe. The Patek pictured, a 1999 gold chronograph, is going for £42,500.
“Patek and Rolex remain the most collectible vintage watches by far,” says Pizzigoni. “The brands are so strong emotionally and the people buying them very dynamic – they know what they want and what a good opportunity is when they see it.”
Nevertheless, Omega, IWC, Breguet and countless other brands also have their followers. Post-recession, Pizzigoni says the key is to find a watch in untarnished condition that still has the box and papers with which it was first sold.
“People have become much more selective,” he says. “The recession’s brought lots of watches onto the market, so you need these things that separate yours from the rest.”
Pizzigoni points out that, with interest rates still low, a watch is as good a place as any to invest money that might otherwise be sitting on deposit. “You have to know the market and do your research, but you can make a very good return while indulging a passion.”